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Missing the Point

July 31st, 2013
Saw one of those “Why Windows Tablets Rock and the iPad Sucks” kind of articles, and am always open to hearing arguments. One point not made very clear is that the article only refers to the higher-priced tablets, and not the Windows RT versions. Here's the basic list—on Windows 8 tablets, you can:
  1. Create user accounts
  2. Use multiple external monitors
  3. Use any peripherals (e.g., external drives)
  4. Snap view (two apps side by side)
  5. Full-blown file manager (e.g., open folder windows)
  6. File encryption
  7. Pen support (for handwriting input)
  8. Bing news app
  9. Run any browser (IE used as an example)
  10. Run powerful software (e.g., Photoshop)
The very first impression when seeing this list is the same one you see all the time in relation to Microsoft and tablets: tablets are media consumption devices, not full-blown computers. This is not due to the limitation of the technology, it's very simply a fact controlled by the device's form. And this is why the iPad succeeded where Microsoft failed at every prior attempt to produce a tablet: Apple figured out what tablets are good for. Microsoft repeatedly tried to make full-blown computers in tablet form, and never (even now) figured out why they were failing. Apple, instead, looked at the form of the device, and came to the conclusion that people would not be using it like they would a full-blown computer—and so designed the iPad to be something that people would use in that form. The author of the article also misunderstands that very fundamental principle. As a result, much of this list misses the point, ballyhooing features that are meaningless to most tablet users. Multiple monitors? What good is a portable device when you have it tethered to a monitor? And why would you need an external monitor in the first place? Run powerful software? Again, tablets are not authoring devices; most people who need Photoshop will immediately drop their tablets in favor of a desktop machine. What can be done on a tablet can be achieved by any number of drawing and photo-manipulation apps, all of them much cheaper than Photoshop. Not to mention—do you really want to spend $650 on Photoshop for your tablet? Then we have “pen support.” Needless to say, Apple made a very wise choice in abandoning the pen. However, anyone who still clings to that can still get a stylus for the iPad, and yes, there are handwriting recognition apps for just a few bucks. But that's not very tablety. Want to know what is? Voice recognition. Which iOS does extremely well. I use the dictation feature extensively, and it works great. Why the hell would I prefer a stylus I'd always be misplacing? Furthermore, Windows 8, for all its tablet-friendliness, still runs apps designed for desktop use; too many apps will not run well on tablets. For that, you'll need Windows RT—which loses many of the advantages listed here. Some of these are just plain stupid. Run any browser? With Internet Explorer as your prime example? Here, the writer adds an almost sheepish aside, stating that “it's nice to have options.” Well, iPad runs Chrome and Opera (mini) besides Safari, and has other third-party browsers to choose from, without having to resort to IE, so you have options there as well. Another stupid list-filler? “Bing News App.” It's exclusive to Windows! And file encryption? Meh. Maybe. But that's pretty specific, and again, like with browsers and news apps, iOS has many options in the App Store you can easily access. Multiple users could be nice, but only on a very low scale. You want your tablet to be available any time you want it—it's not something you willingly share with others. How many people share cell phones? When it comes down to it, this is another feature misplaced on a tablet.
So, is the list completely stupid? Hardly. The “snap view” is a great feature, and it would be nice if Apple imitated Microsoft on that one, though it would not be too easy given the built-in resolution restraints for many apps—but it could be done. Another good feature which Apple does not allow is file browsing; iOS apps are not shared between apps very well, and you cannot have a common repository of files arranged as you like them, opened by any app able to open them. The “Open in…” feature exists in iOS, but it is limited and (in my experience) buggy. However, one can make the argument that it is more secure, which leads to the point that a Windows 8 tablet is, overall, a lot less secure than an iPad. Finally, the ability to use peripherals is a good point; in limiting file browsing, Apple has even cut off the use of external USB and flash devices, even when it makes specific connecters to allow for them to be accessed. I would love to just hook up my iPad to an external drive and swap files that way. Using iTunes to do so is cumbersome. Again, security is better, but that's something that would be nice for the user to decide on their own.
What that boils down to though, is not a “10 reasons” list, but rather a “3 reasons” list—and one that could be easily torn to pieces if you were to argue both sides of the debate. Like, the fact that iOS comes free, but when Windows 9 (or whatever) comes out, you'll have to pay for that. One way to obviate the entire list? Point out that someone looking for the features listed above should get a Macbook Air. Which will also run Windows 8, if for some demented reason you wanted to. Though I would suggest Windows 7 instead.

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  1. Tim
    August 5th, 2013 at 08:26 | #1

    I’ve spent some time looking around for a “media consumption” device. Specifically, now that I’m teaching law in Korea, I need to go back and forth and all about quite a bit so I want to start migrating to a device that has strong reader functionality.

    Towards that, a couple of days ago I bought a Nook HD+ (for $137 after tax, the hook was I had gift cirtificates from Christmas that I still hadn’t used).

    I am now thinking of taking it back because, deep down inside I’ve always wanted 1 device that does everything, and I think I’ve found it in this: https://www.asus.com/Tablets_Mobile/ASUS_Fonepad

    The Asus Fonepad is a 7 inch tablet that is also a phone. 7 inches is the minimum I need to function like a reader and media consumption, and the maximum that will fairly comfortably fit in most of my pockets. As far as looking foolish talking into a large device? I don’t care. I use less than 150 minutes on the phone each month and even less in public. But this will allow me to carry my entire library with me where ever I go. But being that big, means less room in my pockets. I already carry multiple devices and this would let me peal down to one.

    (BTW an Apple Ipad Mini does fit in my pocket, but it won’t function as a phone – so that means I’d still have two devices. When the Ipad Mini gets a better screen, it might become the best seller of all tablets out there, including Apples).

    But back to the Nook.

    The Nook is the most Apple-like experience I’ve ever had in buying something not Apple. If you go to a Barnes and Noble you will hear the sales people talking braggingly, if not snobbishly about the device. As much as I always have hated this, I can see where it comes from. Prices start at $129 for 7 inches, and $149 for 9 inches and it allows micro sd memory cards. They both have high density pixels, with the 9 incher being just 8 pixels per inch short of retina, with a 1.5 ghz dual core processor (the 7 inch has 8 fewer pixels still, and 1.3ghz dual core cpu). It has a very clean and smooth i/o that reminds me of my Ipod touch. Its reading function is fantastic, as is the kindle app when run on it. It seems to me, the point you make about viewing the tablet as a media consumption device it spot on and that Barnes and Noble got that right. But the price and news reports suggest that they are getting out of the business. Unlike Kindle and Apple, they were not successful at making it a Barnes and Noble only content delivery device (it has google play now) meaning there was no point in the content providing side of the business subsidizing the device. Its only function now is to undermine Kindle sales – which I think it could do quite well. But for how long? Anyway, its a non-apple device worthy of praise, or so it seems to my troglodyte eyes.

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