Monday, September 27, 2010

What's the Point of Tablets Anyway?

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to come into possession of a Samsung Galaxy Tab. It's fair to say that I've been eager to get my hands on a PADD tablet since some time around 1987.

While the utility of a portable, touch-screen, connected device was never in question on the Enterprise, their utility in the 21st century is still being determined.

So what, exactly, are tablets good for?

The Shared Communal Device

I've already found the Galaxy Tab to be the go-to device in the living room. It's perfect for shared photo-viewing, checking actors in IMDB, and adding something to the shopping basket. The large, bright screen and long battery life make it a much better viewing experience than a mobile, and simpler and more convenient than passing around a laptop.

Modern smartphones are intensely personal. They hold more private information than most people would ever willingly share. Would you hand over your phone to a friend for 30mins? What about your wife / husband / girlfriend / boyfriend?

I've created a new shared Gmail account, specifically for my Galaxy Tab (and potentially my GoogleTV), to make it easier to share. As prices come down I see a bunch of these around the house - probably replacing laptops and TVs.

The Ultimate Gaming Device

Games on tablets look incredible. A bright, sharp screen with a ton of screen real estate work superbly with touch controlled games.

The bigger screens could have been designed specifically to support multiplayer gaming. Games like Scrabble would work great with the screen becoming the game board, but that's just the start.

I grew up playing RPGs and CCGs. Imagine playing them when everyone has a tablet. Each player would have their card deck (or character sheet) on their tablet. Another device (probably at least 10") sits in the middle of the table and displays the cards in play (or character positions on a map).

The Multi-Media Entertainment Center and eBook Reader

Back in the day, I owned an Archos 320. 20Gb of audio and video on a 2.5" drive with a 4" screen. With no SSDs in sight, moving it while playing video let you feel the torque!

Today's tablets have up to 64Gb of solid-state storage, with many also including SD card slots letting you double that. A 7", 16:10 aspect ratio screen is the perfect surface for watching movies on the move, and HDMI output will let you plug your library into your giant flat screen TV.

Add an eBook reader app and you've got one device with all you music, movies, and books. That makes for an epic entertainment center.

While you'll need to pry my hardcover books out of my cold, dead, hands - I still think that within the next 5 years, most people will access all their movies, music, pictures, and books from the cloud. When that happens tablets will be the perfect portable screen on which to consume any kind of entertainment media.

The Laptop Replacement

Is the tablet set to replace the laptop? I've noticed a few iPads in meetings as people leave their laptops behind, preferring tablets for their portable computing needs. Typing on a fast, responsive 10" touch screen is actually a workable exercise, and it's the perfect platform for presenting an impromptu slide-show pitch or showing off your app / website.

I don't see tablets replacing the laptops we use at work for tasks that require significant typing (like writing code), but the future of netbooks might have just gotten a little grim.

So what's the real deal?

My gut says tablets will become increasingly popular as shareable devices that double as personal entertainment centers. The big screen and wide viewing angle of tablets makes them less private than phones. Still personal but not inherently private.

As app developers, we are uniquely positioned to both influence, and be influenced by, how people will use these new devices, so what do you think?
  1. Communal Internet Portal
  2. Ultimate Gaming Device
  3. Multi-Media Entertainment Center and eBook Reader
  4. Laptop Replacement
  5. All of the above
Any of them sound about right or am I full of it? Let me know in the comments!


  1. All of the above!

    As a Android developer i am currently sitting on my cash waiting to spend it on the right device that also supports newer versions of Android (Gingerbread hooray! \ö/). The Samsung GalaxyTab is an awesome piece of hardware but with only 2.2 support it's a no go for me. I wait for a Android tablet after CES 2011!

    p.s. do something about my #gddde invitation :(

  2. Anonymous6:48 pm BST

    Number one for me is an e-reader. I love that I have all of my school books loaded up on my iPad, my bookbag is about 1 pound rather than 30 this semester.

    e-Magazines are really awesome when done right and I really look forward to watching them evolve.

