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5 Reasons Tablets Suck And You Won't Buy One

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 185 comments

Let's admit it: tablets suck. They've been around for at least a decade. Many are faster and offer more capabilities than Apple's upcoming iPad, from speed to storage, connectivity, and "full operating systems." So, why haven't you bought one yet?

Back in 2002, research and analyst firm Gartner had this to say: "Tablet PCs will have a natural fit in many vertical applications that currently use pen-based tablets," said Ken Dulaney, vice president and research area director for Gartner. "However, a lack of application support, clumsy hardware designs, and a price premium will be barriers for most users."

That's still true even today. Tablet manufacturers are doing things all wrong.

Poor usability has always been an issue since the dawn of tablets. Consumer interest was only recently resurrected when rumors began about Apple releasing a tablet device, which ended up becoming true. Most gruesomely, the iPad received not only praise--mainly by Apple loyalists--but also a ton of flack from PC users. Then again, it's not a perfect device in its own class and some Apple fans criticized it, too.

But hold the horses. The industry went from "who gives a hoot" about tablets to "wow, the iPad sucks" in a mere two months?

All of a sudden, people who never cared for tablets and slates suddenly had a lot to complain about with the iPad, as though they were really waiting for Apple to release the end-all, be-all tablet device and then were let down by Jobs and Co. Would all the naysaysers have bought an iPad if it were made like competing tablets and came with a full copy of OS X? No, because they didn't buy the other "full-featured" tablets that were already on sale.

Just visit your favorite computer store or online retailer to see that the evidence for tablet popularity is blatant: there is no popularity. Here's why:

1. Tablets Are Niche Devices

Tablets aren't a new concept. They've been around for a long time. But they haven't really caught on, simply because they're unable to do everything you can do on a laptop--and even a netbook--in a more convenient way. They've shipped with stylus-pointing devices that were frankly not that easy to use, despite the whole pen and paper concept.

2. Full OSes Were Always There, Yet Those Who Complained That The iPad Doesn't Have One Still Never Bought One

Ever since tablets were usable, they've had full operating systems, primarily Windows. Microsoft at one point was pushing the whole tablet concept hard and it failed. Why? Because full desktop/laptop operating systems don't work on a tablet device. They're not designed from the ground up to be usable with your finger--and even a stylus. All user-interface mechanics on a full-blown OS are designed to work with a mouse, not your finger/stylus.

That looks fun to use with a stylus/finger. Not.That looks fun to use with a stylus/finger. Not.

This is why phones have interfaces designed specifically for usage on their screen sizes and device sizes. Can you imagine pecking around with your finger on ultra-thin scroll bars and tiny buttons? Cramming a full desktop OS into a tablet is pure laziness. Cramming a desktop OS into a tablet but rebuilding the user interface from the ground up? That's what needs to be done. Microsoft needs to accomplish this.

3. High-End Hardware Specs Sometimes Don't Matter

People complained about the iPad being underpowered compared to other tablets that came before it. So what? All those tablets failed, never caught on, and ended up being forgotten. Name one successful tablet from any company. Take Archos tablets, for example, that was filled with features and had a full Windows OS. Very few people have one, let alone know of or even care about the device.

In 2001, Bill Gates said this: "Within five years, I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

Five years later, IDC said this: "Tablet PCs accounted for just 1.5% of notebook PCs sold worldwide last year." That's not 1.5% of all PCs sold, that's 1.5% of notebook PCs. Even Bill Gates was wrong.

By the end of 2008, when tablets already surpassed what the iPad is today in terms of hardware, Archos shipped less than 15,000 units of its Wi-Fi+3G tablet worldwide, which is telling. I personally know some people who bought one, only to never touch it again after two to three months of use because they "grew out of it."

The point isn't to cram as much technology into a tablet as physically possible. It's far better to make the tablet really intuitive to use in a way that makes sense for that kind of form factor. Something both Microsoft and the majority of tablet makers out there fail to do. Yes, many tablets claim to offer the full "desktop experience" on a tablet, but that works in a counterintuitive way. If I wanted the desktop experience, I would use a desktop.

Tablet makers: please, don't try to pump insane hardware specs into your tablets and bloat up prices. Design what makes sense for that form factor with a clear form-to-function goal in mind.

4. Interface, Interface, Interface

Using a stylus to navigate around a full-blown OS is hell if you've ever had any long-term experience using a tablet and stylus combo. When you navigate around the user interface, you have to use the stylus. Then when you need to type, you have to put the stylus down and use your fingers or peck at the virtual keys with the thing. Prior to multi-touch, the stylus was one of the number-one contributing factors why people eventually forgot about tablets.

People have 10 fingers, so design an interface that uses what we have already. This is the number-one reason why the iPhone took off in such a big way. Despite some popular belief, it isn't the Apple loyalty or marketing machine that made the iPhone what it is today. It's the fact that the iPhone OS and the excellent finger interface were designed well and people caught on to it. The iPhone's popularity was significantly driven by its ease of use and would still be popular today with or without Apple's marketing machine. This is why mobile phone OSes these days all have similar interfaces. Even Microsoft had to eventually ditch its Windows Mobile and stylus-pecking interface for phones--yet it still continues to be lazy on the tablet front.

