Tablets

Poll: Is the Tablet PC form factor a fad or a glimpse into the future?

Take the TechRepublic Windows Blog poll of the week and compare answers with your peers: Is the Tablet PC form factor a fad or a glimpse into the future?

For the past two weeks I have been using the Apple iPad 2. Well, I should say, I have been trying to use it, because I have had a real difficult time finding anything I want to use it for. The best use I have found for a tablet device so far is as a severe thunderstorm information-gathering device. Of course, that makes the iPad a glorified and expensive weather radio.

Now, before the iPad fans go crazy, please understand that I like the Apple iPad -- it is well designed and is clearly the tablet PC to own if you are going to own one. So far, no other tablet has come close.

However, I am wondering what is the real appeal of the tablet PC? Fans of the tablet, in my admittedly limited observations, often tend to be the less-technical brand of PC user. They, rightfully, like how intuitive and easy the devices are to use -- no technical mumbo-jumbo to overcome, just turn it on and start touching the screen.

As I suggested two weeks ago, the mobile and tablet market is one likely point of emphasis for Microsoft and Windows 8, which is now in the software maker's development pipeline.

But is there any substance to this market? Is a personal media consumption device really accomplishing anything innovative? Is playing Angry Birds on an Apple iPad really any different from playing Windows Solitaire on a netbook? Why is Facebook better with a tablet? Wouldn't a notebook PC do just as well?

These questions occurred to me after using the Apple iPad 2 for a couple of weeks and after reading Jason Hiner's call to action regarding the 3D multimedia everywhere phenomena. If you think about each one of these so-called technology breakthroughs objectively and really consider whether they qualify as an innovation, I begin to wonder if either has longevity. I begin to think of each as potentially the Pet Rock, the Chia Pet, the home karaoke machine, or the Flip video camera of this particular time period.

Is the tablet PC, best embodied by the Apple iPad, really a glimpse into the future when it comes to media consumption or is it just another fad we are passing through? I am willing to be convinced either way, so give it your best shot.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

27 comments
greg
greg

I'm at a loss as to why the author can't find anything useful to use it for. I've had my wifi Xoom since the release at the end of March and I have full RDP and am able to work on all my clients server installations from the Xoom in Starbucks, Mcd's or wherever. Have a full outlook type email client on board as well as a slew of other tremendously useful apps. As for anyone wanting a keyboard, the voice recognition software is so good I usually just use it for emails/texts, etc. although I've got to admit the virtual keyboard on the Xoom is good. I pretty much can run my consulting business from the Xoom and they haven't even begun to develop apps for it like will be available in the next six months. I don't know much about the iPads, but maybe they don't have the ability or business apps available for them? I wouldn't make the claim that it completely replaces my laptop, it doesn't. But as a tool for when I'm running around town and don't want to carry all the bulk into a Starbux and work it is an awesome tool in the arsenal.

mimoore
mimoore

As mentioned in discussions above, the iPad is a "tablet device", but not a Tablet PC as I am using now, typing on the keyboard in laptop position but scrolling at my convenience with my finger on them screen, with very nice control. Devices will continue to be designed as specialty tools vs. multipurpose, at different sizes accordingly, and the capabilities will be determined in part by the limits of technology at the moment. The biggest thing in the way of consumer adaptation of "Tablet PCs" is knowledge and information, of all things. Things Apple get advertised well. Any other device, other than "plain old laptop or desktop", you essentially have to be routinely reading tech sites to discover what is out there. It has been years since you could go into a brick and motor store and actually get knowledgable help picking out a device to do what you want. Give me a "true" Tablet PC, operating Win7 with the CPU and RAM of any full functioning "standard laptop"., and nothing else. The interesting stuff comes after that- is it a convertible, a slate with separate keyboard, a slate that docks, a slate input device with the main battery and computing hardware in a docking base with keyboard. There is no good reason, IMO, why every high school student going to college shouldn't already have such a device with OneNote. Active digitizers in conjunction with the OS power of a laptop were made for students, and doctors, and lawyers, and engineers, and designers, and people who make diagrams, take notes, draw circles and arrows, etc., etc.

linda
linda

I think the smaller form factor is the way of the future. Maybe not necessarily in the shape of a tablet or phone, but definitely smaller than desktop towers.

