Apple iPad has fired up an industry that dragged it’s feet for the last decade. The reason why tablets sucked in the past was the fact that they were old dogs with cheap new tricks. UI, software and hardware that did not work as a unified experience prevented mainstream folks to grasp the need for such distinctive products. What made it worse were hybrid products like the one to the left that confused the public and gave a false sense of security with a keyboard and touchpad to keep the mindset deeply rooted into a laptop mentality, far from what a tablet is trying to achieve. Sadly I wish the product to the left was from the past but unfortunately it is an upcoming release from Panasonic. It is just another reminder that PC vendors still do not get it. Thank goodness for Apple and Microsoft.
Tablets are not crippled laptops in the same way mobile version of websites are not crippled versions of their full web versions (or should NOT be). They both target a specific need. Mobile user seeks immediacy from the mobile website (as I discussed on my Techne post) and a tablet represents paper needs of a user (notes, books, gibberish). That is how a tablet will be different from a laptop, it is something that you can jot down notes (preferable in your handwriting), make quick diagrams or kick back to read a book (nothing easily achievable on a laptop). And just as the iPhone/Android added the new element of socially connecting users, content on a tablet can be shared in the same manner.
Think about the pedagogical uses of a tablet. For once the proverbial classroom walls will no longer stop the learning process. A tablet in its natural slate design can be used to take notes, submit answers to a shared whiteboard and manage backchannel conversation. Sure a laptop can do the same but the transition would not be seamless. A paper notebook is the analog the tablet should replace.
In fact lets talk a bit more about the paper notebook. Each sheet of paper is focused on a single theme or subject. Unlike notebooks and much like mobile platforms, the focus is centered on one function or one theme. That is why iPad makes sense and why the Microsoft Courier is THE tablet standard (conceptually at least) to replace the paper notebook analog.
By adding hybrids like the Panasonic above, you are no longer creating a unique experience or allowing the user to focus on a single concept. The hardware creates confusion and adds unnecessary bulk. Remember, folks thought the iPhone would not succeed due to it’s limited single-function app design but the masses got it. The same will be true for the tablet as long as we say no to such monstrosity as seen above and remember what we are trying to replace, a sheet of paper.