Friday, March 4, 2011

Tablet PCs, Part II

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not debating the utility of tablet PCs. I really enjoy using my iPod Touch over my laptop as I commute from work, as the Touch is much, much lighter. But that’s about it. Typing on either device while bouncing along in bucket seats on an old bus isn’t fun. But either works just as well for movie-watching, music-listening, and the occasional text-reading or text-typing. The only advantage the Touch has over the laptop is the portability.

You’ve got to remember you’re talking with a person who learned keyboarding in high school on an electric typewriter that had the really snazzy feature of being able to correct errors using built-in correction fluid strips. Believe me, that was quite the innovation over the standard typewriter correction method, which I mutilated to perfection when I used the old 1950s-era Royal typewriter I got when I turned twelve – I was a weird kid, okay? On that machine, I had to use White-Out, that sticky white correction fluid that came in a bottle that looked like wart medicine. The secret with that stuff was to let it dry completely before you typed over it, lest your typewriter key end up covered in white goo.

Moving up to the slick electronic typewriters in high school was a pretty fantastic leap – but you know what? Those electronic typewriters were still pretty much in the same league as that old Royal, except that they allowed me to work faster and correct my mistakes more neatly.

I see the same with tablet PCs versus laptops or desktops. With a tablet PC, yes there is that portability, that ability to work anywhere I want to, but I just don’t see that the tablet PC is making that same quantum leap from the electronic typewriter to the PC Junior.

And as rare as it is to see a home with a typewriter or a school with a typewriter or a coffee-shop klatcher pull a typewriter out of a bag and start banging away, they still make typewriters, some of them comparable in price to the iPad.

Who in the world is buying them? I don’t know. But obviously someone is, or they wouldn’t still be on the market.

John C. Dvorak, writing for PC Magazine on Jan. 20, 2011, points out that today’s tablet PCs are thriving because they’re being used as output devices, not input devices:
The attempts at pad machines go way back to lost machines, such as the Momenta and WinPad machines, which led to Apple taking a crack at it with the Newton. These early machines all stemmed from flawed thinking. The flawed thinking was the pad itself. It was always assumed that the pad was going to be primarily an input device, like a paper and pen notepad. The successful machines of today are primarily output devices, not a notepad.

I will concede that Dvorak tends to be a bit schizophrenic in his criticism of tablet PCs, one year decrying demands that such devices come with styluses because he loses them all the time, the next wondering why the iPad doesn’t come with a stylus so he can doodle up some stuff.

All of this reminds me of something else that was supposed to be revolutionary: Google Buzz. Odd Todd sums up that situation well enough for us here:

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