Any product, especially an electronic device, has to have very strong use cases to succeed. People use a TV to view video entertainment while being comfortable in their homes. People use a mobile phone to keep in touch with others no matter where they are. People use a trash can as a place to temporarily store things they want to dispose of. But people use a tablet computer to… um…
And the problem is pretty obvious. Companies want to make tablet PCs, but they don’t know the use cases. So far, tablets have just been crappy laptops without keyboards. That’s because the use cases that the manufacturers have in mind are the exact same use case that a laptop has. The result is devices that have the same use case as laptops, but are crappier than actual laptops. This is why tablets have been utter failures. The best they could come up with was that maybe a doctor would want one because it could be used while standing up near a patient’s bed.
Also, the original tablet computers all had resistive touch screens. The capacitive touch screen didn’t really exist yet. Everything was designed around a stylus without multi-touch. You couldn’t type with two thumbs, pinch, scroll, etc. They also had no accelerometers or other sensors. Designing around those technologies prevented them from making a worthwhile device, even if they had the right uses in mind.
Even today, people are only starting to get the right idea about the uses for a tablet PC. People are suggesting to use them as remote controls for home media centers. That’s a good start, the <a href=”http://www.pepper.com/”>Pepper Pad</a> was doing it years ago. Some are using them as e-readers. You could even argue that the Kindle and other e-readers are actually tablets. Even so, these limited uses are not enough to justify the expense of a tablet PC when you can just get a Logitech remote control and a netbook.
It’s looking like the long awaited Apple tablet is finally moving from rumor to reality. I anticipate that this iSlate, or whatever it will be called, is going to satisfy one of the two worthwhile use cases for tablet computing, but there is still one other use case that has been completely ignored. That second use case offers a land of opportunity for any electronics company that is willing to go for it.
But first, let’s discuss Apple’s tablet. Where could it fit into the lives of consumers? Well, I don’t know about other people, but I can tell you where it fits into my life. Every morning I am awoken by the alarm in my phone. I pick up said phone and check it before getting out of bed. I then go through my morning routine on my desktop. Then I go to work, using my phone in transit if necessary. I use a desktop/laptop at work. I return home to use my desktop for personal work, like this blog post. If I go out to a friend’s house or such, I bring my laptop for when my phone won’t suffice.
Where does the tablet fit in? It fits in for comfortable non-work home computing. When I wake up in the morning and check my phone, that kind of sucks. Even if you have an iPhone, it is small and harder to use than something with a bigger screen. That lack of comfort and size are exchanged for portability. But if I’m in bed, I don’t need portability. My laptop can get the job done, but it sucks to use a laptop in bed. I have to sit up and type. I only need a keyboard if I need to work, not to read some emails and web comics.
If I’m eating lunch, and I want to read some news while I eat, I have to sit at a table or desk, upright, in front of a desktop or laptop. There is no way I can lay down and recline on the couch while simultaneously browsing the web comfortably. Sure, I can use my phone, but again, it is tiny and uncomfortable.
This is the use case that Apple’s tablet is going to fulfill. You’ll use it in bed, on the couch, or anywhere else around the house you just want to be comfortable and read the web. I’m probably not going to get one, due to cost and closed Apple-ness, but I will probably get a competing device when they inevitably appear within a year.
So what’s the other use case for a tablet PC? If you have been paying attention, ever since tablet PCs hit the scene, only one group of people have wanted them very badly. Go and search the web for tablet PC discussion groups. Who will you find in there? Artists, that’s who.
Tablet PCs are perfect for artists. Most artists get by using Wacom tablets to draw in the digital world. The problem with them is that you look at the screen and draw on the tablet. It’s much more natural to draw directly on the screen, simulating drawing on real paper. Wacom does make a product called the Cintiq that does just that. The problem with the Cintiq is that it is incredibly expensive, and it’s basically a monitor. It is not portable at all.
What someone needs to do is make a tablet PC with a Wacom-powered screen. Make it just powerful enough to run Photoshop nicely, comfortable to hold, and at a good price. Artists will buy it like crazy. Right now these artists have to huddle over their desks, or carry around lots of equipment in their bags. Making a Wacom tablet computer will free them, and they will thank their saviors with piles of money.
Anyone out there who is looking at the tablet world, and trying to make sense of it, just think of the two use cases. Tablets will allow people to compute comfortably from their bed, couch, back porch, etc. They can also help out digital artists a great deal. If you find yourself wanting a tablet, think about what you are actually going to use it for. You’ll easily see how pointless existing tablets are, but you’ll also realize the potential of what they could be.