The Missing Link: Defining the Information Pad

There has been a lot of talk lately about tablets and sub-notebooks. The Foleo, which I have discussed in this space before, is just one example. Nokia, Samsung and Sony have small computers (called ultra-mobile PCs or UMPCs). Now Apple is rumored to be developing a “tablet” as well.

There is and has always been a lot of discussion and questions about whether these kinds of devices can be successful. In the late 90s, someone released a pen/computer system that allowed you to write on a piece of paper and then have that digital image sent to a computer. Complete failure. Even my friend Michael Mace has an article on why these devices are not successful.

The discussion around these devices reminds me, though, of the discussion revolving around mobile computing in ’95 and ’96. The Newton was a market failure (but technical marvel), companies like GRiD were going nowhere, and this little company called Palm Computing couldn’t get funding. Well, it turned out the problem wasn’t “handheld computing” but the devices being made.

Palm focused on solving one problem in those days: how do I gain quick and easy access to my personal information? I contend that the problem with tablets or UMPCs or whatever you want to call them is that they don’t have similar focus and emphasis. I want my tablet to solve one problem: how do I review information and take notes on the go? If the handheld computer replaced my day planner, then my tablet should replace my briefcase.

What goes in my briefcase? My notebook for note taking, print outs of documents and reports. If this was 1997, that would be good enough. But this is 2007 so I would expect a solid browser experience as well and some level of connectivity.

So here is my requirements list for the “Info Pad”:

  1. Long enough battery life that I can attend a few meetings without needing to re-charge. I better get at least 5 hours of “on time” from the thing.
  2. Instant on.
  3. It needs to be really thin and light with a screen size like a pad of paper: 5×7 or 8×10.
  4. For that matter, it needs to lay flat like a pad of paper if I need it to (such as in face-to-face meetings).
  5. It should have wi-fi and a good browser so I can look up information on the web.
  6. I need to take notes on it somehow, so either a fold out keyboard, handwriting recognition or some method that allows me to enter notes at the same speed I would write in my notebook. Oh, and these notes should be search-able.
  7. Be able to review the basic documents: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, etc.
  8. Some level of connectivity to my main computer system so I can access files and move them back and forth.
  9. Price point is critical: I think it needs to run about $500-600.

The good news is the software is there in one form or another. What we need is the device. Someone will make this happen. I just hope it is soon.