Tablets: Lack of Features is a Feature

Joey Fung  

November 24, 2010

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With the iPad as the ‘it’ gift this holiday season, it seems fitting to dive into the third part of our series about our devices and the types of experiences we expect from them. Our earlier post mentioned that the experience of using a tablet isn’t anything new; that it’s an evolution of things we already do. Reading magazines, watching movies, browsing the web, and playing games were all done before through various media and devices.

Many reviews of iPads and other tablets conclude that they are best for content consumption like books and movies, and less than ideal for content creation such as document editing or even composing email, and this is reflected in our diagram. The hardcore technophiles typically dismiss them as useless since they’re not as portable as smartphones, and not as powerful or efficient to use as PCs. The limitations that set tablets apart, however, are precisely what make them so good for focused consumption of content.

Tablets are best suited for the experience when one wants to immerse themselves in content. Sitting in one’s favorite chair to read a good book, curling up on the couch to watch a movie, or aimlessly browsing the news or Wikipedia to learn something new are all experiences ideally suited to the tablet computer. Less efficient multi-tasking and input methods make this a device where one can get absorbed in the content and not be distracted by other tasks or abilities. With less portability than a smartphone, it’s less likely to be in an environment full of distractions. The way that the smartphone supports our mobile lifestyle, the tablet supports our stationary lifestyle.

With a device focused on content consumption, it inevitably becomes a device more often shared between members of a household, like a television, a stereo, or even a newspaper. Instead of turning to a PC, family members can use a tablet to stream video and read the news. It won’t replace the PC as a productivity tool, but it will replace the second or third household PC. Likewise, it will eventually replace the second or third television set. Envision a household with only one TV and one PC, but each room with a tablet.

As tablets replace print media, they are poised to offer the shared experiences now disappearing with the rise of personal devices. The ability to trade comic books, for example, or a way to add comments to movies can replicate those experiences from the analog world. Commenting on and trading e-books is a great way to bring book clubs into the digital realm and offer insights that an individual reader could overlook if read by oneself. With smartphones being so personal, the tablet has the opportunity to facilitate social interaction both in the digital space and the physical space, so that our social lives are not left on the internet.