jks001
jks001

I love the futurist arguments, but is this really the future? Picking away at it as I go, seems to be an advanced multi-media book reader and web access tool. Some utilities and other apps are nice to have but not essential. Segregation of email accounts and email filtering are wanting out of the box. Not a Safari fan (yet - I have tried). Needs: Sound and image recognition. As mentioned previously, nice active digitization app built in that allows for handwriting to text or drawing to image creation. Needs better external hardware (like better BT device) support. Now it is just another tool in the toolbox and makes my roadwarrior kit heavier rather than lighter.Still playing, maybe the light will come on.

htaylor
htaylor

I was an early iPhone adopter. It was great, it was revolutionary (at the time). The ipad, no matter how much the TR writers rave that it is the best tablet, is simply a big iPhone. The form factor is lacking. The lack of true multi-tasking just plain sucks. And I have "played" with both the iPad and iPad2. Left them both in the Apple store as I was unimpressed with the flash and bling and that little Apple on the back... HOWEVER, I bought a nook color. Yes an eReader. Rooted it, then flashed a custom rom (Cyanogen), and my laptop stopped being a daily commuter. I have no problem with on screen and software keyboards. I am not trying to write memos, briefs, articles. I just needed access to servers and document management via Citrix and VPN. I am able to do that on the fly now and resolve issues without having to fumble with my laptop or find a place to sit while I connect. The end users love this new level of support. As a side note, I am tired of reading the apparently biased reports from TR writers that iPad's are the best tablet to own. It is really making me start to believe that Apple gave each of you a new toy for giving them free publicity. In terms of specs and features, there have been alternatives to the Ipad and Ipad2 for awhile now. And what is the difference between 1 Million apps and 100,000 apps? Honestly it doesn't mean much. There is no way a user can run or download that many apps on their device. There is a lot lacking from both the iPad and it's Android Counterparts, but I believe that the face of computing is changing. If the tablet does not replace the desktop, it stands a good chance of replacing the laptop. Especially if hybrid devices and/or accessories continue to be developed.

Rexxrally
Rexxrally

The funny thing about time is that there's no end of the stuff. I think it's wrong to say that a tablet will never replace a laptop. To those who think that way, I say "never is a long time". The current tablet may not replace a laptop, but the iPad's already on it's second iteration. Version 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ..........x will keep getting better and better. The same goes for all the other tablets coming out now. Portable rollup keyboards are already here. Even if you don't like them now, and maybe specific brands of them don't attach to specific tablets now, but they will get better in the future. Eventually, your favourite tablet will have a small detachable keyboard for those times when you really need one. Tablets are infinitely lighter and more portable than a laptop, and more usable when you're standing up or in transit (think crowded train cars, etc.). They will keep getting better and better, so it's inevitable that they are the future.

kadams
kadams

I dont see the tablet replacing the PC. The tablet is a logical edition and evolution to the line of computing equipment. However, I dont see it replacing the PC for some time to come. Tablets will need quite a bit more horsepower.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Long before Apple stuck a fruit logo on one.

Solenoid
Solenoid

Others have mentioned the interface as a limiting factor for inputs, specifically the lack of a keyboard. Imagine that voice recognition software advances to commonplace, and then there's no need for a keyboard except for entering code or typing a correction or such. This assumes the current trend of consumer use, not producers. Of course, Star Trek was mentioned earlier. (I kinda wonder if Jobs had been watching reruns and thought, "we can do that.") There were no keyboards as we think of them today - pretty much anywhere - due to voice recognition by the ubiquitous technology. I don't think I'm saying anything new and revelatory, but it goes along with those who say give it time: this is a new growing technology, and it'll surely grow on us. Consider the evolution from PDAs to smartphones for a recent example of limited beginning and mass-appeal maturity.

don
don

I've used Windows Tablet PCs for many years and the one thing the iPad is missing is the active digitizer. The difference is taking notes in a meeting. It's a lot more natural with a pen. With the Windows Tablets with both active and capacitive digitizers, they ignore the capacitive touches when the pen is in range. That allows palm rejection when writing with the pen. I've tried a stylus with the iPad and it's so imprecise that it's useless for handwriting. It will also pick up your hand so you cannot rest your hand when writing. Arguing about the OS is pointless. It's the apps that matter. That's why Windows beat OS/2. That's also why the iPad is still the best tablet. Not because of the hardware.

