Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Trouble With Tablets

Tablet computers are clearly all the rage. Unlike the "netbook" craze a few years ago, tablets seem to be on a sales trajectory that will continue to grow.

I love my Apple iPad. It turns on quickly, its speed on a WiFi network is very good, the apps are abundant and generally useful, it's easy to carry with me most of the time — and I look pretty darn good sporting such high-tech gear.

So, what's not to love?

First, they're expensive. The new iPad starts at $500 and goes to more than $800. You can buy a pretty sweet laptop or desktop computer for that. And it's hardly affordable, especially if you want one for everyone in the family.

To be fair, if you want to buy an iPad 2 — the previous version — they run typically $100 less than the new version.

The primary competitor to Apple iPad are tablets that run the Google Android operating system. These tablets tend to be a few hundred dollars less expensive, but are still pretty pricey.
A quick look at Verizon's website indicates that they offer tablets from $229 up to more than $700. Some of the tablets are available at reduced prices with a minimum two-year contract, meaning that along with the tablet itself, you'll have a monthly fee to connect it to the Internet.

There are some tablets I have seen that are just coming to the United States that are available for under $100. They're not very popular yet, but this is the direction that we need to see tablets going before they reach saturation.

Second, most tablets are hard to read in sunlight. The most notable example is the Amazon Kindle with its eink (see: www.eink.com) displays. To date, eink displays have been primarily black and white, although they do have a color display that is starting to see its way into markets.

Third, tablets aren't really good for typing. This inhibits work such as emails, creating of documents and even spreadsheets. I do not see that the desktop/laptop computer with a keyboard will every actually go away, but if people think that the tablets and software currently available will become their "regular" computer, I would consider them to think again.

On the plus side for tablets, they do significantly change the computing paradigm. Due to their lack of keyboards, we now have a vastly different way to interact with our computers. This certainly enables more people to use computers that are not familiar with computers, keyboards or are not even literate.

Tablets also have opened up tools for entertainment, productivity and education that were not practical on computers with a keyboard. Sometimes a keyboard and a mouse are just downright clunky. Using one's fingers to gesture on the screen what to do is a very natural form of working.

So, as much as I like my tablet, I envision that I will like it even more as the software and hardware mature over the next few years. I will still not give up my computer with my keyboard, but when I go out of my office for a while, it's sure nice to take a tablet with me instead.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 29 March 2012.

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