(Not a) Rant: Toys are Mainstream

What’s that boy? Is it already time for another rant? Oh no, this is just a riposte to an op-ed that lays down a point that misses the point. This time, I’m referring to an entry on ReadWriteWeb entitled “Tablets are Toys (Not Mainstream Machines).” Sounds like something that would trigger rant mode, but I can’t get past the critical flaw in the logic, which is that toys can’t be  mainstream machines.

It’s because you can’t work on a tablet. You can’t get things done without a decent working keyboard, whether it’s in the enterprise or for personal productivity. Normal people are never going to lug around a separate keyboard for their computer. The two most highly anticipated products, Arrington’s CrunchPad and the Apple tablet, are both going to be secondary entertainment machines, not the mainstream tech trend of the year.

First off, notice how that keyboard argument keeps popping up? It’s because people who write  for a living  equate typing with productivity. I have no problem with that line of thought (I’m employing that formula right now), but it’s not the only way to be productive. I deal with copy editors (real ones who wield the red pen), physicians, and  technologists every day, not just in the States but also other countries. Their productivity isn’t all  about typing and  not always in a language that lends itself to a keyboard. And let’s not forget the mobility advantage.

Second, what separates  toys from “mainstream” machines?  The writer  throws the term “mainstream” out there a lot but never really explains what that means. I recognize  he’s going at this with a focus on enterprise, but he keeps throwing out references to consumption devices, like the Kindle and iPod touch, that clearly are not enterprise-oriented (unless you’re in the media business). So where’s the line?

It seems to center around productivity, but somehow also includes personal devices, which don’t  necessarily need keyboards. The least productive machine in my house is a TV set, and I’m pretty sure it’s a mainstream machine. Ditto for the DVD player and stereo. Also a lot of actual  toys in my house, specifically Transformers. Aren’t those mainstream? Where is the line that separates tablets from “mainstream”?

Is it the secondary status that draws the line? Well, then wouldn’t any secondary device be considered not “mainstream”? That would include netbooks and even full  notebooks that people use as secondary devices. An iPod used for portable music would be secondary if you used a full stereo system at home. Does that indicate iPods aren’t “mainstream”? Oh, but iPods aren’t productive either, so they definitely would not be “mainstream,” except that everyone I know has one. It’s very confusing.

Third, what’s up with the “normal people” reference? Normal people don’t lug around notebooks with integrated keyboards  either. I lug a  notebook (convertible Tablet  PC)  every day. Trust me, it’s not normal. It is unusual.  So why point out normal people also  won’t carry separate keyboards?

Bottom line: If you think Tablets are Toys, that’s fine, toys are awesome,  but what does that have to do with  them not  being mainstream? The author cites: “The most mainstream device without a physical keyboard is the iPhone.” Okay, but as I wrote when it debuted,  it’s a phone with integrated iPod and YouTube viewer. Seems like a toy to me (and I prove that every day), yet somehow mainstream-ish. If voice and music make  that toy  mainstream, then why wouldn’t video and web surfing do the same for a tablet?