Mobility

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?

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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.

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