Are Tablets Doomed To Fail Again?

Tablet computing has risen from the dead, sort of. TechCrunch has their CrunchPad to be released in the fall, and Apple is rumored to be releasing one as well. The question is, what problem do tablets solve?

We have the newer class of mobile phones (or smartphones if you must), that allow you to do a whole bunch of things on the internet without carrying your laptop. Obviously there are issues with a Blackberry or an iPhone being your primary computing device, mainly the fact that you cannot really do word processing or create spreadsheets comfortably. I would also avoid trying to do any software development on them as well in case you really wanted to stretch the limits.

There are also netbooks which are like little laptops. They are smaller than a traditional laptop, and you get less power in your computing platform as well. However, if you tend to use many cloud services and applications, there is a good chance that a netbook could be useful to you. You can easily browse the web on a 9″ widescreen monitor, check email or even go to Google Docs and play with a spreadsheet. Some people have been trying to make these machines their main PC, but that could be problematic for many. Because a netbook has less computing power, some things tend to slow down. High-def video could be a problem on some, and like I mentioned with the mobile phones, you probably do not want to try any software development.

Now we have the tablets. Jeremy Toeman basically trashes the idea:

Wired claims 2010 is the year of the tablet. Let’s face it, however much they sound dreamy (even I’ve speculated on wanting one in the past), in practical reality tablets generally suck.

He goes on to list several reasons why tablets suck. Technologizer is already complaining about the people complaining about tablets. However, he does mention the main reason why tablets have failed in the past:

Every tablet computer we’ve seen to date has suffered from being…a computer. That is, they’ve taken many of their basic design concepts from standard laptops, borrowed much of their user interfaces from traditional operating systems, and generally been intended for applications we know from traditional computing, such as note-taking.

At least he gives credit to Apple for probably giving us something that breaks our preconceived notions of what a tablet could be. Image an extra-large iPhone, and it is possible that many will buy it, even if it does carry a $700 price tag. However, technology does not succeed purely because of good design. It has to break barriers. At $700, people could easily get a fully functioning laptop with Windows or Linux installed. What would make people buy a tablet from Apple or even the CrunchPad?

This is the crux of the problem. What pain does a tablet solve? If we are looking to replace our main computing machine, does a tablet fit the bill? Absolutely not. Too many people are still using Microsoft Office to create documents and spreadsheets. Even if these people went to the cloud, data entry is still a major pain point for touch screens. If we are looking for something with a better form-factor than our phones, a tablet could be a good thing. The tablet is mobile, and you could easily surf the web, edit documents or any other simple tasks. If you look at the rumored $400 price of the CrunchPad, you could get a cheap laptop for $100 more. Granted, a tablet removes the traditional operating system, but is that really such a good thing?

My best guess is that people will use a tablet much like they use their home computer. They will surf the web, check email, watch videos, download and play music. This is where the Apple tablet could make headway, as a multimedia device. There really is no other major pain point that tablets are solving, except being a little more mobile than a laptop, but still less carryable than your phone. Given the expected prices, I will not be buying this generation of tablets. I have never been a gadget “really early” adopter, and it is always best to wait for version 2 so that they can work the bugs out of it.

Would you buy the CrunchPad or an oversized iPhone?

3 thoughts on “Are Tablets Doomed To Fail Again?

  1. You raise some great points here Rob. I’ve been looking at Tablets a bit differently. Essentially, there are many older Americans who grew up on newspapers and magazines. I see the tablet as being more of a print replacement than a replacement (or substitute) for a computer or mobile phone.

    Big screen, easy to read text, portable, wired for the web, it’s perfect for an aging population that doesn’t want to have to dig too deep to consume their news (and perfect for those who work all day at the computer and want some sort of break).


  2. Brandon,

    You have a very interesting point, and it is a demographic that I tend to ignore, the aging population. If the Apple tablet or CrunchPad were marketed to the older population, it could be a sweet spot. They may not want the problems of a full blown PC or laptop, so maybe this fits.

    Typically, a new hardware release like this is not focused on an older demographic. So, it will be interesting to see how they get marketed.


  3. I can’t see myself spending $700 for a tablet to do essentially the same things I do from my iPhone.

    My vision of the future is a portable computing device the same size and form factor as an iPhone but supports a wireless protocol, like blue tooth, so that I can use a full sized keyboard, mouse and monitor when at home.


Comments are closed.