Before rumours of the Apple tablet hit fever pitch, I kept wondering who needs a tablet? Now that the iPad has been announced, I’m still wondering. I suspect tablets are a solution looking for a problem. This isn’t necessarily bad; I think you could’ve said the same thing about iPods. Slashdot thought they were lame, back in the day.
In three to five years, we’re probably going to say who needs a laptop? (Or a desktop… I’m pretty sure they still make them, but I haven’t owned one in years.)
I don’t think tablets will be good for specialized input or manipulation. Heavy-duty writers will still want physical keyboards; screens will be too small for visual power users with DSLRs or hi-def videos to see what is really going on in their images in post-processing.
Tablets and tablet-sized hardware (Kindle, Netbooks) are devices for media consumption. It is easy to imagine watching a tv show on a tablet, playing games, accessing magazine subscriptions, news streams, or following the flow of activity of all the people you are connected to online on a tablet. Derek Powazek hoped the iPad would be the device that created an environment such that “publishers like me might finally be able to sell something digital that people would actually buy.”
I can’t help it, I’m just not all that interested in a media consumption device.
Not to say it couldn’t change how we consume media — it might — and I do think it has revolutionary potential when it comes to education. Decent screen reading with full color/motion display coupled with smart note-taking overlays could be the end of textbooks. Tablets could be a boon to self-paced learners and enthusiasts — imagine a field guide that helps you identify birds by song, or can tell you the name of the flower you are looking at, or guide you back to the trail if you get lost. (The “as good as a book” reading experience on digital device for 100+ pages of text still isn’t here yet, but maybe that shouldn’t be the holy grail for these devices.)
Not that the iPad could do these things today, it can’t. I agree with Powazek’s assessment: “it’s a stumble in the right direction.”
I want a device that isn’t just about media consumption, but media curation and creation. The iPad is partway there. Add a camera, maybe a microphone, make lengthier text input easy, run multiple apps at once — lifestreaming really takes off. It’s a diary you can seletively unlock and share.
The tablet could be the 21st century notebook. It’s snapping a picture and quickly drawing notes on it, sharing that idea, and refining it. It’s never losing another napkin sketch. It’s a moleskine with infinite pages and search. That’s what I want.