Tablets are for people who hate PCs

Tablets may be stealing some of the thunder from traditional PC sales, but they're not for everyone. PC enthusiasts may be disappointed by a tablet.

I started using the original Apple iPad the day it launched in 2010. Same for the iPad 2 in 2011. For most of the other high-profile tablets that have arrived during the past year -- Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, BlackBerry PlayBook, HP TouchPad -- I've been fortune enough to get my hands on them even before they were available to the public. For all of these tablets, I've been able to experiment with them for weeks, if not months.

This little journey has made the past year pretty exciting with all of these uber-gadgets to work with and write about. But, after working with the iPad and most of these competitor tablets month after month, I've come to a bit of a sobering conclusion: If you're already highly-proficient with a computer then you're probably going to end up pretty frustrated with most of these tablets.

Notes: This post was first published in TechRepublic's Tech Sanity Check blog.

Photo credit: iStockPhoto/ozgurdonmaz

I've come up with a new rule for technophiles who are thinking about which tablet to buy. I'd encourage you to repeat this to yourself. Memorize it. It will either save you money or help set your expectations correctly if you do decide to get a tablet. Here it is...

New rule: Tablets are for people who hate computers

Okay, I know that "hate" is a pretty strong word here, but let's be honest, there are still a lot of people who are scared, intimidated, or simply averse to using computers. For many of these people, tablets like the iPad are perfect. The interface is self-evident, the user experience is limited and uncomplicated, and there aren't a lot of buttons and menus to cause confusion (especially with the iPad).

Tablets like the iPad are also great for children. Since most kids are natural touchers, they tend to learn the multitouch interface almost instantly, without any instruction. I've seen kids as young as two who have watched their parents use an iPad and quickly learned how to swipe to unlock it and pull up the Photos app and swipe through pictures.

However, if you are a person that is already highly-proficient with a computer and has refined a way of doing things on a PC or Mac that enables you to speed through your most important tasks, then you will probably be impressed with the look-and-feel of a tablet in your hands, but ultimately frustrated that it can't do a lot of the things you're used to doing with a computer, or at least can't do them fast enough.

That's the same feeling I get with every tablet that I try to use for an extended period in place of a laptop. I continually run into moments where I try to do something and get frustrated because it's slow, clunky, or impossible to do on a tablet. I always end up just wanting to put the tablet down and pick up a laptop to speed through the task. Examples of normally simple tasks that end up getting really frustrating on a tablet include copying and pasting text from one email message to another, editing a spreadsheet or a presentation, and shortening and URL and then posting it to several different social networks.

As a result, that pretty much relegates a tablet to a companion device. It's just not going to replace a laptop for people who are already PC-proficient. The best case scenario is that it might replace a second laptop -- the old, low-powered laptop you used to leave downstairs in the basement or the den, or maybe on a bedside table. Even then, watch out. There will be times when you'll get frustrated by the things you can't do on the tablet. As I've said before, tablets are good for two things, reading and Scrabble (or other games).

Don't get me wrong, there are moments of utter coolness with tablets. One time we had some friends over and decided to order Chinese. I grabbed the iPad, pulled up the restaurant's menu and passed it around for everyone to decide what they wanted. That was cool.

Despite the occasional cool moment like that, I think lots of business professionals and technologists will find that the Amazon Kindle is a lot better for reading books while laptops are better for reading articles since the social tools for sharing and commenting are a lot better. The only real advantage that tablets have is that they are a lot easier to learn how to use and there aren't as many ways for people to mess them up. That makes them appeal to a lot of people and that's why Apple will sell 40-50 million of them in 2011. But, I think that techies and professionals who buy tablets will increasingly find that they use them less and less as they reach for their laptops to do stuff that's simply too frustrating on a tablet.

Exceptions to the rule

Naturally, there are few exceptions to my new rule. Tablets aren't completely worthless. Here are some of the ways tablets can still be useful for certain people and certain tasks in the business world.

  • Field workers - For people who aren't at a desk all day, but need to go on site and meet with clients, show them photos or illustrations, and get them to simply sign documents, the tablet makes perfect sense and always has. Some of these folks were already on board with Microsoft's Tablet PC. The biggest advantage of the iPad and the other new multi-touch tablets is that they're a lot cheaper.
  • Single-purpose tasks - The iPad and other tablets can serve as inexpensive systems for doing single tasks like presenting photos (as in a showing for a photographer), serving as a document viewer for large documents, being a survey tool for people to fill out feedback forms, and lots of other functions that you can see if you browse the App Store.
  • The meeting machine - For people who are in meetings all day, like project managers and sales professionals, a tablet can be the ideal computer to carry. You can use it to quickly access email, calendar, address book, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can take notes with it. You can use it to show off charts. And, there's also a social aspect to this. There's just something a little more friendly about having a tablet sitting flat on a table and tapping a few notes on it than putting a laptop between you and the person you're meeting with.
  • Inexpensive kiosks - Another interesting way that businesses can use tablets is to create a low-cost kiosk. The iPad already has a number of apps that can streamline the process. You can set up a video or a presentation on a loop, or create something more interactive. A business could even build its own interactive app and install it as a private app on the iPad or on an Android tablet.

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Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.


