Why I Don't Believe In the Notion Ink Adam (Among Other Devices)

I’ve been allowed the great privilege of enjoying a spirited discussion on this very site with a number of die-hard fans of the Notion Ink Adam tablet. In over 135 comments directed at us by this post I’ve been lambasted, my integrity angrily derided, and I have been compared to a set of hirsute female genitalia. You claim that I have some sort of bias against this product or perhaps any product that is not Apple or Microsoft or some other brand name. I’m here to tell you that I do not have a bias against the Adam in the way you assume I do. I have a bias against bad products in general, and based on my experience in this industry and I believe that aside from a few die-hards who will admonish me to try pry their Adam tablets from their cold dead hands, most of you will be disappointed.

I do not express bias. I express opinion. I don’t have a huge staff but all of us have seen a lot of this industry and, in truth, I think we do a better job of covering the minutiae of technology than most general interest publications. Blogging is journalism in the same way ballet is dance. Both are part of a larger family, both are limited by the skill of the practitioner, and both are valid forms of expression within an overarching milieu. Joel at Gizmodo wrote an excellent piece on what exactly is going on here. This is Joel’s money shot, just to warm you guys up. Obviously take Gizmodo out and replace CrunchGear and also take out the part about Internet culture out because we don’t have Jesus Diaz on staff:

I try to allow for this, especially when presented in the “But you call yourselves journalists!” package. I know that most of the people attempting to define and discard our opinions have the media comprehension ability of an especially contemplative elk. Still, consider this in a scrolling, flashing, graphic set overtop an exploding marching band: “Journalism” is an act, a process, not a role nor a duty. Sometimes, despite all inclination to the contrary, journalism is practiced at Gizmodo. Sometimes we summarize or respond to journalistic works of other outlets. And sometimes—most of the time—we’re just talking.

There, I’ve said it. Our secret is out. While most of us blogging at Gizmodo really like electronics, internet culture, and, you know, all the other topics we stuff in between the cracks; and while we think we know a little bit more about these topics than the average person, if only by dint of being steeped in it all day long for years at a time, when we write a review we’re not pretending to have come down from on high with the only opinion, the canonical perspective.

Nope. We’re just telling you the same thing the same way we’d tell a friend if they asked us about a gadget in a bar. “Hey, should I buy that new thing?” “Eh, not really.” “What’s the best thing I should buy?” “Buy this one.”

Incidentally, Joel Johnson taught me how to blog, so I take what he writes very seriously. Anyway, back to Adam. Here are my problems with the product and these problems can easily be associated to any number of products that have launched in a similar fashion and share the same similar exuberance. Look at Gizmondo and Palm, for example. A huge fan base built up over those devices and yet they both flamed out.

Timing. It seems that we have been talking about the Adam since around CES 2009. In reality, Notion Ink has been plugging away since 2007. That’s three years of build-up. In gadget terms, that’s a century. In that period the iPad has taken top spot in the tablet wars, Blackberry announced the Playbook, Dell released two Streaks, and a number of handsome and usable Windows 7 and Android tablets have crossed my transom. The Galaxy Tab is shipping now and Samsung, being immensely popular in Asia, has already sold 600,000 of them. Barring the fact that the Notion Ink Adam is Indian and could be quite popular in that populous nation, there are plenty of also-ran devices that are popular in Asia and Europe that do not make an international splash.

To paraphrase Thoreau, the mass of men live lives waiting for good tablets. Will they want one that is only generally compatible with Android, made by a manufacturer with no track record, and bolstered only by a group of vociferous, angry fans? Or will they buy a bargain basement model from Acer or HP or, shudder, go the tested route of the iPad?

But it has an SDK, you say! It’s called Genesis! Archos and Creative both launched similar SDKs and both failed. You don’t hitch your wagon to the skinniest horse on the farm, friends.

Build and Price. The Notion Ink is quite handsome, to be sure. My concern is that Pixel Qi will be unable to manufacture a sufficient number of touch screens in the next few months to supply Notion Ink. My other concern is that someone – a larger company – will soon buy up Pixel Qi and license the technology only to those with more cash than a start-up. As we ourselves have proven, everything looks rosy and beautiful in the dev stage (I was actually looking forward to the CrunchPad) but things fall apart in the build stage. Delays don’t look good and the market is picking up this year. CES will bury and Notion Ink news in a flood of tablets, laptops, touchscreen devices, and other amazingness.

As for pricing, you’ll notice that the Adam is priced at $498 for a 3G version. Why? Because the cheapest iPad is $499. Why is it so expensive? Because tablets are expensive. To build your own tablet, motherboard and all, and not depend on OEM motherboards that will, in the end, control the size and shape of your device, you must build and manufacture your own silicon. This is expensive. Apple can do it because they’re sitting on billions. Can Notion Ink do more more than just repackage a standard OEM board? Probably not. You can get a $99 tablet, sure, but it’s like buying cut-rate sushi – why risk the disappointment and the E. coli?

Irrational Exuberance. The thing that worries me most is the exuberance with which a group of anonymous commenters attacked my post. I say this constantly but “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The site’s commenters have created a cult of personality and feel empowered by Notion Ink to actually make a difference in the device. God bless them, I say. It’s important for users to feel that their voices are heard. But the herd doesn’t make good products and the herd is fickle. It is my opinion that this device will not live up to the hype.

In the end, I am one man with an opinion. But I have seen products come and go and I believe that in my unique position I can name hits and/or misses. I don’t like to name misses, but I call them when I see them. What would I suggest to Notion Ink? That they had better ship before the holidays and they should ship with the latest version of Android with the promise iterative updates. They had better reduce pricing to far below $498 and they have to make a concerted marketing campaign including online display ads and pop-up stores in various US and European cities. If they want to make the Adam II, they need to get this launch absolutely correct. While I laud Rohan and his team for interacting with his audience, I think they should be working on the device instead of the website.

Again, people, prove me wrong. When the Notion Ink launches I want to see it soar above us like a majestic, magical eagle, dropping bacon-infused whiskey bon bons instead of feces. Make it happen. I’m just betting on a different horse, that’s all.