Tablets look to be the next big thing, but Seth Barton is not convinced that they are a healthy step forward for our computing habits.
A torrent of new tablets are about to be unleashed at Mobile World Congress next week, with the vast majority of them running Google’s new tablet-specific Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). operating system. Also on show will be devices using HP’s WebOS, as well as the Blackberry Playbook and probably some misguided Windows 7-based efforts.
All of these newcomers have come to do battle with the device-defining iPad; hoping to repeat the success that Android smartphones have had recently against the almighty iPhone. All this competition is a good thing, but what it also indicates is that the tablet format is going beyond its initial hype – put simply, the tablet looks to be here to stay.
That comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as I was dubious as to whether consumers needed a third device for accessing the internet, one that sits between laptops and smartphones. This stance was supported by the high cost of the iPad in an uncertain economic outlook. Somewhat naively maybe, I even thought environmental good-sense might prevail, preventing consumers from adding yet another gizmo to their carbon footprint.
At the time, all this negativity could have been taken as anti-Apple rhetoric, but with a wider range of devices about to be unleashed, I can now talk about the tablet in a more platform agnostic manner.
Now it’s still not proven that the tablet will break out of its current Mac ghetto – I mean, do you know anyone who actually owns one? And if so how many other Apple devices do they also own? Still, with so many big names bringing models to market this year, it’s hard to bet against the tablet right now. Given this, what does the new format add to our lives, and should it be welcomed with open arms by all, or viewed with caution.
The core design of the tablet seems to be a series of compromises aimed at making it as small and stylish as possible. These compromises come at a heavy price though compared to laptops.
There’s been much talk about the tablet replacing the laptop, but I can’t see that happening soon. Students will still need laptops, because they’re great for doing school work and just try passing a degree without one, the same goes for many jobs. Younger kids may benefit from the intuitive interface a tablet can offer, and yes those touch-based paint programmes are very cool, but I’d rather young kids got to get messy with finger paints, and then spent the afternoon building an ant farm, than spend more time on a computer, be it a laptop or a tablet.
So given these limitations, why are tablets the big new thing?