It must be a sign of either indolence or incompetence in the computer industry that there’s so much vapourware these days. To explain, here’s a précis of the computer revolution that has hit the trade over the past 12 months
Jan 2010: A new handheld tablet PC is announced by a company that started making advanced handheld devices in 1993. In the interim, it shook up the smartphone market in 2007 with a phone-cum-computer that people wanted to use.
April 2010: Aforementioned tablet is launched on schedule. Over the following nine months, the buying public votes with its collective wallet. Fifteen million units of the world’s first finger-friendly tablet PC are sold. Sales of regular PCs – and particularly netbooks – suffer as a result.
May 2010: The consumer electronics industry, including manufacturers of Windows PCs and mobile phones, looks on with disbelieving eyes. The sales garnered by a single product have put the market into a tailspin. Partnering with the world’s largest online ad broker – which had already started giving away its personal data-harvesting mobile platform – the industry tries to catch up with the tablet goldrush.
June–Dec 2010: PC and phone makers promise cheaper, better tablets. Tumbleweed rolls by as they fail to fulfil this promise.
October 2010: Samsung launches the killer tablet. Its Galaxy Tab is slower, more expensive, and has a smaller, poor-quality plastic screen. Google’s software proves buggy on this tablet and similar copycat devices, but assures us that it will soon have a platform that works on tablets.
January 2011: More manufacturers fall over themselves to demonstrate their half-baked tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show. Conspicuously, no-one has a decent tablet to sell. Those forgettable slates that have hit the shops are so low-grade and buggy, they make the Galaxy Tab look like Deep Blue. Hot contenders from HP (with its TouchPad) and RIM (with its 7in BlackBerry PlayBook) still threaten to launch... one day.
February 2011: Google’s operating system for tablets, Android ‘Honeycomb’ 3.0, is released. At the time of writing, one tablet had launched with this software, the Motorola Xoom. Google aside, RIM’s tablet, based on the fascinating QNX operating system, and HP’s (founded on Palm WebOS) sound intriguing but are still MIA. In the same month, the second-gen iPad is announced by Apple.
March 2011: Less than a year after Mk I, iPad 2 is launched on time, featuring a dual-core CPU and an even more powerful graphics processor. It’s lighter and slimmer than the iPad 1 and adds two video cameras.
Mid-March 2011: So many brands pledging exciting tablets, and so many failing to deliver. Memo to the consumer electronics industry: wake us up when you’ve got a tablet PC worthy of our opposable thumbs. And a personal plea to the media: don’t waste my time with tablet news and gossip until you’ve got something tangible to talk about.