My friend Angus recently posted his excitement at the arrival of a Google Nexus 7 4G tablet and the prospect of weeks playing with new apps. And I was left with a strangely hollow feeling.
I should love tablets. I’m a geek who loves gadgets and gaming. More than that, I’m a geek who loves it when technology just works – despite the fact I choose PCs over Macs, I only really want to have to tinker with things when the fancy takes me, not because every time I try to do something there’s a problem.
Last Christmas, I even bought my parents an earlier Nexus – it made sense for them to have something which they could use for basic browsing, was lighter to carry around the house than a laptop, and didn’t require them to call me regularly for technical support. It made so much sense, that they even ended up buying another to have one each.
Why I don’t like tablets, Part One:
I’m separating out the personal and ideological reasons for disliking tablets. Personally, I just can’t find a single use case where I need or prefer a tablet.
For working and anything involving typing, I want a keyboard. I’m not averse to swiping and texting, but for anything longer than a tweet, it just becomes hassle. Aside from the fact I’ve built up a fairly decent typing speed over the years, and it’s very much linked to my thought process as a writer, I particularly hate trying to make corrections to earlier words on a touch screen as I endlessly prod my smartphone only to see it highlight the space in front, behind, above or below the error…
For gaming I have a games console, and am in the process of sorting a gaming PC rig. I’ve played a number of tablet games with my son, and although they’re OK to pass the time, they’re not as immersive an experience, and analogue sticks still work far better than motion controls, accelerometers, or trying to swipe a screen previously used by a sticky-fingered child. I want amazing graphics, multiplayer and precision from games, not a clumsy free-to-play mechanic.
For reading I have a Kindle. And I love it dearly. No apps, multitasking, or distractions away from the work I’m reading. It holds a huge number of titles, updates wirelessly, and has a massive battery life. Job done.
If I want to stream movies etc, then I have a 2nd monitor which is big enough to rival the TV in my living room, and the money spent on a tablet would equally fund a better office chair, which then also benefits me during the working day.
And when I’m on the move, I have a smart phone. It’s fairly modern, runs Android and a few different apps that I actually need when I’m out, and that’s it. Do I need a huge range of apps and a 7″ screen to distract myself during the average commute or when I’m sat in a coffee shop waiting for a meeting?
Finally, the one very good reason for me looking at notebook PCs, and then ignoring tablets is simple. A portable work device is only useful, if I can connect it to projectors and TVs to share presentations etc, and without any hassle. But the times that’s useful and I don’t need the additional functionality of a laptop anyway is rare…
Why I don’t like tablets, Part Two:
I know that theoretically anyone can make any technology do whatever they want with a little effort. But I can’t help thinking that my son is brighter than I was at his age, more accustomed to technology than I was at his age, and yet much more of a passive consumer than I was at his age.
My 5th birthday was celebrated with a 48k ZX Spectrum. And over the course of the next few years I dabbled in BASIC with programs supplied in magazines like Your Sinclair and Sinclair User, desperately hoping the code would have time to run before I had to go to sleep.
I’m not a studious programmer or hacker, and I still regret not spending more time learning to actually code in the past, but I’ve picked up enough to at least have a grasp of the possibilities. I had a very good understanding that people could make these boxes do things by entering numbers and letters, even if they were a step removed from me.
Whereas my son is far more passive and accepting that apps come fully formed from somewhere, and that’s how they have to be used. Partly that’s a sign of the times – if I’d been able to download Plants vs Zombies without having to type hundreds of lines of code, then I would have probably been the same.
Apps and the tablets which run them feel like an evolutionary dead-end concentrating on more elegant ToDo lists and monetisation strategies for free-to-play games. Especially compared to the opportunities of wearable computing and 3D printing to impact on lives, which are two technologies.
There are so many exciting new technologies and opportunities which convince me I’m not simply a curmudgeon aging to the point I’ve lost enthusiasm, but I’ve yet to see any programmers doing any serious work on a tablet beyond using it as an additional monitor. Or uses or opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible on a PC or a smart phone, without blocking the view of 20 people when you hold your tablet in the air to take a photo or video.
I’d love to be convinced otherwise, but tablets are the worst example of spoonfed computing for me, and the sooner we stop falling in love with apps and app stores, the better…