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What makes a Tablet, well a Tablet?

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A tablet PC or a mobile internet device (MID) has taken the world by storm. Steve Jobs marketing genius and Apple’s larger than life brand made sure that millions of iPads were sold. iPad sales are limited by the supply and not by demand and voila, a new gadget category is born. Ever since Apple launched iPad and ever since competing devices were launched the debate has shifted from “is there market for a tablet?” to “what should be a tablet?”.

A lot of tablets were launched and a lot of things were being marketed as a tablets. After Dell Streak, the latest to be marketed as a tablet which is not a tablet is Motorola Quench XT3. The marketing is not exactly coming from Motorola but the traditional media and the new media. If it was for a fledgling blog which is trying to get some juice then I understand. When it comes from Economic Times then we have a problem. Though this mistake is not comparable to plagiarism scandal of India Today’s Arun Poorie, this is no less an offence.

Look at the screenshot below and the link here:

ET-motorola-tablet

I have two problems here. It talks about Motorola Quench being a tablet in the title. When you go all the way down it talks about Quench XT’s 3.2 inch screen size. Two things might have happened. The author might have noticed the screen size but thought no body would notice as the tech world is going crazy with tablets. Or there is no author and this is a copy/paste job of a cute intern who is obsessed with nail polish.

The industry itself is not convinced about what a tablet is and what a tablet isn’t. But it is convinced on the screen size. And that size is not 3.2 inches. A 3.2 inch contraption cannot be called as a tablet. There is a different name for it and it is smartphone.

Motorola Quench XT3 is a smartphone. Not a tablet !

Now that we got Economic Times out of the way, let’s discuss what tablet really should be?

The single most important thing on a tablet is the screen. There is no keyboard and there is no mouse. Screen is all you got. Everything is built under the hood and the interaction with the hood and everything beneath it is through the screen. That’s where screen becomes super important. Why else would Steve Jobs lose his cool and go on a rant?

comparison-tablet-pc-reader

[img source]

Steve Jobs thinks the tablet should be like iPad with a 10 inch screen. The shipments of other tablets paint a different picture.

Of the 40 tablets I have analysed so far, 50% of the tablets are 7-inch in size. There are few outliers of 5 inches and 12 inches but the next biggest screen size category is the 9-11 inch category. If we add few more tablets which are launched after the analysis then the needle will tilt in favor of the 7-inch screen. One million 7 inch Shanzai tablets (Chinese made) are already shipped.  That sure tells you something doesn’t it?

Let me settle the screen size discussion once for all. Let me also share what makes a tablet, a tablet.

A tablet by definition has to offer mobility. There are no other user inputs available other than the screen. The screen has to be touch screen and it has to be extremely good and should last long. Once a tablet is purchased, no one can do anything about the hardware. They are pretty much left with the software. The usability and the longevity of the device can only be enhanced by software. After screen and the screen size, probably software is the most important thing for a tablet.

Here are the 10 must-have features for a tablet PC :

Screen :

A minimum screen size of 7 inches. A tablet can get fancy with a 10 inch tablet which would only increase the weight.

Weight :

Maximum weight of 500 gms. Remember that you have to hold this thing and it is like holding two phones which are glued together. If you have to read, surf or watch movies then you might probably be holding it for quite a while. The lesser it weighs the better it is for your hands and for your overall health.

Battery :

Should last for at least 5 hours. There are lot of tablets out there which has an average battery life of 4-5 hours. The battery life should be more than 5 hours if you plan to use this device to do anything meaningful.

Apps :

There are only two competing operating systems for the tablets. Android and iOS. Research in Motion has its own OS but honestly, I don’t see it competing with the two in near future. Both Android and iOS are good mobile operating systems with lots of apps. Android has crossed 100,000 apps on its app stores and iOS is inching toward 300,000. The apps for tablets are far less but improving. Android app count is not known but iOS has 25000 apps already. iOS comes only with expensive Apple hardware. Android can come with any hardware maker who wants to be in the tablet market. The ecosystem around Android and iOS is the best ecosystem amongst mobile operating systems. Your tablet should run either one of them. If you are a risk taker then you can go for RIM’s Playbook or HP’s tablet which will run Palm’s WebOS.