5. Lack Of Tablet Apps

The fact that most tablets run on Windows or another non-tablet friendly OS means that pretty much most applications are not going to be tablet and finger friendly. They're all the same desktop apps that require a mouse and keyboard to be fully usable. This is where things get really difficult to solve and Apple has a huge arsenal in the form of the App store. The only thing that can help give Apple competition is if Microsoft steps up its game and develops an app ecosystem with tons of apps that are designed from the ground up to be used by normal citizens.

To catch on, Microsoft needs to grab the mindshare of not savvy computer users, but mainstream users--all the people you and I know and for whom we have to fix computer problems. Then the more technical apps will follow. Microsoft needs to capture the larger piece of the pie first to generate attraction, which is something it has failed to do with Windows for its tablet PC.

Take clues from what Apple has done with its office productivity suite: Apple literally had to redesign and retool iWork from scratch with a brand-new user interface designed specifically for easy tablet use. Buying a regular tablet and installing Microsoft Office 2007 on it will have you switching back to your notebook or desktop in no time. It's counter intuitive and simply not "fun" to use.

HP demonstrated its Slate earlier this year to a crowd at CES. On the form-factor and spec front, it was great. At its heart though, was a full copy of Windows 7 with a virtual keyboard. I'll be the first to say it but the iSlate is going to be a flop and it's not going to be all HP's fault.

Microsoft, HP, Archos, and other tier-one manufacturers need to band together and come up with an interface for Windows that makes sense for tablets. And since Microsoft is the OS supplier, it needs to get its act together and make this happen. Otherwise, it'll be 2001 all over again, except Apple will be the king of tablets--and no one wants a monopoly.

If you're interested, check out this interview with Bill Gates with InformationWeek about the "Tablet PC" and see how vision means nothing without proper design, execution, and cohesiveness.

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Top Comments
  • 35 Hide
    one-shot , March 20, 2010 1:54 PM
    I only need 1 reason.

    1. Waste-O-Money
  • 19 Hide
    wolfseeker2828 , March 20, 2010 1:42 PM
    I agree, I found it funny that people were complaining about an iPad when most of them had never even HEARD of a tablet before it, much less ever considered using one. The only thing it's good for is if you're a 3D graphics/modeling guy.
  • 12 Hide
    Capm , March 20, 2010 2:01 PM
    I agree, it is all the apps and interface. It could be the way for me to eliminate paper altogether, but it has to be usable. As a cable tech, I have to carry around alot of paperwork for me to fill out and people to sign, and I have to take it all back to the office and file it, it would be nice to just get a customers signature or thumbprint on the tablet, and just sync with the office network and deposit my forms on a server that the csr's can then deal with. But if its clumsy and difficult to use, then it makes it less efficient than paper.
Other Comments
    Display all 185 comments.
  • 19 Hide
    wolfseeker2828 , March 20, 2010 1:42 PM
    I agree, I found it funny that people were complaining about an iPad when most of them had never even HEARD of a tablet before it, much less ever considered using one. The only thing it's good for is if you're a 3D graphics/modeling guy.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2010 1:47 PM
    I still think iPad will be a success and that the future for everyday tasks is touchscreen. You won't buy a tablet to replace a PC. You buy a tablet instead of buying a 2nd PC because most of the time you do things that don't require a powerful graphic card and complicated OS. I find the iPad perfect to replace my wife's laptop because she doesn't do games. At least not 3D ones. I will keep my gaming desktop... and this is how everyone's happy, including me when I'll come from work, want to pick my email or browse the net and I'll just fetch the iPad.
  • 35 Hide
    one-shot , March 20, 2010 1:54 PM
    I only need 1 reason.

    1. Waste-O-Money
  • 3 Hide
    coopchennick , March 20, 2010 1:55 PM
    I've never really seen a need for one. A guy in my class had one and he could write on it and turn it into a word document. That was the biggest up side I'd seen to date.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2010 2:01 PM
    wait until you see this http://eeepc.net/broadcoms-tablet-plans-are-high-and-mighty/ in the market. It fulfills all the weaknesses the current tablets have.
  • 12 Hide
    Capm , March 20, 2010 2:01 PM
    I agree, it is all the apps and interface. It could be the way for me to eliminate paper altogether, but it has to be usable. As a cable tech, I have to carry around alot of paperwork for me to fill out and people to sign, and I have to take it all back to the office and file it, it would be nice to just get a customers signature or thumbprint on the tablet, and just sync with the office network and deposit my forms on a server that the csr's can then deal with. But if its clumsy and difficult to use, then it makes it less efficient than paper.
  • 0 Hide
    dickcruz , March 20, 2010 2:02 PM
    that is true, now there's that one device that's a pen and it can record hand motions so when you write stuff it can later transcribe it into text and convert it into a word document or audio, that's pretty nifty
  • 1 Hide
    enzo matrix , March 20, 2010 2:05 PM
    This is why I prefer convertibles.
  • 2 Hide
    victomofreality , March 20, 2010 2:08 PM
    I see tablets as a stage in the evolution of portable computing. Though unless I have money to burn I think I'll stay out of this incarnation and wait for the next hopefully they'll have figured out how to raise the portability and protect the screen.
  • 11 Hide
    blazeorangeman , March 20, 2010 2:09 PM
    I couldn't agree more. Personally the reason why tablets aren't for me is simple: They're too large (screen size) to be considered a "portable" device, and the iPod Touches/iPhones are too small, underpowered, or too reliable on another computer/network to do what I really want to do with it.

