The words came down the Twitter wire.
Hey, @mrtopp ! Talk tablets to me!
This was not the first time the question has been posed to me. The answer was the same as always — I wondered why the tablet was an object of desire in the first place. The last time I asked that question, it came from my mother. She wanted to read books, so I suggested the Kindle. Why not choose a device designed with only the reading of books in mind, if reading books is your goal?
I am also reminded of Kyle Cassidy’s excellent piece about finding a function for his iPad. The recipient of a free iPad, he had no imagined function for it, and it became a glorified eReader.
Cassidy waxes on about it, and electronic books are truly fantastic things, but I cannot help but think that all experience and reports indicate that backlit devices are less pleasant to read from than e-ink, and the price difference — particularly if and when 3G connections are added in — makes the iPad quite a waste of money if you just read books.
Which is quite the digression, as Cassidy received his for free.
This request was coming from a different place, however — with summer travel planned, Seonaid is looking for a device to keep her in touch, and the world of tablets is less expensive than the world of annoying dongles for her bulky laptop. (An aside: Seonaid was surprised by this, I am not. The dongle market is probably saturated; people aren’t really shopping around for them in large quantities. Tablets are new, and flying off the shelves, and the phone companies are forced to offer cutthroat rates as a result.)
Generally speaking, my answer to “should I get a tablet” is “no”. They have no discernable purpose. They are large mobile phones — literally. They run the same applications (mostly) as their phone brethren, using the same interface and the same operating system. They do not strike me as something that somebody should need immediately.
On top of that, the devices are all first generation. The iPad II is not really a second-generation device, just Apple sticking a dual core chip in the first gen iPad, in an attempt not to be outclassed by Android devices. The iPad 1.5.
And Android? Blackberry? It’s first generation all around. If you’re on the fence, don’t buy one. First generation buyers who are not intentionally first generation buyers rarely feel happy about their purchase in the long run.
As far as usefulness goes — well, your iPad or Xoom cannot do anything an iPhone or Android phone couldn’t, though it ought to accomplish the same tasks more quickly, and on a bigger screen. For all the “it’s so fast!” comments I have seen, and all the photoblogs I have read that praise the latest photoshop-esque applications available for these devices, take a look at any tablet specification and tell me if you would even consider buying a PC with those same specifications.
If so, I have a computer from 2001 that I would like to sell to you.
Tablets have all the functionality and power of a mobile phone at present, and their major function (as far as this blogger has witnessed) is on the daily commute — to make it either less boring, or more productive.
The bottom line
If you are hell bent on ignoring our advice, and buying a tablet anyways, there are essentially two options:
Option 1: The iPad
First generation — not the iPad II.
Right now, nobody has a plan for tablets — or, at least, nobody has made a product that indicates that they have a plan for tablets beyond let’s make one of these tablet devices that seem so popular. Apple thought there was a market waiting to be tapped … and they were right. And so far, everybody is just trying to copy the iPad, mostly by making their own giant-sized Android phones.
So why go for an imitation? Until another company can provide something other than savings due to an inferior build, why go with anything else?
With the iPad II out (same product, new box), the first generation one can probably even be found at a pretty good bargain these days. If you need a tablet, you will have trouble finding a better product at a better price.
Option II: Android
However, if you’re thinking about your long-term tablet experience, Android is the way to go.
A tablet is a computing device, and a computing device is only as good as its software. There is no way that tablets remain oversized phones forever, and no way — in the near future — that they pull a laptop and become our new primary computing device. So where will it land?
I wouldn’t profess to know, but you can bet that if Android’s open-source development model doesn’t get there first, it will be there seconds after Apple and provide more versatility. Throw in the fact that you can run an Android device without registering it via your computer, and Apple’s well-known iPhone signal issues (what’s that I hear you say about 3G coverage?), and we are suddenly approaching a handful of reasons to prefer an Android device.
Which Android device, I couldn’t say. I’m not buying one, so specification measurement is not a game I care to play these days.
Keep in mind that every Android tablet currently on the market is just a copy of the iPad, so you’ll be better off in the short term with Apple. But the long-term bet, at least in this corner of the Internet, is on Android.