First off, I have to say that like most of you reading this, I love technology. I love it. I dream about it so much that I just had to write an article about where technology is going to be in 20 years. I imagine a world where everyone is wearing augmented reality glasses, riding in anti-gravity vehicles that run on renewable energy, and everyone is telecommuting from home via a global high-speed wireless network.
So, it should go without saying that when tablets first came out, I got pretty excited about it. When I saw those first large touch screens sitting next to the smartphones in the cellular store, and realized that they had finally made such larger computing devices capable of accessing the Internet via the cellular data plan – and wi-fi as well – that was really exciting.
That excitement culminated recently when I received my very first tablet – a really nice Asus Transformer Prime. It’s a sleek, fast and powerful device capable of playing games, running awesome productivity apps, and letting you browse the web and do online research from the couch or the bed. It’s convenient, fun, and ultimately completely and utterly pointless.
Weird right? The thing is that no matter how hard I try to do something actually productive and useful with the tablet, I always migrate back to my laptop, and my tablet ends up back in the pocket of my computer bag, uncharged.
The Path To The Tablet Computer
I remember when those little Casio personal organizers first came out – you know the text based ones that looked like flip-top calculators with little miniature keyboards? When I first saw them, I had dreams of storing the addresses and birthdays of every member of my family and all of my friends. I figured I’d have my entire schedule completely, digitally organized. My life would be streamlined, efficient and productive.
Eventually, the dreams got the best of me, I bought a Casio organizer – an SF-4700L to be exact. I diligently loaded my life into that little organizer. I’m talking everything; my to-do list, calendar, personal passwords and contact info. I used it to keep assignments for classes, and to remember meetings and important events. This went on for about four of five months, but gradually I realized that if I was going to be completely honest with myself, it was getting a bit annoying.
The truth is that it didn’t make life easier. It made it harder. Instead of quickly handwriting someone’s name and address into a paper address book, I had to use this puny little too-small keyboard with my thick fingers to try and type in names, addresses, phone numbers and birthdays. It took forever. It was painful.
When I wanted to enter a to-do item into my list, it took at least two or three times longer than it would have taken if I’d just written those items down into a paper notebook. After a while, out of frustration that this little nifty gadget just wasn’t making my life any easier, I set it aside one day in a desk drawer, and there it remained ever since.
Smartphones Led To The Tablet
Once smartphones came out and had access to the Internet – that was exciting. Now, something actually useful. Smartphones weren’t just about applications for storing addresses, birthdays and a calendar planner, but now you could actually browser the Internet with this little, mobile, pocket-sized device. I bought a Windows Mobile phone for the sole purpose of researching antique prices while attending auctions. Withing a few short years, these little gadgets quickly took off a life of their own.
Everyone – and I mean everyone – has one of these things. Well, except for Justin, who impressively has resisted the mainstream adoption of this technology. But, why did the smartphone take off where other gadgets eventually fell by the wayside? It’s because they filled a void. Up until that point, people were regularly checking email whenever they were home or at the office, with access to a computer on the Internet. However, with the Internet-enabled Smartphone, you were no longer detached.
You can check your email while waiting at the doctor’s office, you can text your friends while riding the bus, you can reply to your boss just like you’re at the office while you’re hanging out at the bar with friends. Smartphones filled a void and made life easier and more convenient – and that’s why they were successful, but what about tablets?
Tablets As Another Novelty
So, while I found the Windows Phone, and later the Motorola Droid, to be wonderfully useful devices that greatly improved my productivity – devices that I really couldn’t live without today – my experience using a tablet for the first time was not the same. It didn’t fill a void. Instead, it felt just like when I first purchased that Casio organizer years ago.
The idea of a tablet is really cool. The concept of sitting on a beach chair at a beach on the coast of Maine, typing up a blog entry for my site while spending a sunny day with the family – now that’s cool. Certainly better than being stuck at home trying to get work done, right? In theory, it sounds great. In practice it’s a whole different ballgame. You can see this from Christian’s experience when he attempted to use only a tablet for a full week!
Okay, so he wasn’t just about ready to slam his tablet to the floor, but you could tell by the end of the experiment, Christian was outright exhausted. And that’s exactly how I feel whenever I try to use my tablet to get real work done – be it a blog post, or something as simple as taking notes.
As I mentioned in my past articles here at MUO, I thought the SuperNote app for taking notes was very impressive, because it could literally take your hand-scribbled letters or words and piece them into sentences on a note page.
Guess what though – the novelty wears off. It’s cool and everything, but it’s still faster to write notes on a pad with a simple pen. If we’re just counting seconds on a clock and evaluating efficiency – a pen and pad wins out.
Then you’ve got blogging. The WordPress app appears pretty full-featured and functional when you’re on the main dashboard, but once you really start digging into writing posts and trying to format – the awkwardness of selecting segments of text, copying, pasting and moving the cursor around with the touch-based tablet environment can really turn into an exercise in futility.
Sure, you get an on-screen keyboard to give you a hand, but what good is that if you’re always fighting with a cursor that won’t go where you need it to, and won’t stay there once you get it in place. It’s frustrating and too annoying to be really very useful.
Then there’s the problem with doing research. I have to admit, once I went to using dual monitors with my laptop, there was no turning back. I mean, seriously, how can you beat being able to read articles on one screen, and type notes or copy and paste links into the other?
Dual monitors increased my personal productivity tremendously, and losing that second screen to a ridiculously smaller screen of a tablet is just – well, there’s no comparison. Productivity drops exponentially.
So – quite honestly, I feel like tablets are a short-lived fad. I still use it occasionally as a very simple tool in meetings sometimes as a whiteboard for brainstorming ideas with someone. But even then, a real whiteboard is so much better because it’s so big that everyone can see it, unlike that tiny little screen everyone is trying to squint at while you diagram your ideas.
The only thing that may save the tablet is the advent of Windows 8, and the idea of a “hybrid” PC – a computer that’s powerful enough and functional enough to behave like you would expect a good laptop computer to behave, but also with the tremendous benefits that a touch-screen offers. Those are benefits that can’t be understated – a touch screen can significantly improve your productivity if used the right way.
So that’s my take on the world of tablets. What’s your view? Have you found a good, productive use for them, or do you agree that they are really more of a novelty, and that you turn to your laptop when you have real work to accomplish? Weigh in and let us know your take in the comments section below.