USB :

Yes you need the USB ports. Steve Jobs might be knowing what we need but he must also realize that he doesn’t know everything we need. A minimum of two USB ports is a must.

Touch screen :

Resistive or capacitive? Well I haven’t checked out the resistive touch screen yet but capacitive looks like a winner.

Phone :

At some point you might want to ditch your phone and talk to your tablet.

Connectivity :

3G and Wi-Fi are a must. Bluetooth can be missed.

Video conferencing :

With voice becoming a commodity and video being the future this could be hot. It would be bad if your tablet doesn’t support it but every third tablet launched will have front and rear camera.

Processor and RAM :

A minimum processing speed of 600 MHz. A minimum RAM of 256 MB. Computing was done in the age when processors were slower than 600 MHz and RAM lesser than 128 MB. Unless a special attention is given to memory usage of the the apps which are being developed, these basic requirements have to be met. to go up consistently.

Think of this as your tablet buying checklist for Diwali.

Those are the 10 minimum requirements. Of course there are hygiene factors like the 3.5 mm jack, speakers etc.. but they are available on all the tablets and don’t vary much between tablets.

I did not mention about multi-tasking in that list for the simple reason that multi-tasking is a hygiene factor on a computing device. Multi-tasking is something which humans shouldn’t do and computers should do. And not having multi-tasking is a bug not a feature nor a favor. But it was the greatest update on iOS4? Well what can I say. That is the marketing genius of Steve Jobs !!!

The product development at Apple might be pressed for the deadline to release their iOS version. When they demonstrated it to Jobs they have showed all the great features of the software. At the fag end of the presentation they revealed that it doesn’t multi-task. What would Jobs do? What would you do? Well Jobs being Jobs, thinks that you don’t know what you want. So released the software as-is and told you that there is no market for multi-tasking. For you to use your iPhone you should single-task. And when multi-tasking is ready, then Jobs made it the greatest feature available. Jobs made multi-tasking  look like it is man’s greatest innovation since telephone. Same is the case with video conferencing and front/rear cameras. Just like Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs and everyone else believe in evolution. It would have been good if we just accept that fact.

In the existing crop of tablets, few tablets stand out. Other than iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and RIM Playbook have stunning features and make a great tablet. Dell streak which is flirting with the idea of smart phone meeting tablet might spring in a surprise or two. But the most awaited and the most impressive features are found only in yet to be released Adam from Notion Ink. I can’t wait for it.

What do you think makes a great tablet?

  1. Sriram Vadlamani says

    Hei Altaf,
    You have been kind to me always. Thanks for your comment.

    Arun — What can I say. Thanks for posting this.

    Viral — I check the comments and since I have a day-job going, I have to stay put till the fat lady sings. I read all your articles and liked them very much. I am glad you liked my post.

    The tonic comment was intoxicating.

    Thanks again.

  2. Viral says

    Sriram… Do you check comments on your article? If yes, then this is a wonderful article. If no, this still remains a wonderful article.

    More than a Tablet, this artilce can be termed as tonic.

    I always told Arun that before I started writing on trak.in few months back, there was some Sriram Vadlamani who wrote some really good articles – but not to be seen now-a-days. So, should I call this a comeback?

  3. Arun Prabhudesai says

    Altaf,

    Absolutely, infact I think this is one of the best articles on tablets I have read (and I have read many of them).

    Sriram, kudos for such a fantastic one…

  4. Altaf Rahman says

    I am stunned. One of the best articles I read in a long time.

    I am not a gadget geek, though some of my friends are. When they talk about gadgets like Play station, PSP or tablets, I feel uncomfortable and keep silent as I dont know a thing about tablet. Now I can talk to them with some dignity :) I think I reasonably know few things abt tablet now.

    How to explain what you did here in this article?? Well !! This is how I can explain it.

    You took a tablet, peeled it like a banana and fed me and ppl like me.

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