Tech Column: The Quest for the Perfect Tablet

Let’s talk about tablets. After all, since our technological overlords have decided that our destiny lies with the tablet, it’s pretty darn hard not to talk about them.

You know the funny thing? The tablet, as a concept, isn’t really that bad of an idea. I’m actually all for it. I’d love a device that could replace my laptop—something highly portable and always online, which could be used seamlessly for both work and play. I’d love a touchscreen computer that provides quick, intuitive access to huge amounts of information in a couple of fluid gestures while still allowing me to use a keyboard for those times I need to enter tons of info at once. I’d love a rich and diverse application selection providing optimized access to web content, while still backed up by the strength and power of a customizable file system.

Most of all, I’d just like something that works efficiently and easily with most file formats used on a day-to-day basis.

Why is an idea that simple so hard for manufacturers to get through their thick skulls?

I’m serious. I just sat down and listed off those features in two minutes. One college student in his dorm room. Yet, somehow, the major players in today’s tablet wars cannot seem to create a device that brings that small feature set under the hood of a single device.

Apple’s iPad definitely gets the “quick, intuitive access” part, as well as the “fluid gestures” bit, but fails utterly at providing the “strength and power of a customizable file system.”

Google and Samsung’s recently announced Nexus 10—which I’m using as the premiere example of an Android tablet—is better (but still not amazing) at providing a full file system, but still manages to miss out on both the “rich and diverse application selection,” with its noticeable dearth of Android Tablet apps, and the “seamless transition between work and play,” as the few apps Android tablets do have are decidedly focused on entertainment.

Even the promising Windows 8 Surface Tablet Pro falls flat in the “highly portable and always online” category, as, by all accounts, the tablet is bulky, heavy and only offered with a Wi-Fi-connectivity bundle, not 3G/4G.

If you ask my opinion, everyone is making the so-called tablet “conundrum” much harder than it needs to be. Manufacturers get bogged down in pimping their tablets out with unbelievable amounts of RAM and processor power, seemingly forgetting that there are practically no apps that will ever utilize that hardware to its full potential.

Software distributors rarely see the tablet as anything other than a venue for shilling their latest cloud-based offerings, apparently forgetting that the cloud is useless unless the tablet has Wi-Fi or data access (which is not a given, even in today’s wireless world).

Finally, customers, in their turn, get confused by the poorly differentiated products offered to them, and would often rather not buy anything than buy $500 worth of pain and regret.

Look, guys, let’s not forget where tablets came from, and why the idea works in the first place. Remember, the modern tablet is essentially a fusion of three things: a touchscreen PC, an Amazon Kindle and a paper notebook.

Tablets’ strengths are their light weight and high portability, their extreme effectiveness at directly replacing paper for writing and reading and their convenience as photo and video screens.

So why can’t we have a tablet that takes advantage of these fairly simple features? Why must Apple give us a fluid operating system and the best eBook reading experience, but take away our ability to store whatever files we want and view whatever web content we want? Why must Google give us the ability to store files and browse a full-featured Internet, but take away our ability to be productive with the device due to a lack of good e-reading and notebook apps? And why must Microsoft give us all of these features, but also carpal tunnel syndrome at the same time?

Honestly, I could care less about third-party apps at this point. If the platform developer can create a good set of core apps for video, Internet, book-reading and note-taking, wrapped up in a device light enough and cheap enough to appeal to everyone, developers will follow no matter how complex the Application Programming Interface.

Granted, that’s a huge “what if,” but honestly, all the elements already exist; they’re just spread out too far across the marketplace. So will someone bring it all under one device already? Oh, and send me one when you do. That way I can start telling you all the reasons why tablets are terrible for gaming!

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