The Tech Industry and the Tablet: A Sick Love Story

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Back in the day there used to be this thing called Comdex. It was a huge technology trade show that happened in Las Vegas in November. Every year all the tech journalists would go out there, walk the show floor all day, file their stories at midnight, then go out and lose money at Binion’s and expense blue curacao drinks at Steven Spielberg’s now-defunct novelty restaurant Dive!

Or maybe that was just me doing that. I don’t actually remember anybody else being there.

A guy -- not Bill Gates -- demos Microsoft's tablet in 2000

A guy -- not Bill Gates -- demos Microsoft's tablet in 2000

I was definitely there in 2000 when Bill Gates, in his annual keynote, announced Microsoft’s new tablet computer, and everybody ooh-ed and aah-ed over it. And it did look cool. It was sleek and rounded. It was strangely truncated and portable — it had a magical aura, like a severed head. It positively reeked of the future.

We never thought about the fact this was a device that did basically the same things that paper did, except it was way thicker, way heavier, way more expensive and broke when you dropped it. We filed our stories and drank our blue drinks.

What is it about tablets that lures engineers? Company after company has wrecked itself on the hard unyielding rock of this device, which has has become weirdly grail-like in the tech world, despite the fact that it has hardly any known uses, and there is virtually no demonstrable consumer demand for it. Tablets do the same things laptops do, or they would if they have a proper input device, which they don’t, so they don’t. Their main function seems to be to jazz up keynote speeches.

That said. Nobody ever got rich second-guessing Steve Jobs. He knows when demand for a product has matured, so it probably has. Multi-touch gives the tablet a proper input capability, or a semblance of one. Movies and e-books give it a function. Maybe when Apple releases its device, the time will have come, and the romance of the tablet will finally be consummated.

But Bill can say he got there first.