Tablets optimize

10 ways tablets must improve to become fully accepted

The popularity of tablets is on the rise in both the consumer and business spheres. But some limitations continue to hold them back.

I have an Android Xoom. I want to be a big fan of it. I want to use it. But as it stands, it's mostly relegated to the occasional usage in bed when a laptop is too much heft and heat. What is it about tablets that keeps users from more readily adopting? I believe there are several things that if improved, would have more and more users flocking to the devices.

1: Better integration with PCs

I'm talking better docking stations that allow users to easily use their tablets with existing peripherals. These docking stations need to be able to accommodate the usual arsenal of tools (keyboards, mice, speakers, external drives, etc.) to be fully effective.

2: Better keyboards

As a writer, I have to say the virtual keyboards on every tablet I have tried have been less than effective. I realize that those who can text at the speed of light are probably okay with the onscreen keyboards. But for those who do serious writing (authors, students, or anyone who writes more than a single page of information), a real keyboard is a necessity. Unless you want a serious case of numb fingers, sore wrists, or worse, a physical keyboard is a must.

3: Better integration with printers

Printing is a real pain on a tablet. For the most part, third-party applications are required, and some of those aren't free (nor are the services). Yes, on Android you can use Google Cloud Printing and set up printing fairly quickly. But that's not an ideal solution and won't work in all situations. Tablets need the ability to print easily before they can be considered viable alternatives for every day computing.

4: Improved browsers

There are a lot of browsers out there. On my Verizon-branded Xoom tablet, I use a combination of Firefox and Chrome. Why two? Because Chrome is fast, but it doesn't offer some of the features I like in Firefox. And Firefox has trouble with Flash on the Xoom tablet. Give us one browser that can be used for all necessary functions and make sure that browser is fast and secure. I would have thought Chrome to be the best choice, but it has started developing a few issues that could prevent it from being the one.

5: Built-in handwriting recognition

It's on its way -- at least in theory. Tablet PCs have had this feature for years, so I was shocked when tablets were released without the ability to do handwriting recognition. But I will take this even further -- I want tablets to pick up the full-featured recognition tablet PCs have: handwriting, input, and drawing. Now that tablet would be effective and useful.

6: Lower prices

HP's fire-sale pricing of the discontinued TouchPad notwithstanding, tablets are pricey. The iPad and the Xoom are more costly than a more powerful laptop would run. Bring those prices down to netbook level and acceptance will fly sky high.

7: More internal storage

Seeing as how SD cards are not the ideal solution for drawing more people to tablets (although they are better than the simple fixed-size storage currently offered by most), the internal storage size for tablets needs to be significantly higher than that of the higher-end smart phones.

8: Less phone, more laptop

One of the issues surrounding most tablets is that the manufacturers (and platform developers) are still locked into that "oversize smartphone" frame of mind. Tablets need to break away from that mindset or they will be trapped in a metaphor they should avoid completely. Smartphones serve a specific purpose that tablets do not. When tablets are nothing more than big smartphones, they are treated less like the productive tools they can be and more like an expensive toy that is better suited for social networking than actual work.

9: Better USB support

Some Android tablets (like the Xoom) have support for USB -- minimal support. In the case of the Xoom, the support pretty much ends with USB flash drives. Offering more support for some of the standard hardware (keyboards, mice, CD/DVD drives, etc.) would be a huge leap forward. Naturally this entails some substantial hurdles (the installation of drivers, for one). But these issues should be easily resolved by the collective intellect of the developers on all platforms.

10: Easy access to SD Cards

Some tablets have done a decent job of giving users access to SD cards. But not all tablets are created equal. The iPad and many Android tablets are bereft of SD card slots and this, in my opinion, lessens the effectiveness of the device. Since internal storage is most often limited, these SD cards can be a real game changer for hard-core users. Without them, users are going to be forced to pick through their files and remove what they really don't want.

Other issues?

I don't claim to have all the answers to the current state of tablets. They are picking up steam and increasing in popularity, but some hurdles should be overcome to bring the tablet market to where it should be. What do you think? Are tablets on pace to outshine laptops? What other issues need to be added to this list?

