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Sometimes a tablet is just a tablet

Posted: 11.18.11

In the past month and half we have visited three major CAD company conferences in various parts of the world, plus a dozen clients and you want to know what we found? Tablets. Mostly iPads but that’s only because it was the only choice when these companies and clients took it up.

All the execs had one (except the CEO of course because as everyone knows CEOs don’t do any real work). The tablets were being used to show design concepts, power point presentations, photos, and AR. Audience members were even using them as cameras.

A TABLET is a replacement for a ... tablet pad

In the not too distant past, these activities would have been done on a laptop—a notebook. Does the similarity in names—notebook, tablet, strike you as a coincidence or logical progression of a metaphor?

The electronic tablets have for the purpose of presentations replaced the computer notebooks. And both of those electronic devices are replacements for the paper tablet and notebook.

A tablet pad is a natural thing to write and draw on, and to use to show people what you’ve drawn. But it’s static and not easily transferable except through a Fax or FedEx. Paper tablets are thin and light weight, so are electronic tablets. Paper tablets let you draw on them, and so do electronic tablets.

There has been an unusual amount of skepticism and denouncing of tablets by the analyst community, and logically the PC makers who don’t have one. They have sought to pigeon-hole the electronic tablet as a consumption (only) or “media” tablet. A lot of the press has echoed that canard hoping to look smart and offer critical assessment. Reminds me of when I was a kid and the smart people were saying, color TV will never catch on, too expensive, too unnatural looking.

The smart people today are trying to prove that one wouldn’t be able to, or want to do “real” work on a tablet. Well I wouldn’t want to work on the Market Watch spreadsheet on a tablet, but I could do it, I’d just have to scroll a lot. Kathleen Maher regularly writes essays and major portions of TechWatch on a tablet while in an airplane or airport; she seems to do just fine creating content on a tablet. She’s adapted.

It doesn’t have to be a computer

Probably the biggest problem people have with appreciating the tablet is they are trying to make it into a computer. Someone has said that if you want to make something new acceptable, you have to make it look like something old. The problem most critics of tablets have is they are trying to make the tablet be like a computer, whereas it’s really like a tablet—a paper tablet. It doesn’t have to be a “real computer,” it’s the next generation of things, a new thing.

A MODERN design tool, a tablet

So the CAD companies, and the PR people, and the designers, and the 20-somethings got it right away and accepted the new tablet as it is. Tablet users averaged 30 percent more viewing time per session compared with desktops, according to data released last week by Ooyala. So yes it is a consumption device, but users are consuming far more on it than they ever did on a PC. How many times have you heard someone say, I don’t want to watch a movie on my PC. Of course those people never rode on an airplane flight longer than two hours, or if they did they were asleep and failed to notice all the people watching movies on their PCs, and now tablets.

This however scares the pants off the PC suppliers. Apple was cute and expensive and not a threat. But now, this tablet thing, it’s upsetting everyone’s spreadsheet and really disturbing the supply chain and all those hedge fund managers who used it to pick stocks.

Embrace the new—exploit it

Kindle isn’t trying to make the Fire into a computer. It’s a vehicle for Amazon’s content. Google’s Chromebook has basically failed just as the Smartbook, and Netbook did. Why? No one wants half a computer no matter how cheap it is. HP missed that point with their Slate – we don’t want a computer with a touch screen, we want a real computer AND a tablet. Tablets are only cannibals of ill-conceived PCs, not real PCs. If the PC market’s growth was based on shoving low cost and low performance machines down the consumer’s throat the PC suppliers made a bad call—the consumers don’t want them.

If the PC suppliers try to make a tablet that is a low cost PC with a touch screen and an app store it won’t work. That’s missing the point. Tablets are good at being a tablet. And one day, not too far away, we’ll walk into a lobby, and on the wall in a frame will be THE IDEA that started the company, but it will be on a tablet not a cocktail napkin.

Sometimes a tablet is just a tablet – Sigmund Freud