The WeTab was a tablet computer announced to be delivered even before Apple’s iPad in Germany, based on a Linux system. It was supposed to be an alternative publishing solution as well, so it got a lot of support at least from the German press, who are looking for alternatives to Apple and Amazon when it comes to electronic publishing.
After some delays it was delivered last week, and despite mediocre press the week before launch I took the opportunity to see the device myself. It’s hard to believe that they released this like it is. It is the ultimate storm.
Let’s start with the hardware: The display looks dark very quickly if you’re not looking right into it in a straight angle, it is not even remotely close to the display quality the iPad or better smart phones deliver. IMO this design decision alone would have tanked it already in a mass market scenario.
Holding it “right” isn’t easy, as it gained a bit of weight recently: While a week before delivery it was still announced at 800 grams, about the same weight as the iPad, it suddenly got 200 grams of extra weight on delivery, so it’s about 1 kg. Together with its size, this creates some leverage when you try to hold it in your hand.
Then this thing has a fan running all the time, and getting loud when the processor works. This happen i.e. when anything Flash related is running in your browser, like one of those annoying Flash ads – which become even more annoying with the WePad. Having these netbook class power also sips a bit of energy: In 2 hours we were running down from fully loaded to a bit below 30%, real life battery life seems to be generally between 2.5 and 5 hours.
The touchscreen reacted unresponsive from time to time. Eventually this related to a known software issue with the touch calibration, so the last word on this isn’t out yet, but definitely not a plus in the current state.
Beside these little details it has a lot of interfaces like USB or SD card slot, which more or less worked, and an HDMI, which doesn’t work correctly yet. GPS is not working yet as well.
It’s all about the software – right? Yeah, right… actually the WeTab is one of the first devices of Intel’s and Nokia’s Meego platform - ”MeeGo is an open source, Linux project which brings together the Moblin project, headed up by Intel, and Maemo, by Nokia, into a single open source activity”. Let’s just hope for Intel and Nokia that the WeTab is not a verdict about the viability of MeeGo. If it is, you can wipe MeeGo off the mobile roadmap.
The software of the WeTab is overall by far the worst software I have seen released in 20 years in the software business. There is a nice idea in it, which is how they deal with the 16:9 ratio of the screen: They use a strip on the right and left portion of the screen (in landscape orientation) for navigating on the homescreen and in long web pages. Even this is half cooked though: The homescreen holds applications and web links – in fact, most applications are just web links -, but it seems to be the only place where you can save bookmarks/favorites. Seriously: With the WeTab you likely get the only browser in the 21st century that can’t handle a useful number of bookmarks.
You also get
- a system that takes 3-10(!) seconds to adapt a rotation change
- a highly experimental Multitouch implementation, dysfunctional and inconstistent even in the very few supported apps
- a useless E-Mail app
- OpenOffice, whithout any modifications for a touch interface
- the promise that everything will be fixed by constant updates
Despite their announcement you don’t get (yet at the time of this writing)
- any App market
- access to Android apps – the device fails to comply with Google’s requirements for Android anyway, so it won’t have direct access to Google’s app market.
- an SDK – announced for December
How do customers react? Well, how would you? Most likely you would send it back. Though neither MediaMarkt nor Amazon give out any official numbers, a number of reports clearly show a return rate well north of 50% – before the return period is even over. The WeTab creators set their bets a lot on community efforts to market their products, and relied heavily on word of mouth. The WeTab facebook group created over 20k followers, but has turned mostly against the product by now.
What is going to happen? While the WeTab makers are struggling to get the software in any useful state, they are loosing money and reputation on it. No matter what they do, the hardware alone will not win many customers. I don’t know anything about the financials of WeTab GmbH, but a retail disaster like this burns a heap of money. Consequently I think that it’s rather likely that they will loose the retail channel well before the holiday season or at least suspend further deliveries.
On the horizon we already see a new breed of Android tablets and also other Linux-based touchdriven netbooks providing much better displays. They claim the same niche with claims of “Open” and “Flash-Support”, and rather sooner than later there will be one that is worth a “Honorable Mention”. The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.