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We don't need no stinking Windows Tablets!

A comment at Micropad to kill iPad? turned into an unfriendly discussion about the inability of Microsoft fan boys to understand why nobody needs or wants a Windows OS tablet device.

Well, nobody but Microsoft fan boys, of course. They want a Windows Tablet.

I should mention that the person who made the comment claims not to be a Microsoft fan boy. He is, though.

Let's just see the comment that aroused me:

My take on it is that the current tablet OS is going to be relegated to a niche market along with the eBook readers. The next year will usher in hardware that can run a full operating system that will allow users to use full applications while maintaining the form factor that they have become attached to. There will be a price premium at first but as they drop under a $1,000 it will begin to make a lot more sense to use a full computer rather than a lobotomized one.

Well, maybe. It certainly is true that current tablets are limited by hardware and that they will improve. Eventually (though not next year) it will be possible to do everything a "real computer" can do.

The reality is that very few people need those real computers.

Oh, I do. The person who left that comment does. Maybe you do. But most people do not.

Even I don't need any of it very often. I can often go days using only my iPad. Even when I do return to my computer, it might only be because something is marginally more convenient to do there: I could do it on the iPad if I had to.

And of course there are things I think could be improved. Apple's handling of keyboards is notably unintelligent and there are certainly other areas that need improvement.

Windows OS would not be an improvement, but Mac OS X might be, right?

I don't really think so. Yes, certain aspects could help. but neither of those operating systems were designed with tablets in mind. IOS (and Android) were, and that makes all the difference. Touch screen matters and so does screen rotation. Battery life matters too and big, clumsy operating systems suck power greedily.

For most computer users, tablets are quite sufficient even as they are today. Only the slightest of improvements is needed to make that an incontestable statement.

I'll say this: if by some miracle tablets such as we have today had existed in 1991, there wouldn't be a "real computer" to be found anywhere outside of businesses. No consumer would bother, because tablets do all that ordinary users need.

Of course we geeks need more. We'll get it, too. But it won't be by way of bolting on Windows or Mac OS X. Nobody needs that on a tablet, and only very foolish people wish for it..

More power? Yes, certainly. But shoehorning either Windows or Mac OS X into tablets is a bad, bad idea.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Tue Feb 15 22:19:25 2011: 9315   AndrewSmallshaw


I have to admit I'm in two minds on the iPad. On the one hand I can't help but wonder "but what is it really FOR?" since I can't see a real task (i.e. something productive) that would not be done better or more conveniently on some other device. On the other comparing it to a general purpose machine and noting its limitations seems foolish: it ISN'T a general purpose machine, and I don't even see that as necessarily a bad thing. Look at where the consumer market is heading: it is more and more towards more specialised machines.

Consider as an example Windows Media Center Edition. Yes, it WILL do anything that a regular Windows machine will, but let's face it, that isn't what it is designed for. Rather, it is for more casual, leisure use, sitting in the living room hooked up to your TV, so you can watch that film or quickly check that web site. Sitting on the sofa with keyboard on lap isn't the best environment for drafting that letter or working on that spreadsheet, but does that matter if you go to a proper workstation for that instead?

Other examples of specialism are home servers becoming more and more common, and other devices such as the iPad and smartphones also for more "casual" use. Even peripherals are in on the act - you can download pictures from your camera to your printer, crop them and apply other basic editing and print them out without the data ever touching a PC. Underpinning it all is fairly slow but seemingly inevitable drift to more network-centric consumer computing.

So can the tablet experience be bolted on to Windows? Possibly, but it is not a trivial undertaking. Windows has had pen extensions, for example, for at least 15 years, and they've basically been completely ignored. Ultimately the Windows interface is implicitly designed for a large screen, keyboard and mouse. The successful tablet and small form factor (e.g smartphone) systems use interfaces designed from the ground up for tablet use. Could Microsoft bolt a completely new and custom interface onto the Windows kernel? Sure. Will they, especially if that new UI needs every application to be reworked to take advantage of it? I have my doubts.

Where Microsoft may have the advantage is the Apple lock-in. Of course, Microsoft COULD do the same thing but they don't have the same track record of doing so. I constantly look at the iPad and iPhone and wonder why anyone would want a machine that they don't control. The reason the iPad doesn't support Flash is not technical but because Apple doesn't like it. All apps have to go through the App Store. If Apple decide in a few years time to pull support for current generations of the iPad, then guess what - your machine has just become useless. That isn't hypothetical: Steve Jobs has already killed off one Apple tablet basically overnight.

That's right: the Newton. True, it was in a different category, more powerful (by the standards of the day) and with a decent data entry system in the form of handwriting recognition that was really very good in later models. It was also aimed squarely at a business audience. Sadly it's basically dead now: it's simply out of date. The killer feature for me was that it was the only system I've ever used that could replace a pen and paper for may tasks and actually improve upon them. An iPad doesn't do that... nor does anything else.

Of course, spending several hundred dollars to replace a $1 pad of paper seems ridiculous at first sight. Unless you've actually tried it I'll never be able to convince you of the benefits of being able to edit and re-edit rough notes and diagrams, quickly convert them to computer text, file thousands of them away in your pocket, or print off, email or fax as many copies as you like. I suppose the iPad and their consumer-focused ilk are similar - they are similarly special-purpose devices, but I don't know what I'd use them for simply because I've never tried using them for anything.

Kerio Samepage

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