The Case for Tablet Computing

The problems I have with the iPhone are all minor things that most cosumers probably don’t give a crap about:

  • * Only syncing with iTunes
  • * App DRM problems
  • * No access to file system
  • * No DIVX support
  • * No Multitasking (and don’t tell me about the new OS, because that doesn’t count – it isn’t full multitasking)

Rather than go into a long winded article about my assumptions about a device I have never used, I thought I would talk about the platform.  I won’t attack or defend Apple and the iPad here, so if that is what you are looking for, move on.  What I want to talk about is tablet computing.  Like I said, I didn’t see a need for it.  But it occurred to me after reading blog posts on and Wil Wheaton’s blog that there might be something to the platform after all.  Tablet computing started out as just a laptop with a screen that folded backwards.  No one used them, because the touch screens were resistive, which meant they were unresponsive, so they weren’t good as touch input devices, and when you tried to use the thing as a normal laptop, the touch film required got in the way, so it wasn’t a useful laptop either.  It was the worst of both worlds.  Add to that the fact that it was still a full blown PC, which meant slow boot times, and heat and battery issues, and it’s no wonder that doctors and professors were the only people who used them.

As much as I dislike the iPhone, it did a lot for computing on small hardware.  With a capacitive touch screen, and a well thought out design, it was possible to use fingers effortlessly to drive input on the device.  It also meant more screen real-estate since there was no keyboard, and it was crystal clear because either there is no touch film, or it is not nearly as intrusive as a resistive screen.  (I am not a touch-screen expert, obviously.)

As much crap as I give the iPhone, it does do a lot right.  Getting so many developers on board is a colossal reason for the device’s success.  Even people using BlackBerrys and Android phones have Apple to thank for making developing for mobile devices a possibility.  It existed before, but not in such a major way.  Apple did what they always do, and brought some niche thing mainstream.

I would argue that that is exactly what they did for tablet computing with the iPad.  It is a movie screen, board game, ebook, photo viewer and much much more, I am sure.  Sure, all of those things can be done on the iPhone (or other phones), but the point is that the screen is too small to do most of them well.  The iPhone put a decent computer in remote control sized hardware.  The iPad is a coffee table book.  And that is where I see it excelling.  It isn’t enough of a computer to be a realistic laptop replacement, although some people would disagree, but it is perfect for sitting on the couch and checking IMDb for some actor on screen, or ordering a pizza while the game is on.  Then at the end of the day, it is a backlit ebook reader.

I have tried to do all of those things with my laptop (it is netbook sized, but old enough that it I had it long before the term netbook was around), and it works, but it isn’t quite the right tool for the job.  Much like I had a BlackBerry Pearl, and it was a good smartphone, but not quite there yet.  Much like I have a Nook, and it is a great ebook reader, but it just isn’t quite there yet.

I don’t like using Apple products.  The longer I have and use the iPhone, the more convinced I am of that.  But they are pushing boundries and making normal people accept these new gadgets.  Old school tablet computers, ebook readers, portable DVD players, and netbooks are all goofy one shot solutions that can be answered with the iPad.  I am very excited not about the iPad, but about its competitors that are surely only a few more miles down the road.  Apple has finally convined me, and most of the American public, that tablet computing can work, and now I want one.  Just not theirs.

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