The Coolest Mistake

The new ModBook, from Axiotron and OWC, finally realizes a dream long held by Mac lovers: the tablet Mac. But seeing this Franken-computer in action only makes me realize that it's a product that's doomed to failure.

As cool as the idea of a tablet computer seems — and make no mistake, these ModBooks do look pretty cool — all I can think about when I see them demoed is how incredibly inconvenient they'd be to use for most regular work — for most anything I use my laptop for. What do I use my laptop for? Email, billing, troubleshooting, surfing, writing. Almost everything I generally do on my laptop requires text input, for which a WACOM is poorly suited. What do I not do on my laptop? Draw! Let's face it, the WACOM is a drawing tool, and I just don't think most people use a laptop for drawing. And I don't think they want to either.

The ModBook: Best Bad Idea Ever
(click image for larger view)

Graphics people tend to use desktop systems as their main rigs. There are a lot of reasons for this: they need a faster computer; they need a larger viewing surface; and, perhaps most importantly, they just don't want to draw or design on-the-go. Ever try to draw something in your sketchbook in the car? Or on the train? On a plane? It sucks. Drawing is not a portable activity.

So, the scenario goes, you buy this ModBook, and not only do you have to draw on this small screen, on this underpowered machine, but you also have to handwrite your emails, your terminal scripts, and your blog entries. The ModBook cripples both the functionality of a portable computer and that of a drawing tablet. It flies in the face of both these products' very reason for being. And it costs a bundle to boot.

I'm not sure what the intended market is for these machines. But I can say with almost 100% certainty that they will fail, because I don't think that market is very large, if it exists at all. The ModBook adds either a layer of complexity or a lack of functionality to everything you might want to use a tablet or a laptop for in the first place. I predict that graphics users will find it underwhelming, and regular users will find it frustrating. Who does that leave? Um... People with a lot of expendable income for electronic toys they'll never seriously use. A novelty market at best.

It's almost too bad the ModBook was released alongside the iPhone. The iPhone shows us real and good reasons to use a touch-screen interface on a portable device, and some really brilliant and innovative ways to implement this. It totally shows the ModBook up. Compare the two, and the ModBook comes up looking like a product without a purpose.

Apple was right when they said that no one would want a tablet computer. Seeing the ModBook only drives the point home. With a vengeance.

Why did we want that again? I forget.