Monday, August 22, 2011

The Perfect Tablet for Everybody - Now There's a Dumb Idea

How often do you hear someone talk about "what people want?" Whether it's politics or technology, pundits act as if all people want the same thing and they know what it is. This leads to ridiculous criticisms of things like the current smartphones and tablets; notice I'm avoiding the political part!

You hear, for example, "the iPad and other tablets are flawed because people don't like virtual keyboards - they want a real keyboard. The reporter goes on to say "when I write my stories, I blah, blah, blah." This storyline makes it sound like a) they know what everyone wants and b) they represent everyone by talking about their personal needs in the same sentence.

I'm pretty sure "people" don't all want the same thing - whether it's in their computers or condiments on their hot dogs. This is more than just a complaint about the state of journalism - it goes to the core of how computers have been developed over the years.

Real keyboard - you want a real keyboard!

Let's look at automobiles as a starting point. There are several dozen different basic auto designs because "people" don't all want the same thing. There are compact hybrids and nine passenger SUVs and a whole crop of "crossovers". Because PC functionality has been controlled by one company for nearly thirty years, only one version of one product was necessary - the Windows PC. I don't know what "all people" want but I do know that

The Perfect Tablet will include
six card readers, firewire and
USB connectors, a mouse,
a keyboard, SLR equivalent cameras
as well as serial and parallel ports

"some people" would have preferred something different - specifically a whole lot easier to use and less prone to malware. Almost no one claims to use more than ten percent of the functions of Word or Excel - hyperbolic cotangent anyone? The fact that people do not always want the same thing requires that companies build more than one thing - at least if there are any competitors to worry about. Microsoft's only real competitor was Apple and they were not much better. Their product - although easier to use and less prone to malware - was still only one version. It ran MS Office just like Windows. Notice that both companies dropped the easy to use and cheap or free versions of their office software - MS Works and Apple Works. They did have decent alternatives to the gargantuan MS Office but no more.

As we turn the corner toward mobile devices, my hope is that companies will not try to build the "perfect tablet" that meets the needs of everyone. If they do, it will include six card readers, firewire and USB connectors, a mouse, a keyboard with numeric keypad, SLR equivalent cameras (front and back), dual game controllers, as well as serial and parallel ports - hey some people still have that 1995 dot matrix printer to hook up. And of course it must run Excel, Word and PowerPoint using any remote device purchased since 1950.

In the case of tablets the smarter decision will be to either offer several models - one with and one without a keyboard - or one product that has options - such as docks we've used for years or the wireless keyboard approach on the iPad. The primary driving force for tablets is size, weight, convenience and ease of use. I'll be terribly disappointed if they evolve into dinosaurs as PCs have done. Adding layer upon layer of functionality was no problem with desktop computers - users could just buy bigger monitors so there was some place to see the actual words in their document. Ten inch screens, limited keyboards and slower processors that characterize tablets may finally reverse the trend away from mega-applications.

The new crop of ultrabooks notable for their lack of hard drive and optical drive but with the ability to run full versions of Windows or Mac OS represent another change in direction. They are distinguished not by new features but by features that are omitted - what a refreshing change. Now only if the next version of MS Office included a version of Word with five hundred commands rather than one thousand five hundred. The Apple iWork package may indicate the new direction for productivity software.

1 comment:

  1. Please for Christ sake help this poor boy from Haiti