Do you remember the Crock Pot? When I was a kid, it was THE hot new kitchen appliance available in stylish Avocado or Terra Cotta enamel. Everyone wanted one, people actually bought several. It was an enormous Christmas gift, hundreds of thousands of couples got them as wedding presents. A Pot you plug in, with a timer…how brilliant. It spawned a whole culinary movement, “Slo-cooking”, and thousands of books of recipes and tips to “make the most of your magical new Crock Pot” were released. People were calling it a food revolution, claiming it made all other tools superfluous. The Crock Pot was the last kitchen appliance you would ever need.
There were special accessories sold to allow you do such things as barbeque a chicken in your crock pot, or make popcorn in your crock pot…it just went on and on. Of course, it took about a year until the public began to realize what should have been obvious from the start. No matter how hard people tried to make the Crock Pot the center of their cooking world, it was still just a one-trick pony, like a waffle iron or a juicer. It could take a long time to make soups or stews….that was about it. What it did it did beautifully, but a 5 course meal it couldn’t manage. It is nice to have when you need its unique focus, a few times a year maybe, but the rest of the time it just takes up counter space.
The Tablet is computing’s new Crock Pot.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Tablets are here to stay. I love my iPad. It makes a great comics and ebook reader, plays a mean video, isn’t too shabby as a gaming machine..but people who say it is replacing the notebook computer just make me stop and stare. How do they figure? For example, writing or editing a lengthy document on the iPad (or likely any other Tablet) is like grilling bacon in a Crock Pot. Technically you may be able to, but would you want to when you have a perfectly good stove handy unless you were on some kind of serious medication and/or possessed by Satan?
People keep pointing to the statistics that show that the iPad is being bought by the truck load in the Enterprise as proof that some kind of revolution is happening..and I think that is great. However, how many of those business-bound Tablets are going to be replacing notebook PCs? Not netbooks, but full sized Notebooks. I would venture none. iPads are fantastic for use in meetings, for using while you are sitting with customers…for any situation when you don’t want your head in a laptop but still need access to data. However, when work has to really get done I am sure each one of the executives showing off their new shiny tablets will reach for a notebook or desktop PC.
There are many reasons for this…the first is the hardware. Most work that needs to get done on a computer involves writing, at least to a certain degree. Beyond that, most people are still not comfortable using a virtual keyboard for a lot of typing…therefore the hardware of a tablet just makes it unsuitable for the task. Yes, I know, the iPad and other Tablets can make use of wireless keyboards. I even have one for my iPad…however that is just like all the weird accessories to allow your Crock Pot to make Beef Jerky or Peking Duck or roasted marshmallows or what have you. If you need to spend more money and effort to make a device marginally capable of doing a task it isn’t suitable for, what is the point? In addition, lugging around a n extra keyboard kills one of the advantages of the Tablet…it’s sheer portability. You can do it, in a pinch…but why?
Beyond the keyboard, most Tablets are running processors notably weaker than their notebook bound brethren, and rocking far less RAM. Tablets are designed for battery life, not processor or memory strength. For people who need multiple applications running, or work with graphics, Tablets just will not handle the load for the foreseeable future. Sure they shine at specific, limited tasks…but you can only do so much with a Tablet.
The software is another reason that the Tablet is not going to replace the notebook computer for most people. Face it, most Tablets being sold are running souped up smartphones software. They run lots of Apps but inevitably these apps are shadows of their PC versions, and the operating systems can’t compensate for that. The software architecture is designed to maximize connectivity and ease of access, not to run the sorts of applications most people need for serious work these days.
So like the Crock Pot, the Tablet is ultimately a marketing fad. It is a tool for doing certain, fairly limited tasks using hardware and software originally meant for other things…despite everyone’s attempts to bill it as some kind of universal wonder. Some people will use it more then others, just like some people used their Crock Pots more. However, in general people notice a Tablet’s strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly once they get their hands on one. Eventually the fad will pass, and vendors will have moved onto the next big thing. I suspect that Tablets are here to stay as a consumer product (heck, you can still buy Crock Pots), but the more I use my iPad, the more I feel that the Tablet’s popularity is going to hit a wall soon.
There will always be Tablet fans (myself included), and for now it is still the next big thing, but within a year I think most Tablets will just be taking up counter space and many will get packed away with the Crock Pots and waffle irons, for when they are needed. Fun, sometimes brilliant…but limited to special situations.
However, vendors shouldn’t be too upset. Even once the fad has passed Tablets will still sell fairly well, just like netbooks still have an audience despite the fact that we all agree their boat has sailed. Remember that everyone likes a nice bowl of soup now and again.