paul
paul

Michael posted earlier and in essence I agree, its evolutionary not revolutionary. The ipad came out of a phone, once they find people carrying them around, guess what, bluetooth and integrate the phone. The thing is totally useless for business, again someone here has stated its not a PC, dead right, the tablet of which has already failed, but...cloud storage, online office apps. streaming movies, bluetooth keyboards, one home one office and one in the car for travel (keyboards that is)...its all about innovation, integration and evolution. Your home phone is about to do a disappearing act, merged into your cell, once done merge the cell back into the ipad (by then "thingy", the ipad will morph), the true personal everything. In the meantime its just great for the babblers on Facebook, the brain dead on Twitter and for me..its a great research tool and book reader...ummm...I can't do any actual WORK on it. Py

fnewtz
fnewtz

Just bought one for my granddaughter as she is about to enter college. The problem with what I have been reading (article & comments) is the lack of creative thought with respect to what the Ipad developers should be doing to make this the future. In the early 80s when IBM made their first PC, I told my family and friends this was the future. I'm going to do the same today. This device should take us to the next level that the tablet with pen first took us when they were created. Let's see, word processing, mathmatics, research, studying new thoughts and ideas, being able to download 'chapters' of textbooks to read the mandated 'specific' chapters, etc. These are just a few generic thoughts that come to mind. Yes, you can do this with the laptop, but how much simpler and less cumbersome is the tablet? They will become more powerful overtime and the price will adjust and come down to a more affordable price. They always do. What we need are developers to come up with programs that will take us to the next level. To slam this device in it's infant stage indicates to me that you young people (I'm 63) are being trained to accept mediocrity and complacency instead of being taught to open your minds and take any idea or thought to their ultimate level. I don't think you've done that with respect to this issue.

Marc Thibault
Marc Thibault

Kevin's put his finger on it. Our place isn't the Enterprise, but we have a little tablet dedicated to our grocery list, another is used almost exclusively for checking the weather before going out with the dogs. I'm about to buy another one that will be just for presentations (a Fujitsu T730--my style needs a stylus). The pile of tablets on the desk is not far off.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Was a favorite. You didn't have to screw with it. Gut an iPad and you might have yourself a decidedly un-aerodynamic Frisbee. Still have to screw with it, though.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

until wireless USB takes hold. Tablet PCs will not need any docking station to sync/transfer files and full fledged PC apps back and forth, plus being able to use network printers, network storage, etc., at bit rates much faster than current WiFi technology can provide. The form will change as flexible display screens come online, so users can use the device as a phone, or PC as he or she needs a la the TV series "Earth, Final Conflict." I loved their communicator that could be used as an audio phone, or a portable PC with a HD camera simply by sliding open, or closed the screen.

jb232
jb232

Even after a year, Im still in love with my Archos 9 tablet. The screen is a little small at 8.9 inches, but running Win 7 instead of iOS or Android does have some advantages. I would prefer Archos to update their design with a little more RAM, wireless and one of the new dual core processors, but I wouldnt trade it for any iPad or android tablet out there (well, maybe the Xoom).

michaelh.tek
michaelh.tek

At the risk of stating the obvious, the iPad isn't a Tablet PC - it runs iOS. Unless it's running the same OS as a desktop PC it's not a PC. While this may seem pedantic, it's not: Most users aren't looking to run a PC OS on a tablet, but are more interested in feature set. The old 1990s Palm Pilot was a PIM, not a Windows 98 desktop - PIM features were king, not Angry Birds. Palm morphed into the phone market - it's not that the PIMs died off, but that they merged/converged with cell phones and became smart phones. Don't make the mistake of calling Palm washed up - they were very successful in their prime like Apple today before succumbing to multiple corporate buyouts. The Apple iPad is just the next logical step, take the best of the smart phone but break it out of the cell phone shell. It is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Don't believe me? I'll show you diagrams I kept for nostalgia circa 2000 when buddies of mine were developing a "wireless" (the buzzword then) touchscreen computing device that looks strangely similar to the iSlab. It didn't go anywhere, partly because the dot com bust, but also partly because our device wasn't seen as "revolutionary" against competition of the REAL Tablet PCs - Laptops with a stylus interface - that was starting to heat up. Not that I am upset our concept died, at the time I shed no tears over it, but it just reminds me that at some point everything old is new again. The Tablet PC may be dead but the Tablet form factor has been attractive from GRiD computing, Newton, and Palm all the way to present. The form won't change because like a bound book, the size and form have a timeless appeal regardless of what technology is crammed in it.

