Tablets

Shortcomings of current tablet offerings

Jack Wallen lists 10 ways that tablets must improve to become fully accepted.

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.

Note: This post originally appeared in TechRepublic's 10 Things blog.

1: Better integration with PCs

I'm talking better docking stations that allow users to easily use their tablets with existing peripherals.

Photo credit: iStockPhoto/ozgurdonmaz

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.

19 comments
Hoibie
Hoibie

I guess I don't fully understand how something as basic as connecting a tablet (or for that matter any Android) to a printer was left out of the recipe... When and if someone comes up with a good app, they're going to be downright rich. For me, it's a head-scratcher....

The Weekly Geek
The Weekly Geek

Tablets just are not there for ease of use. You all have mentioned so many issues, however to me it boils down to just ease of use. I have written an article on the ViewPad over at www.theweekygeek.com to give more depth on what my personal experiance has been.

rlims
rlims

It's a tablet, NOT a PC, NOT a laptop. Turn around and look ahead!

Paul R.A.
Paul R.A.

I think that is the elephant in the room - or if win 8 arm will only support metro we may be in a situation where win 8 though scalable across platforms will not allow all features on each. so tablets will remain just big phone's without the phone. the writer's use of the tablet jives with most who have the upper end- it is difficult to ascertain true tablet sales since even the most basic e-reader is labeled a tablet in the survey's

user support
user support

We tested Lenovo IBM 10 inch tablet pc Thinkpads (Windows) 4 to 5 years ago with hand writing recognition. Drawbacks - short battery life (2 hours), connection problems to portable scanner or all-in-one. Pros of the Lenovo was had the same OS and Office Suite of desktop computer. Could connect to network via VPN. Use remote desktop to avoid installing extra software on the client tablet. The new tablets seem nice but they are missing the keyboard, hand writing recognition, VPN?, network connection, Outlook and Outlook PST is required on a laptop. Can Outlook PST files be connected on tablets?

alberto.rovero
alberto.rovero

As our needs grow and diverge within the ICT-related space we find that one-size does not fit all. The sports car VS truck comparison is perfect. Tablets are, in my view, a new category of device whose focus is media consumption. If you are into some heavy lifting regarding the creation of content... then you need a desktop or desktop replacement equivalent - which is NOT what a tablet is meant to be. I think it's normal for power users to want more and more from nascent platforms - but is that what the general public needs? There is a client base who wants something portable with close-to-zero latency and simple operation. This client-base I easily see including both senior citizens that want some unobtrusive device to just check email with or do video chat, whilst looking at photos of the grandkids... and students who just want to access ebooks, movies and music whilst keeping in touch in ways that their smartphones do not allow. This category of device is not a replacement in most cases, and is best viewed as a new media consumption portal.

Professor8
Professor8

Yes, there need to be more embedded tablets (car dash-boards, shopping mall kiosks, tourist attraction kiosks), door-side announcers, better key-boards, and much bigger screens... at lower prices (and not just bait-and-switch/low-ball prices but across the line). "Bulkiness" is way down my list of concerns. Now that we've finally recovered to 64-bit architectures, bring to market a 6 pound lap-top, 1.5-2 inches thick, with a fold-out 30-inch screen, with a privacy setting to prevent blabbing your identity and location to every cell tower and wi-fi service point etc., 10 hours of battery life between charges, and (uh, let's see, 10 years, twice a day, 365.223 days, call it) 7300 recharge cycles before battery death, at $1K or less.

jcollatz
jcollatz

I really hate laptops. They are too small to be a substitute for desktop computers on which I need two monitors to do my work. If you take laptops into a production work environment and you flip the screen open, you have to put it down on some surface to do anything with it. Now a tablet would do the job except - it is not capable to do it yet as I take it from your comments. I am waiting for a tablet that can do a laptop's work without being bulky. If it would have phone capabilities, much the better. Anybody read Moving Mars? That devices would be the ones we would need. (PS: I love my sports car...)

Regulus
Regulus

Ok, Let's start by understanding that this product is still in its' infancy. Instead of letting the 'Industries' 'Wow' us with this and that, how about you, 'Tech Republic' start the ball rolling by establishing a list of basic capabilities that 'WE' want to see, and at what level of capability and performance. Sub-Charts could be made for various client markets. IT Road Warriors are different than Business Road Warriors and Gamers - all very demanding clients. etc. General users still deserve capabilities. Keep it going.....

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

you then have...drumroll please...A LAPTOP!!! So, it begs the question, why not get a small form-factor laptop to begin with? I've read numerous blogs and op-ed pieces that say basically the same thing in regards to tablets..need to add this, add that, etc. etc, ad nauseum, so that it can then be the cat's meow. Well, I think I hear a cat purring over there... yep, there it is! My laptop! Why keep trying to justify the use potential of these devices? They may be quite handy for display purposes, quick email, etc., but if they don't fit the need, then why not acquire a tool that does?

mkottman
mkottman

Some people, even though they would like a sports car, really need a pickup truck. If you add all these features you have a laptop, not a tablet. Nothing wrong with that, but don't put all this baggage on a tablet for those that don't need it. A sports car with a truck bed out back isn't going to be a very good sports car.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

6. I don't mind the current hardware prices as much as the cellular service contracts. 8. Looking at what we know of Windows 8, Microsoft seems to think that not only should tablets be more phone and less laptop, laptops and desktops should be more phone too.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

About the only thing keeping me from Debian on a tablet is driver support for the touchscreen. Provide generic drivers, document the hardware interface, use touchscreens that simply present as mouse pointer devices or even a focus on reverse engineering driver support and baking it into the *nix kernel (the most rational solution really). General purpose distributions just seem way to far behind for all the attention that touch interfaces are getting these days. Same OS running on my desktop, laptop, phone and tablet with form-factor applicable desktop environment on each; yesser.. who do I give my money too?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is going to apply to tablets too. Their screens are even smaller than laptops.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Mount a jet engine in that truck bed on the back of that sports car and your right up there with the Jet powered school bus and other sporty wonders. :D

Muttz
Muttz

Head over to XDA Developers. Someonw has ported Ubuntu to the original Samsing Galaxy tab.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

"Same OS running on my desktop, laptop, phone and tablet with form-factor applicable desktop environment on each; yesser.. who do I give my money too?" Hmmm...Microsoft...from previews of Windows 8 anyway! Sorry...I couldn't help myself! I know, I know...do 3 Hail Linuxes, spinning around counter-clockwise 3 times, and re-compile my Slackware kernel...

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I usually post when touchscreens come up for this very reason; someone may be able to point me to a new resource I've not yet been through. (offhand, there was a great site "LinuxTouch" or something like that that looked like a splinter off LinuxDevices main domain but I can't find it now.. boo me for not writting down the address)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I thought that had finally been updated to "recompile your Hurd" in the St Ignatious reading, chapter five, passage 3. :D I've actually been watching MS since they first introduced the cross-compiling of games for all MS platforms at once. There are other things that would make Windows incompatible with my setup but that wuold indeed provide the single OS on all devices need.