    I don't think a tablet replaces a laptop, especially for us programmers. But, they are a great netbook replacement for sure.

  3. "Communal Internet Portal" and "Multi-Media Entertainment Center and eBook Reader"

    At least that would be my personal preference

  4. I would love for a tablet to make highschools and universities more paperless.

    Text books, homework, virtual study groups, collaborative learning.. all good stuff.

  5. I've had an iPad since they came out, and it's been mostly multimedia/eBooks for me. I've been trying to use it for note taking in meetings -- the right case is integral here -- but so far I still prefer a Moleskine and an ink gel pen. Also, when traveling my wife and I both use the iPad quite a bit more for email, Facebook, etc.

    I'm really looking forward to the Galaxy Tab. I think being lighter will be a big win. The iPad is too heavy. It might be easier to type on, being more narrow, but that might be negated by the keyboard being smaller.

  6. @ollieandroid7:03 pm BST

    I'm moving all my media into the cloud, so with paperwork scanned, old paper photos scanned, music on Spotify, etc, a tablet just becomes a workspace, a playspace, a portal onto all the things that provide pleasure or value to me. I may come to miss a keyboard at times, but when I'm on the sofa, a train, a plane, or in a cafe or a meeting, most use is consumption, not creation.

    For me it is all of the above. The question is a bit like saying "what will you look at through your car window?"

  7. It will be the internet laying around, a handheld webbrowser to look up things. The one step in the continuous client ( ) essentially.

    In a few years, you will be sitting at home, saying "honey, would you please hand me over the internet."
    But for some finalizing and heavy duty computing like video editing we will still reach out for the desktop OS.
    I realise that my iPod touch has become my primary gaming device because it is tangible and at my fingertips all the time. So, because it can also do that, we will see a lot of casual gaming , most like the crosswords in the paper today.

  8. In the kitchen to lookup recipes, watch the news while cooking. At the kitchen table -- for kids to do some research on homework (in lieu of their netbook). The ipad is a bit heavy. Found it sitting on my lap more than holding it which got tired. The cover for the tablet will be crucial to allow it to stand up at the right viewing angle to make it useful.

  9. A smartphone with a bigger screen.
    I use my phone a lot when I'm home and I wish it has a bigger screen.
    For sure, tablets are luxury. You can alreay do everything with your laptop/desktop and your smartphone.

    1. Anonymous8:17 pm GMT

      I completely agree. And they are making smartphones with larger screens so my guess is tablets wont last long. I have all the same apps on my smartphone with the added benefit of text and phone calls. These things are pointless to me.

  10. Tablet r becoming popular mainly because it's mobility (even more mobile than netbook), and number 1 and 3 of your list. Plus it bring back PDA taste for some people. As for me, it's all about 1 and 3. I have to sit like at least 6 hours at work and I don't feel like sitting infront of the computer again to browse the programming tutorial and articles. That's where tablet come in handy.

  11. Would be nice if it could run Eclipse and the SDK. Being able to do a bit of development on the train would be good, although it won't replace a proper keyboard.

  12. I envision portable business applications that leverage some of features of the mobile device...e.g. voice recognition, video/still camera, GPS. Combined with easy-to-use touchscreen interfaces, these apps could increase productivity for some professions.

  13. The promise of Android tablets is great but the current uncertainty about compliance is not. A tablet should not have to be glorified giant smart phone to be compliant according to the CTS. It means potentially awesome devices like Archos PMPs are frozen out of the marketplace and it diminishes the reason for striving for compliance in the first place.

    I realise Google probably has Big Unannounced Plans, but the current situation is getting intolerable. There are a raft of tablets coming which fall into two camps a) Giant phones which are compliant but very expensive, b) Practical devices which are not compliant. I think I will wait for c) A saner CTS which defines core and advanced profiles for different classes of devices - PMPs, tablets, ereaders etc. I just hope c) comes sooner than later.

  14. Have you seen the Notion Ink Adam yet? Dual core processor and all... Overall looks very impressive. Can't wait to get my hands on one