Do We Really Need Tablets?

James Kendrick has a nice thought provoking piece up entitled, Who really needs a stinking tablet, anyway? Don’t think JK has gone over the edge. He’s still very much a Tablet lover. But his question has great value. There’s not much we do on Tablets that we can’t do on other devices.

So, why all of this hoo and hah about Tablets? Why do we care? Why do we argue over the differences between platforms like the Hatfields and the McCoys? Why do we wait with baited breath for the next device or OS release and feel such a gut punch when efforts like the TouchPad or Blackberry Playbook fail?

I think it goes back to something emotional that many of us who caught the Tablet bug felt with the original Tablet PCs. Old timers will remember this mantra: Tablet PCs make PCs personal again. Sure the hardware plays a part in this, but beyond a point I’ll get to in a second, the hardware fades in importance compared to what App Developers are able to provide us that allow each Tablet, regardless of platform, to become truly a reflection of our personal desires and needs.

Some folks are happy just to watch some video and surf the web. Some see these tote-able devices as content creation devices as they flit to and fro from gig to gig. Some are happy just to use them to play games. Again, any and all of that can be done with a laptop or ultra-book, and they can be made just as personal, so what’s the big deal?

In my humble opinion, this is where the hardware AND the software mix comes into play. The fact that we are interacting with these devices with our fingers and not through a keyboard is what lifts Tablet hardware into the realm of the personal. The how and why’s of multi-touch with its flicks and swipes, pinches and zooms, scrolling and tapping take the personal to the next and immediately personal level. Quite honestly, I think this is why Tablets based on Android so far have kept stumbling. Google and the manufacturers that rely on Android haven’t conquered the Touch experience just yet.

Ask yourself this. How many times have you allowed someone else to sit down at your desktop or laptop computer in a time crunched situation and been comfortable in the knowledge that they can access and work with what they need to on your device? Do you feel the same about your Tablet? I don’t. This may just be me, but my computers, as personal as they may be, are not as focused a reflection of me as my Tablet. I have a visceral negative reaction when I think of someone else using my Tablet that I don’t have when I allow them to use one of my more traditional computers. Sure, I know that many families share a Tablet. But in the warped world that is my mind, I’m viewing the family’s Tablet as just as personal a reflection of that family as an individual’s Tablet is. What’s on that Tablet defines that family. In years to come it will be interesting to watch how families that share Tablets this way shed Apps and experiences in the same way that toys, games, and other defining attachments get relegated to storage bins.

In the run up to Apple launching the original iPad many, including me, said Apple needed to define what the need for “this middle device” was. I don’t think they were that successful in doing so right away. But thanks to the App developers, we saw that happen in ways that I think surprised even Apple. We continue to see these very personal devices becoming more so. And thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Samsung, Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, and other Tablet makers, (even if they don’t call them Tablets), we’re seeing opportunities to have hardware options that can match our very personal visions of how we tote our self-defined digital lives around.

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Do we need these devices? Absolutely not. But as human beings, we all look for distinctive ways to define ourselves to each other and more importantly to ourselves. We have been doing that since the dawn of time. As quite a large chunk of the world’s population now defines itself through technology and what it can do for us, it only makes sense that the devices we use to work, play, and access that technology become as personal a reflection of who we are and what we want to portray as our wardrobe or our automobile.

I think I remember somebody somewhere saying something profound about the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

I think that was right on.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    I’ve got a home server, a desktop PC, a netbook, a tablet, and a smartphone. The tablet is indeed the one I could do without: it is being squeezed by the netbook, which can run MS Office and has 650GB of local storage, and the large-screen smartphone, which can do everything the Tablet does, only on a smaller screen.

    I actually think the screen size is part of the reason why Apple tablets are a success, and Android ones, not so much: when you’ve got a 3.5″ iPhone, you need a tablet more than when you’ve got a 4.3″ (moving to 4.6″ nowadays) Android phone. 4.3″ is 44% more screen area than 3.5″, which is huge. Desktop equivalent would be 23″ vs 19″. And I can hear my new Galaxy Note (5.3″, 2.5x the iPhone’s screen) putting nails in the coffin of my 7″ Nook.

  2. Roberto says

    I have a Kindle which I like very much and I got a Nook Color for my kids which is okay. They like it. Personally right now I don’t see myself getting any tablet because at the moment they don’t replace anything. It just becomes another device I have to haul around, and another device I have to charge. And at the end of the day, while tablets do all kinds of things okay to good, if I want to play a game, I am going to use my PSP because it way better gaming device than any tablet. If I want to read, The Kindle is a way better reading device than any tablet. Listen to music? My music player with its large hard drive and small size is a way better music player. Videos? My PSP is good enough for me. My laptop is also good. Need GPS? My phone works great for that. Email? The phone is okay to fine. Same with surfing the Web. It’s good enough, and if I need more, I’ll go to the laptop. As for trying to create something on a tablet? For me at this point in time they don’t work for me. Other people? If it works for you, more power to you, although in my purely unscientific observations around people trying to create something on an i-pad always have a laptop up and running around them and refer to it so for myself I would just do it on the laptop. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Anonymous says

    I think the word “tablet” is part of the problem. Tablets running a phone OS are part of a line of devices which have nothing to do with the tablets that run Windows. Phone OS tablets can look back to the media players (like the iPod Touch or various Archos models) and PDAs (most notably the Palm line) as their predecessors. They are designed for media consumption (music, video, and books), email, browsing, and organizing your life (calendar, contacts, etc.).