jayohem
jayohem

I think they are but not as the tech world envisions them. Tablets won't replace serious computer hardware and already are doing some of those things for which you don't need a major piece of equipment anyay. For example, the iPad even at the One level found a use in some schools and colleges as replacement for those very expensive and heavy text books. The technical worker's role in this? Create the applications that the tablets will be using. If you see and understand the problem with the various tablet OS's and can program, there's an opportunity to expand tablets' usefulness by writing the solution. Those nice fellows at NookDev created a do-it-yourself upgrade to what essentially was an e-reader. That was a giveaway on their part but could point the way to more serious improvements to various tablets and mobile devices.

WanderMouse
WanderMouse

I can't see tablets replacing notebooks completely for any but the crowd who limits computing to Facebook-Internet surfing-e-mail, etc. Without a dedicated keyboard, they're just too limited in terms of content any longer than a tweet. They might have some use to take on short, non-business vacations to avoid carrying a computer and some peripherals around. From my point of view, the ideal setup is either an ultrapolrtable 13-inch laptop with a docking station or port replicator for use at home, (if a heavy business traveler), or a 14-15" laptop, plugged in mainly at home but still reasonably portable for the more-occasional travelr on his/her longer trips, combined with a smartphone for shorter trips. It has less screen real estate, but also takes up much less space. Even guys can carry an Evo 4G Shift in a pants pocket and still have a non-virtual keyboard. Unless you're a woman who's going to have a carry-along of purse-size volume, and don't really need the functions of a full computer at home, what's the advantage of an iPad-size tablet- and if you're carrying a smaller tablet, why not just stick with a smartphone. It might be a neat device for a pre-teen kid, too. Otherwise, why have a large tablet, as opposed to any of the other choices, above?

thomas4g
thomas4g

...they need better OSes. At least for me, a developer and geek. iOS simply doesn't cut it. I like the idea of something like a Dell Duo that acts like a full computer, but also has the nice, large touch screen.

K_Green
K_Green

I think the tablet has a long future ahead, but it may take a while to really permeate. My rationale is based in part on science fiction. There are a number of movies, etc where people are using tablet-like devices to consume and manipulate information. (Star Trek being an obvious example) I think that tablets now are in the gestation stage. Eventually, when corporations have line-of-business tablet apps, we'll see greater and more useful penetration. For example, tablet-oriented architectural design apps; hospital patient chart apps; manufacturing assembly instruction apps -- that's where tablets have a bright future. Think of it another way: if we were on Columbus' ship and had just gone out of sight of the home port, we might be inclined to say "There's nothing out there. This is pointless." But of course, the journey had only just begun.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Is the tablet PC, best embodied by the Apple iPad, really a glimpse of the future when it comes to media consumption or is it just another fad we are passing through? I am willing to be convinced, so give it your best shot.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Actually, I don't care for any tablet I have used so far, but the iPad was the one I was least frustrated with - hardly a ringing endorsement. However, a rooted Nook is not really on my radar as a viable tablet - so you got me there.

Jaqui
Jaqui

because it is a PERSONAL COMPUTER. which is what ALL consumer computing devices are. Apple is a PERSONAL COMPUTER manufacturer. always has been. operating system has ZERO to do with the label PC.

bigredbird
bigredbird

That's me... stuck in the past. I can actually touch-type. I can type faster than I can write, definately faster than I can hunt and peck on an electronic keyboard. To me, a pad is a gimmick - too big to carry in your pocket, no keyboard. It has its place, I suppose - the usual example being to substitute for a clipboard / checklist. Pilots find them convenient for displaying charts and plates, but still need paper backups in case the pad dies. I'll stick with my laptop for serious work and my smartphone for everyday convenience.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Perhaps that is my real problem with the tablet form - it is so early in development that I am less than mesmerized. Buying an iPad because in 10 years the tablets on the market will be practical doesn't appeal to me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

But so far not enough of it has been realized for me to jump on it. It just doesn't do enough this consumer wants for me to consider parting with the money.

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