Will tablets go the way of the Palm Pilot?

Will tablets go the way of the Palm Pilot?

Summary: Cheap phones made the Palm Pilot obsolete years ago, even though the Palm did some things better. The same may be true with tablets, although the big issue here is different -- price.


Perfectphone — theoreticalBusiness Week has followed up on my recent piece about the iPhone with a feature about a host of medical applications for mobile phones.

It's making me wonder whether tablet PCs, no matter what innovations come from them, might go the way of the Palm Pilot.

Cheap phones made the Palm Pilot obsolete years ago, even though the Palm did some things better.

Calendaring, directories, and interfaces were all better with my old Palm than my current Motorola Razr, but the Palm's gone and the Razr is in my hand. The improvements weren't worth the pocket overhead.

The same may be true with tablets, although the big issue here is different -- price.

Check out the new Motion Computing F5, which is certain to get a big push into the medical market. It's sleek, it's a true tablet, but it's also $3,500.

Add in the cost of a full medical software suite and you're talking big bucks. Some specialists (like my eye doctor) might be able to spring for that, but internists and pediatricians --- nope.

By contrast, check out the pricing on the iPhone bundle ClearHealth is pushing. The phone costs $599, and that price could be dropping fast. The software is all SaaS, a fixed monthly fee. And it's a phone.

There is a ton of development going on with mobile phones, ordinary phones on the patient side and more sophisticated devices like the iPhone on the other.

Data transmission costs are dropping thanks to the iPhone's success with data bundles. Competition is also coming to the space thanks to Apple's exclusive arrangement with AT&T. This has spurred Verizon and other competitors to open up to Google, LiMo devices and others.

So what if these new devices lack the bells-and-whistles of the tablet PC? Remember Dana's Iron Law of Laptops -- an ounce on the desk is a pound in my hand.

That goes double for the pocket.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, Telcos

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  • I doubt it ...

    While tablets have gained considerable traction in the vertical industries where they could be replaced by cheaper and more convenient alternatives, they are also gaining a foothold in other industries - namely, education - where their functionality is useful primarily in that their size allows for natural note-taking and use as a whiteboard via a projector. Further, while I've seen no quantitative data to this end, it seems as though they're catching on in the consumer market; I've seen more tablets at coffee shops in the past year than in the previous four or five combined.
    • I am not denying tablets are more powerful

      They may make a good laptop replacement. I don't deny the power of the PC application.

      But in many of these niches the price is off-putting. We have not seen a rush of these devices into medical offices.

      This creates opportunity for other form factors.
  • Interestingly enough...

    ...my wife has been using a Palm Treo for the last couple of years and loves it.
    John L. Ries
  • RE: Will tablets go the way of the Palm Pilot?

    Your logic is like saying the phone is gonna kill the laptop - different needs, different apps.

    I've been in plenty of hospital where cell coverage was about as reliable as planned doctor rounds. Not gonna happen...

    BTW: the f5 is $2699 and geared to the fieldforce market. The c5 is the medical based tablet Motion sells.

    I have an iPhone, and while I love it and use it daily, it will never take the place of a laptop or my Tablet PC.

    Rob Bushway
    • These devices can also support WiFi

      I expect that in a hospital most of the devices which succeed will run on WiFi frequencies, not cellular. For just the reasons you state.

      The key market, however, is the medical office, where if coverage is poor you just put in an access point.
  • I hope not

    but there are many things to do to avoid this.
    First, there should be significantly cheaper tablet and second there should be a strongly optimised version of Windows for them.
    The main advantage of the iPhone is its U.I. As long as tablet and other handheld tool won't have an U.I at least as fast and as reactive, the iphone will always have the edge and seems better for end user.
  • You forgot usability

    It is one thing to transfer work from the small screen on a Palm to the equally small screen of a cellphone. A tablet provides a much larger screen space for viewing information.

    My own experience with the health profession is that many are too busy to stop and flip through a patient's paper medical chart before acting. A doctor that I know was only allowed 15 minutes maximum per patient regardless of condition. If they have to scroll back and forth or drill down through multiple screens, there's even less value from the technology than using paper.

    Plus there is the data entry/keyboard issue with a pocket-sized device. Do you really want your medical history recorded as LOL?
  • RE: Will tablets go the way of the Palm Pilot?

    Is the Palm Pilot gone? Maybe it just evolved. I use a Treo 750.

    I hope my doctor doesn't try to look at my x-rays or MRI results on an iPhone!

    I use a Tablet PC as well. The one thing that computer pundits have never gotten about Tablets is that you can write and draw on them. They???ve always complained the OCR isn't perfect (which is true) so it???s difficult to convert the writing to text, but never got it that it???s not always required. As a Project Manager I sit in many meetings every day, and take notes on the tablet. Combined with OneNote it gives me a notebook of almost unlimited size, which can easily be backed up. It???s great.

    Now, if they were just a bit cheaper . . .
    • If you look at another story above...

      You may note the use of a Treo to deliver medical imaging.
  • Who uses tablets now?

    I've only seen them in use at one organization and no one liked them. It seems everyone would rather just have a laptop. My wife has one now from this organization so I'll see how she likes it.
  • Yup.

    First off, let me suggest that the hospital is the real market for point of care computing devices today. The physician office may hold greater potential, but the adoption rate is several years behind hospitals.

    Virtually all tablets in hospitals are used on COWs - computers on wheels. This overcomes two of the main weaknesses of tablets, weight and short battery life. Of course you also give up the main advantage of your computer being a tablet. Consequently, most use laptops on COWs.

    The best tablet for health care is the Emano Tec tablet. Small, light weight, withstands drops, and can be wiped with hospital disinfectants. This device has a battery life of 12 hours, only weights 12 ounces and fits in a lab coat pocket. The 5.5" by 7.5" device sports a 1024 by 768 touch screen display. Volume pricing is at $600 per unit.

    As another commenter pointed out, different applications and user interfaces demand different computer designs and form factors. It is frustrating that no one wants to invest in optimizing application user interfaces for a specific device. I've talked with UMPC vendors about collaborating with HIT vendors to jigger the user interface, but no one wants to take that step. Right now most apps are written for desk top computers. The rest are written for PDAs. Tweener devices are left in the lurch. This is a market opportunity for someone.

    The Emano Tec is not suited for everything, but there is no other device that provides as much in a package you can always keep with you.