    Windows tablets are based on Microsoft’s attempt to add stylus input to a laptop. They look back to the convertible tablets which ran Windows XP Tablet Edition (like the IBM X41). They are designed to do what a laptop does but to also allow ink annotations and handwriting recognition while swapping a mouse for a stylus.

    Until the price of a Windows tablet (plus a keyboard) comes down to rival the price of a laptop with similar specs, the will probably remain a niche product for select vertical markets and tablet addicts (like myself). They are overkill for the average consumer.

    A phone OS tablet is unnecessary but if the hardware and software mesh it can enhance your life. You are spot on with the soft/hardware combination being the key. This is why the most successful Android tablets are those that are focused on a particular need like the Nook or Fire.

  4. austreaker says

    Yes it is for these reasons that I was an early adopter of the Dell Streak 5 and now a proud owner of the Galaxy Note.

    Galaxy Note gives me the best of both worlds and it is pocketable as well. It is about convergence with me and to date, why would you tote a 10″ tablet to work etc.

    A phone and a high spec laptop is all I neeed. Now if the phone can start intruding on laptop use ie windows 8 supporting Arm chip, the future is bright for mobile phone and not looking good for laptop. As for tablet, it is still a toy to me

  5. Cuhulin says

    I find my Ipad is my second most used device — right behind my work desktop – but it probably is the most replaceable, supporting Kendrick’s thesis.

    However, I think this is about lack of evolution of the tablet, more than anything else. Improve the keyboard to tablet connection with a Logitech keyboard or Transformer design and the tablet becomes a better notebook than a netbook, particularly when Office becomes available. Move tHe phone antennas and hardware into the tablet, with a wirelessly connected Nano watch as a keypad, and the tablet becomes a better phone. Only a tablet can replace my paper notepads.

    I think the 7 -10″ size is simply better than smartphone sizes for reading, watching and thinking. However, it is not yet being used as fully as it could be.

    • Lee Deavers says

      Greedy mobile phone carriers in USA will/and have prevented the tablet for becoming the all-in-one entertainment/computing center. Rather than being satisfied with charging us for data usage they demand contracts and services per unit. Case in point, the 7 inch Galaxy had the voice hardware for cellular but it was stripped out for the USA.

  6. GTaylor says

    I should be posting this on JK’s site but it is just too thick over there so to JK and GBM readers…

    Point 1, you crimp your point by starting with the iPad and continue with other limited tablettes. Not a full os, no full pen input, no hand writing recognition. How does this apply past the world of tabletts?
    Point 2, you use unnecessarily absolute comparisons; needed, not needed, life radically different, and so on.
    Any little difference in gadget world and there is so much fuss that the need gets lost along with the dollars. New is passionately pursued to an extent that usability is often ignored.

    If the tablet, with stylus and full os would have come first before any of us knew how to type, we would all have wondered when the desktop and laptop appeared, “Who wants to always sit in the ready to pray position just to use a computer?”

    Thanks for the post Warner

  7. Tim Davies says

    The primary reason I have to own a tablet such as the hp touchpad or the ipad is that its less intrusive in meetings and the class room then a laptop. I am one of the few people that prefer my touchscreen keyboard to the real thing, So its a very natural fit. I used to be very pro physical keyboard back jn the windows mobile days(even with my convertable hp tablet) but once you get used to touching a button rather then pressing it, it`s hard to go back.

    The reason it worked to go with a Phone OS rather then the x86 is battery life, plain and simple.

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  9. Anonymous says

    Do we need tablets?  Of course! 

    The newest
    tablet is called “The Tablee!”  See it in this short comical clean animation
    making fun of the tablet competition.

  10. Anonymous says

    I’m surprised that the smaller tablets (around 7″) are not more popular than they are – a look through the stores would tell you that most people have smartphones and 10″ tablets, not 7″.  I finally broke down and bought my first ever touchscreen device a couple days ago, choosing a 7″ Android tablet, and so far I am very happy with it.

    As someone stated earlier, 10″ is big and heavy – it’s not comfortable to hold in one hand, nor to carry in a smallish bag or purse.  But I wouldn’t want to try to read a novel on a smartphone (I might have gotten a lightweight Kindle for reading if I was a bit younger, but I can read a luminescent display better than e-ink without reaching for reading glasses), and smartphones are not very ergonomic for the original purpose: as a phone.  So I think I’ll keep my flip-phone that fits in my pocket and feels nice to talk on, my desktop computer with a big display and full keyboard for doing real work, and my new 7″ tablet for the on-the-go extra stuff.

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