    The day tablet PCs (Apple or Microsoft based) become mainstream is when people will be able to build their own, or it fills a niche in the market where either the previously two devices can't go or do.

    Give me a tablet that can successfully use my finger to work ALL applications in a 9" screen, with all the programs I can shake my AT&T iPhone with and then we'll talk.

    Until then...
  • 0 Hide
    Arguggi , March 20, 2010 2:12 PM
    parvatawait until you see this http://eeepc.net/broadcoms-tablet- [...] nd-mighty/ in the market. It fulfills all the weaknesses the current tablets have.


    Wrong link?
  • 2 Hide
    the associate , March 20, 2010 2:12 PM
    I've always wanted a tablet but mostly never got one due to price/performance ratio. Stargate Atlantis made me want em even more lol
    Here's to hoping windows 7's apparently better touch interface capabilities flourish on tablets...
  • 4 Hide
    AMW1011 , March 20, 2010 2:15 PM
    I strongly disagree with some of the points of this article.

    I feel that this article is as much calling out the whole UMPC market as it is the tablet variants.

    There are all forms of UMPCs, clamshells, slates, convetables, sliders, and more. Depending on your needs and what suites you, you can choose the best design for you.

    Tablets are the most difficult to use, but they really are not that bad. I browse the web a lot on my Archos 5, and the only thing that is holding it back is speed and full flash. There are quite a few of UMPCs out there with the same screen size that can deliver those. Remember, I'm talking a 4.8" screen not a 9" screen. You make it sound as though these tablets are unusable, that's just plain stupid. Just like a desktop owner using their first laptop, it is a different interface that you need to get used to.

    Look here:
    http://www.umpcportal.com/products/Viliv/S5
    http://www.umpcportal.com/products/Viliv/X70%20EX

    Oh and for the record there is a great reason why the Archos 9 failed, not because of market demand or being a tablet, but because you would be lucky to get more than 2 hours of life out of it, which is unacceptable for a portable device.

    As for UMPCs, if you simply can't stand the touch screen interface, there are still options. A clam-shell device, usually =
  • 2 Hide
    babybeluga , March 20, 2010 2:16 PM
    Eh..in my opinion they need some kind of voice recognition software that works (would input a search into your browser or take notes in a word processor). That seems like it would be "new" enough to create a hypestorm for more technically inclined people. I would be interested in it at least.
  • 11 Hide
    aethm , March 20, 2010 2:17 PM
    The only real practical purpose (for most people) will be students using them as book replacements / media / internet devices. For that they will need to be a lot cheaper.
  • -4 Hide
    Hilarion , March 20, 2010 2:20 PM
    Tablets just aren't there yet. Not even the iPad. There is no convincing reason why I would want one.
  • -1 Hide
    thedipper , March 20, 2010 2:46 PM
    I see this thread and say: The iPhone and iPod weren't exactly innovations either. PDAs were the smartphones of their day, guess how Windows Mobile is up to 6.5... it's been on these type of devices for a long-ass time. MP3 players... come on, these latest generations of fancy-pants MP3 players are totally unecessary, BUT it's the factor that an iPod is an iPod.

    Apple brought mass popularity to these markets, not innovation. It also happened to come with price spikes across the board.
  • 2 Hide
    Charbax , March 20, 2010 2:50 PM
    Laptops are considered useful. E-readers are considered useful. Everyone has a tablet in their pocket, it just happens to have a 3-something screen size only. Larger screens than on your phone IS useful because you get much more information on the screen, providing a much better web browsing experience, a better experience with certain apps that can display a lot of things on a screen (like Twitter), a better experience when watching videos.

    Soon enough Laptops, e-readers and Tablets will be combined into one. Using a simple swivel screen mechanism, you can turn the screen to cover the keyboard, and using Pixel Qi, the screen will be as readable as e-ink.
  • 7 Hide
    tayb , March 20, 2010 2:58 PM
    I've owned a convertible notebook, the T4220 from Fujitsu, and thought it was a marvelous device. It is nice to be able to hand write notes without needing pen and paper and there are some usual things you can do with pen (or finger) input but the thing that really made the T4220 a joy to own was that when I didn't want to use a stylus to control the OS I could pop the screen up, flip it around, and use it exactly like you would a regular notebook.

    I don't see the usefulness of a pure slate tablet yet. Microsoft is going at it the wrong way trying to shove a full copy of Windows on the device. They are making strides by including touch features in Windows but it's not nearly enough. Apple is going at the wrong way by putting an overly simplified OS on their tablet. Somewhere in between what Apple and Microsoft is doing is the sweet spot where a tablet OS should be. We'll just have to wait and see who gets there first.
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