Charles Basenga Kiyanda

Why consumers won’t buy Rafe’s argument about not buying tablets and will buy them anyway

Cnet’s Rafe Needleman has an opinion/analysis piece about the coming demise of the tablet computers, even before they hit mainstream release with the crunchpad and the rumored Apple tablet. For those of you who haven’t been following out there, the tablets are supposed to be a touchscreen sharing a case with all the computer bits. Tablets don’t have mice nor keyboard and are entirely actuated through the touchscreen. (At least until you plug in a usb keyboard.) The crunchpad, for example, was designed to boot an ultra slimmed down version of linux and go straight to a browser. I have no idea what nice gimmick the rumored apple tablet is supposed to do, but I’m sure it will sync with itunes, have a ubertouch force-feedback touchscreen and double as an espresso maker.

Needleman thinks tablets are doomed from the start and will quickly go the way of Microsoft Bob. A useless product that will never make it anywhere. If it does fail, I predict the soon to come tablets will more likely suffer the fate of the apple genius. A product ahead of its time that fails but will become the grandfather of a next generation of devicves. My point is quite simple.

Needleman’s point about the uselessness of tablet computers is that the exclusively touchscreen interaction is a) too clumsy to make it a work computer

And typing on the screen, even if you can do it, is an ergo disaster. Either you have to keep your hands up in the air (if the computer is mounted vertically in front of you) or you have to hunch over your screen to see it.

and b) too expensive to fit in a particular market niche

So as an accessory, tablets are too expensive. If Apple releases a tablet in the rumored $700 to $800 price range, it will die. Not because people won’t love it and lust for it, but because they won’t be able to justify it.

In a nutshell, that’s what the piece is about. I think Needleman is wrong in that he doesn’t consider all the new uses that such a tablet could provide and its timely apparition on the market. To be fair, people like Arrington envision the tablet as something that will be used to surf the web in the living room and I don’t think that’s entirely correct either. While surfing the web and sending short e-mails while watching the Sex and the city movie for the 7th time is an obvious use, one much more important use will probably be to control things.

Personally, I’m what I would call a “technological retard”. I bought my first mp3 player in 2005, my largest thumbdrive is 4GB and that’s only because my fiancée got me one for christmas, I don’t have an LCD TV yet, I have no TiVO-DVR-thingie and, in an effort to finally hop on a new technology early, I almost bought a HD-DVD player. I ended up sticking to DVDs to accompany my 20″ electron-cannon powered TV. Yet, despite my mental challenges when it comes to new technology, I have a router which can be controlled via a web interface, a file server in a closet which backs-up my files and is managed through a web interface. I have a blog which is updated and managed through a web interface. The future of tablets lies in controlling things. We have DVRs that go online to fetch show information, so really it wouldn’t be that hard to put a little http server in there so that I can control my dvr through a web browser. I hear TVs are soon to start plugging directly via ethernet as well, I’m guessing they might end up with a little http server in there as well so I can control and manage the TV via a web browser. In a nutshell, browser controlled devices are coming home.

To be fair, this first coming of the net enabled devices was predicted a while back already and my fridge still doesn’t have an ethernet jack. My guess is that, given a random appliance which can go online, I was being given nothing that could control it conveniently. I didn’t want to have to walk to my desktop in my office (which, let’s face it, was the most prevalent computer in houses not that long ago) just to tell my freezer to start making ice cubes again. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to have to walk over to my work laptop if that’s the one that happens to be opened, just so I can unblock the raunchy channels on the TV after the kids have gone to bed. If my stereo, my dvr, my TV, my router, my file server all had a web interface, though, I’d be willing to shell out 400$ for a gizmo that can let me control them all conveniently and also google random things so I can settle bets when I’m drunk at a party with friends.

In the house of the future, at least according to a very authoritative me, everything will be plugged into my network. My heating system will have a little http server in there so I can program it with that thing. The lighting system in the house, the AC, the TV, the DVR… We’ve dreamt of these network enabled houses before, but we’ve never built a general purpose remote before. Now, with the tablet, we’ve started to build the perfect house remote.

Now, we just waiti until the next Steve Jobs figures it out.

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