Tablets and Slates

Seems like this year is going to be the year we find out whether print media is about to taken by a revolution as big as the rise of digital music players was for music. Although print may be an industry in decline, we are confronted with more reading than ever before. The only difference is that we have to swim through a flood of scattered and diluted information yet somehow synthesize it throughout the day. I know so many people who don’t follow the news much less read a newspaper or weekly. I’ve found myself vacillating between print and internet news, although I’m becoming more and more convinced of the solid value offered by print (I read the newspaper and a weekly these days).

I’m a bit puzzled by this recent surge in interest by companies rushing to enter the market with some kind of tablet or slate. Some are dedicated readers like Amazon’s Kindle that are designed exclusively for a reading experience (black and white, easy on the eyes, and low power consumption) while the ones arriving this year will lean towards more of a communication device tailored for reading and other uses (like Apple’s rumored tablet).

It’s an interesting phenomenon that seems to be hitting all the right spots whether it’s the nostalgia for a time when people curled up with a good book along with the realization that a phone screen is just too damn small to do any kind of extended reading or viewing. We don’t want to lug around a laptop and we don’t want to be burdened with a key board when it’s not needed. Until you actually use one in real life, these devices look so full of promise because they seem to fit every conceivable situation where a laptop is overkill and a smart phone is limited.

Although I can see a lot of great uses for a connected tablet-like device with music, movies, games, email and the internet (even better with TV and radio reception), and a variety of text content (whether it’s stuff you fetch from Project Gutenberg, digital subscriptions or downloadable books), I can also see myself getting quickly bored with it. A smart phone is something that I can have on me at all times without feeling a burden but a tablet feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

I have a Dell Mini 9 that’s under 1 kg and it’s no more than having a hardcover John Grisham book in your bag, certainly feels lighter than the average college textbook. While it’s been great for the times that I really need a computer on the go (like travel or getting something done on the road), those occasions are actually rare. Most of the time I can get by with my iPhone and pick up from there when I get home. Also, the bulk of information devices feel useless without a ubiquitous connection. The iPhone was about as helpful as a Palm PDA once I stepped out of Japan with it.

The table device definitely has potential but like the iPhone, we’ll have to see new models of interaction and presentation before it becomes a truly must have item that’s part of our culture. Right now it’s hard for me to visualize it.