More on tablets

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

22 comments
markj73
markj73

Mice, keyboards and other human input devices should be Bluetooth. printers should be WiFi based, tablets don't need to change. My printer works on my tablet, and I never set it up, try that on Windows, download 100MB driver exe and spend 10-20 minutes waiting for it to install. Forget USB go wireless!!! What if you need to take it to another room , do you really want to drag all the cords too? Storage sizes will grow rapidly or use box.net or WiFi NAS for now. I use Bluetooth for audio, imagine playing a driving/racing game with numerous cords hanging off the tablet ...... Speaker wire, USB keyboard, mouse, printer, USB drive, yea that makes sense, or giving a demo/presentation using the tablet as a remote, and you want cords to fumble with with?

dbobke
dbobke

While I agree with the handwriting recognition - I think that is the "killer app" for the enterprise - when you start cramming all the rest of the stuff in there you basically have a laptop. This is my struggle with the tablet "place in the universe" - it is set up to be a content CONSUMPTION device, not a content CREATION device. Keyboards, USB, docking stations - at that point the device is really not "portable" any more. It is funny to see the executives I have dealt with who have complained that they want to "travel light". Now you see all of them carrying around a laptop AND a tablet - so much for traveling light. I think the handwriting (pen input) is the biggest addition. HTC is already doing this and Samsung just announced the Note, so it may be taking off.

Marc Thibault
Marc Thibault

Jack's done a really good job of describing my compromise-free Fujitsu T730.

peter.stevens
peter.stevens

and the undo key. And I wouldn't mind some standardized user interface, like a menu bar so I can better navigate the functions of the application.

Computer Dave
Computer Dave

Why can't a tablet also be a phone? One carrier touts that their service lets you talk on their phone and surf the web at the same time. Ever actually try to do that? What a PIA! So why not add whatever circuitry is needed to make a tablet into a phone? When used with a Bluetooth headset you'd have the perfect combination! And I still want infrared so I can use it as a smart universal remote for the home theater setup.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

The PC and tables are designed for two, almost mutually exclusive, sets of tasks. Let the tables "do" checking e-mail, surf the Internet, play simple games, and Tweeting. Let the PC "do" all the above, along with serious computing and data entry. The form factor of the tablet keeps it from seriously replacing/duplicating the functionality of a PC--so, don't try to mimic PCs.

pootwaddle
pootwaddle

LAN connectivity - not every work environment allows wireless connectivity....

rhonin
rhonin

1. My ASUS Transformer has a great keyboard dock that allows mt to connect to most items. External HDD is mainly a matter of drivers.... 2. True!! While my tablet has a great external keyboard, The one I have for my UL (backlit) is much better (both ASUS btw) 3. True! Biggest single issue. Currently I connect at home via my notebook to printer. Cloud and other are fairly lame atm.... 4. True! My one big gripe on my Transformer is the browser and typing integration - laggy. Very Laggy. 5. Maybe I really don't use this much and don't see it as such. Had it on my Thinkpad tablet and never bought much into it. 6. Nope! It is the overall market perception that needs to change. Got my ASUS system for right at $500 and felt it gave me as much as a good netbook. Includes Tablet and Keybaord dock. Lower is better though. 7. True! More is better. At the same time up the available RAM. 8. True!!! Why oh why does this seem so. This is a complaint with my iPad2 - looks just like my i4. My Transformer though looks nothing like my son's Captivate. 9. True!! USB 3.0 should be the norm. Then add peripheral drivers... 10. True! ASUS made it easy for me. Other OEM's, not so much....

agansler
agansler

...that they really should be netbooks. I don't understand why more people don't see this. Look at the features you're (justifiably) looking for: mouse, better keyboard, USB and SD support, printer integration. Guess what folks? That's a Netbook. Sure, the netbook of today is bulkier and heavier; but that's because it was designed to meet the demand of the low-end of the portable PC market. If you took the 11" HP that my wife owns, made it 3/4" thinner (which could prob be done w/use of SSD instead of HDD), and used a touch screen (in addition to the keyboard) and fold-down/convertible screen, you'd have the ultimate compromise. A utilitarian device that can be held in one hand while reading on the subway, but which also can be used to type an email while sitting down on the subway. Am I missing something here? We own a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, arguably one of the more leading edge tablets. And I have yet to figure out what I'm going to use it for. Sure, I'd love to bring it when I travel for business, but it's not robust enough to replace my PC. The screen is much larger and more comfortable to interact with than my SmartPhone, but I still need a phone. So I should carry a phone, a PC, and now this? Sorry, I'm still confused. As the author correctly points out, much of the 'back-end' looks and feels like a super-large Smart phone (without the phone of course). I constantly find myself looking for basic features that are lacking, but which I'm sure I'd be ok with if it were only a Smart phone. For example, I'm reading an article like the one above...I can do that on the tablet...then I decide that I want to comment on it...and I run for my PC, because I don't have 3 hours to write a couple dozen sentences on a bulky touchpad keyboard that reminds me a bit of the old 'Speak and Spell' devices of the Seventies. I'm sure there'll be some killer app that makes these things make sense at some point. But until then, I can't help but wonder...why tablets?

basim.zeineldin
basim.zeineldin

Adding the ability to use the mouse, this is very improtant for typing, multi selection and excel sheet handling.

