You only get one chance

Roger Kay, a former IDC analyst and now president of his own research firm (Endpoint), has published a forecast on Tablet PCs. It contains an interesting account of how Microsoft evaluates its potential markets:

“When questioned about whether the tablet was really up to shouldering the mainstream computing needs of the broad horizontal market, Gates was unwavering in his assertion that Windows XP Tablet Edition would make it so. Microsoft’s focus group research, he said, showed that people hated the tablet the first day, grumbled about it on the second, sort of got it on the third, and so on until the 10th day, when they said they couldn’t live without it.

If we accept Kay’s account, Microsoft’s approach can only be described as fundamentally disconnected from the reality of consumer buying habits. How many consumers do you know who are going to buy a product they hate on first sight? Unless Microsoft and its OEMs are willing to lend every potential customer a tablet until such time as they ‘sort of get it’, it is hard to see how Tablet PCs are ever going to get off the ground.

Of course, this isn’t just about Tablet PCs – if this is the view held by the senior management at Microsoft, it is hardly surprising their other mobile products are still the subject of criticism.

If Microsoft is working on the assumption that users start to understand their products after 10 days, they can forget about the mobile telephony market. Even assuming someone was willing to put up with the frustration of learning an unintuitive experience for that length of time, there are few people who could actually survive without a useable phone for 10 days!

It also demonstrates the limitations of certain types of focus group. Data which come from a closed session such as this, where users are forced to persevere with a product beyond the point where they would normally abandon it and return it to the shop, are always going to give an inaccurate picture of how a product will be received by the general public.

I am currently testing an HP 6515 Pocket PC Phone Edition device. I’ll reserve my final judgement until I’ve had a while long to play with it, but suffice to say it requires an act of will to keep my SIM card in the device long enough to allow me to evaluate it properly. The initial experience is one of the most counter-intuitive I’ve ever experienced on a handset.

I am generally quite fond of Pocket PCs. I can remember going out to see the first prototypes of the interface in Seattle before Microsoft launched the ‘look and feel’ which still forms the basis of the Pocket PC platform today. However, when combined with telephony features and HP’s attempt to replicate the Blackberry keyboard, it becomes a nightmare of confusing features and usability faux pas.

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