November 12, 2000
Bill Gates demonstrates a functional prototype of a Tablet PC. Microsoft claims “the Tablet PC will represent the next major evolution in PC design and functionality.” However, the Tablet PC initiative never really takes off and it isn’t until Apple introduced the iPad in 2010 that tablet computing is widely adopted.
In my opinion, Microsoft’s failure with the Tablet PC initiative was threefold. First, they simply tried to adapt Windows, an operating system designed for use with a keyboard and mouse, for use with a touchscreen/pen interface. Users never really warmed up to the awkward hybrid interface. Second, by their own words they were “incorporating the convenient and intuitive aspects of pencil and paper into the PC experience.” Rather than innovating, it appears to me that Microsoft was moving backwards by trying to graft an older paradigm (pencil and paper) onto a computer. It’s one thing to create an app or peripheral that mimics pencil and paper – it’s another to base an entire technology initiative around it. Finally, Microsoft left the design of the hardware to their OEM partners, most of whom are not especially well-known for innovating designs. Most Tablet PCs were considered too big, heavy, and expensive, plus the required pen/stylus was prone to loss. All of these factors left many Tablet PCs collecting dust if they were sold at all.
Likely the lessons that Microsoft learned from this early effort led to Microsoft manufacturing their own hardware for their Surface Tablets starting in the late 2010s, mimicking the model that Apple proved successful.