Frenz9
Frenz9

Agreed about the printing, personally have no use to print from a tablet myself though the teachers that have tablets at the school i work for would desperately love to do this. Currently it is a very tedious process than what it should be (Press print).

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

The techno enthusiasts who read these postings or who? Perspectives are relevant to contexts. The iPad and in time, good alternative tablets, have (will have) surely one of the most meteoric adoption rates of any technology. It seems to me that millions of people have already accepted them. Many have presumably 'fully accepted' them already.

Fletchguy
Fletchguy

Most tablets can be phones you just have to do a little setup. The samsung galaxy tabs can be loaded with the stock euro firmware and radio which have the phone activated. the US firmware has it turned off but the Tabs are built phone ready.Wi fi phone apps exist for almoist all android tablets also or allow you to setup a google number then install it to your tablet. My samsung tab 7 inch has fully operational phone with the option of using a voip for wifi calls.

kitkimes41
kitkimes41

Here is my short list of requirements for a portable device. It must have the support for devices already mentioned, it has to be a touch screen - not a netbook style keyboard - and, oh yes, it has to have a REAL OS. Anything that runs nothing but apps is useless to me. I would prefer a version of Windows so I can add a dual boot Linux partition but I could live with a Linux only OS as long as it is powerful enough to run some windows programs in WINE. Are you listening tablet makers? A REAL OS!

kitkimes41
kitkimes41

is a 10 to 14 inch tablet running a real OS. Windows, MAC OS or Linux. It doesn't matter to me but it can't be an OS that just runs dumbed down apps. I need to be able to run real programs that do real work. Current tablets, costing up to $600, are little more than email readers, web browsers and e-readers that leave me cold.

wwgorman
wwgorman

I agree with this comment wholeheartedly. I am NOT a tablet owner but I do own an Asus Netbook which is my traveling computer. It does almost everything I want. I think if I figured how to mount it in a jeep to use as my GPS readout I would not even be thinking of a tablet. In fact, I may do just that before my next Utah 4-wheeling adventure next April.

cvitalos
cvitalos

The author either wants to transform tablets into netbooks, or ask for a touch screen UI on the current netbook offerings.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I think the difference is in perifferals being optional. When doing just casual tasks, I want only the tablet with me on the couch. When doing more input intensive tasks, I want the tablet to recognize a wireless keyboard or sit gently into a keyboard/cradle. I want to run a task on the tablet using keyboard/mouse then pick the tablet up and view the results with someone else as if it was a doodle on a pad of paper. With a Netbook, the keyboard is obligatory as is the clamshell chassis. With a Tablet, the keybaord can be attached when wanted and unattached when unwanted. Basically, the most interesting design right now is the clamshell craddle and tablet resulting in a netbook type setup when desired or a tablet setup when desired by ease of simply lifting the screen off the base. With every PDA since the Newton 2001, my second purchase was an applicable keyboard (first puchrase; a good metal case like inno-pocket makes). It gives the best of both worlds. In terms of what your going to do with it.. well, that depends on your interests and needs. Maybe a tablet only duplicates your existing functionality. Maybe a tablet on the road would be enough with remote desktop software for when you really need the desktop horsepower. Maybe your better off with a phone and convertable laptop setup. (I just wouldnt' blame your lack of use for it on the tablet's form factor)

lyle dylandy
lyle dylandy

I Have an Acer Iconia Tab, and it has a usb port which supports usb mouse and keyboard, i have a wireless logitech keyboard and mouse, which i often use with my tablet

yadayada
yadayada

Yes! A lot flash games are moused based and hard to adapt to the fat fingers. Before you come up with a mind control feature, give us the mouse control.

ag-tek
ag-tek

I feel a bit like you because there are technical app. that need windows, and there is an answer already, with 12" I5 processor...the Asus Eee Slate EP121, and 12" because I have the need for eyeglasses and reading tech stuff needs a lot of screen! Give it a look!

Fletchguy
Fletchguy

Just buy a car laptop mounting station which can be bolted to a floor or clamped. A simple wifi or wireless cell tether and your good to go.