PC's aren't 'dead', they are just our personal 'file servers' left at home, in the den or whatever. Smart phones, tablets & (?) Pads travel with us in our daily life, maintaining contact with 'Home-Base'. The world evolves. Later we'll have ear-implants and then who knows what? Deal with it.

drcruz 1 Like

With Gotomypc(particularly their latest direct connect to your desktop or laptop upgrade) on my iPad, my laptop use has been cut by 90%. At times, I even use my laptop from my ipad. It is easier to take the iPad to another part of the house or to the backyard while remotely connected to the Laptop and using the iPad as a convenient zoom in/out laptop interface. The iPad is particularly handy to access the office computer, which is always on, and is in seconds accesible from the iPad, unlike the heavy laptop that is awkward to carry, and slow to start, and won't last long unplugged.


You're being rather contradictory there. I'm not talking about my laptop but "most laptops" - i.e. the ones that aren't owned by techies - do you see?

john 1 Like

Instant start up. 10 hours on the battery. No chance whatsoever of getting a virus or malware. Great screen, viewable at any angle. Scrabble with iPhone tile racks. It's way cheaper than any decent laptop. Let's face it most laptops are riddled with malware, take forever to boot, have a knackered battery, weigh 3x more, probably have a few broken USB ports and a load of breadcrumbs in the keyboard. Every time you go to use it, you have to wait for it to scan for viruses, update Windows and delete unused desktop icons! It takes a techie nerd just to keep one running smoothly, that's why they're selling so well.

CharlieSpencer 3 Like

Dude, Google the terms ipad malware Let me know how many results it will take to convince you to edit out that statement. Let's face it, any device that's been in hard use for a few months is going to have some broken ports. At least that crumb-filled physical keyboard can be used without looking at it. Try your whole argument again without the unsupported stereotypes. And it's NOT way cheaper than any decent laptop. Plenty of decent laptops can be found for less than than $500; machines well equipped for the content-consumption tasks the iPad specializes in.


Read on Palmetto! Yes you'll find some daft folk out there that think they got a virus on an iPad but it hasn't happened. Just because a web page tells you you're infected, doesn't mean you are. And if you're trying to watch some video and are shown a link to download software to do so, even stupidly clicking the link on an iPad won't be a problem - it cannot install apps like that. On a XP laptop you'd be instantly screwed. BTW you can't watch movies through a 10 hour flight with a $500 laptop and your legs would be slow roasted by then anyway!


Wow, nice to see that your reading skills remain sub-par. Your topic claimed that Google had *0* results for the search term "ipad malware". I pointed out you were incorrect, & that Google specifically said there were about 28,000,000 *search results*... & you turn around & claim that I was saying that meant there were 28,000,000 infected iPads? I suppose that would mean that if I pointed out, for example, that Google has 3,760,000,000 search results for the term "united states", you would claim that I was saying there were that many states in the US. What I find interesting, though, is that while the Apple support forums "guarantee" that iPads can't get malware, they then turn around in the same response & say, "Well, but it only applies if you haven't jailbroken your iPad to use apps that aren't available from our Apps store". The problem with that statement is that it acknowledges that the OS itself isn't 100% safe, & that the security is based on verifying the app code in the apps they make officially available. It depends on Apple not only having the *best* code writers for iOS right now, but also *for as long as iOS is offered*. Is it probable that an app developer can squeeze some malware past Apple? Hopefully not. Is it *impossible*? Unfortunately *not*.


Finding Google search terms means nothing, I can't believe you think that. Try searching for - first world war bomber found on moon- 2750000 results and your conclusion is? So anyway, you don't think this newfangled moving pictures thing is going to catch on? I had no doubt that you read books on plane journeys, it sounds like you don't have much choice. It's either that or the inflight movie with its dreadful audio and picture quality. I like to choose for myself.


Pull the other one; it's got bells on. Oh, and I read dead trees on the plane.

john think that proves there are 28,000,000 infected iPads? Good grief, I thought this forum was read by people with some technical aptitude. Trust me, if there was one single infected iPad you would read about it in the news. It has not happened.


Just did it on Google: "About 28,000,000 results" came up at the top of the screen. Last time I checked my math, 28,000,000 0...

randysmith 2 Like

Sounds like your laptop is a mess! If you treat your iPad the same way, it'll have a smeared cracked screen in a couple months, and maybe stop working completely! And, BTW, I've always been able to find decent bargain laptops, and they come with the keyboard included! Lock down your laptop, and if others share it, only give them non-administrative user accounts, and your malware and extra icons should be come a non-issue. Remember, your are the techie (since you are reading this), and you are in charge!

wizard57m-cnet 7 Like

Tablets are cool devices for a group of people, but in no way are they replacements for "full" computers. Sometimes it's almost humorous to read about "XX millions of tablets" sold in a year. What everyone of the usual tech writers overlook is this...yes, Apple has done well selling 40 million iPads. Kudos! HOWEVER...with just Windows 7 alone, Microsoft sold 400 million licenses the first year. Doesn't even count older XP or Vista, and nothing about Mac OSX or Linux. Ten percent! Yet how many columns have been written of the impending death of the pc? Anyway, thank you for a breath of fresh air in regards to tablet-mania!

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