Sunday, November 6, 2011

Should I Buy an iPad (or another "Tablet PC")?

Tablet PCs are the current rage.  They are here to stay, because they absolutely do provide conveniences that no other type of PC provides.  However, they also have some drawbacks and limitations.  This post is a guide to understanding the differences so you can make a decision.

Your PC Tech's Upfront, Simple Summary: 
I'm quite certain that Tablet PCs are excellent investments for the right users. However -- while I'd love to have one, I won't buy one in the immediate future.  They just don't adequately fit my professional needs -- at the current prices. 

1.)  Tablets Are "Personal Computers", Too.

The IT media is currently on a binge writing about whether Tablets "will replace PCs".    Apparently, IT journalists believe Tablet PCs are strange devices that were dropped on our planet by benevolent aliens.  This is complete BS.  (Ok, Steve Jobs might have qualified as an alien -- but setting aside that possibility...)

A Tablet is simply a Personal Computer using conventional off-the-shelf components, but packaged in a different shape and size.  It also incorporates hardware and features that were available long ago, but were not previously built into PCs -- because there simply was no use for them until now.  (Example: Touchscreens -- which have been around since the 80's.)

2.)  The "Good News" About Currently Offered Tablets

  • They are by far smaller and lighter than conventional PCs and Laptops.
  • They do not require an external keyboard or mouse.  You control them by tapping and/or dragging your fingers on the screen.  Obviously, sometimes you will need to enter text.  When you do, you can tap an icon that will open a fully functional "graphic keyboard" on the screen.
  • Touchscreens also offer "Gesture Recognition" of finger movements.  This means that your Tablet can be programmed to execute certain tasks based on your finger movements on the screen.  (Example:  You could draw a big "I" on the screen to jump to the Internet from whatever screen you're working on.)

3.)  The "Bad News" About Currently Offered Tablets

  • The screens are much smaller and have lower resolution than most laptops PCs. (This will probably improve rapidly.)
  • If you want to do a lot of typing, using a graphic keyboard is much less efficient than an external keyboard.  Transcriptionists and writers will not be happy with them.
  • Frequent typing on the screen over an extended period will eventually damage the screen, unless you buy and install a protective membrane.  This membrane will have to be replaced at intervals.
  • The iPad uses the Apple Operating System ("iOS"), and will only run Apple applications.  However, it will not run all Apple applications -- only the ones that you can buy from the Apple Store.  This is the disadvantage that you may hear referred to as "The Walled Garden".
  • Other Tablets use different Operating Systems.  (Example:  Android.  And soon:  Windows Metro.)  Each manufacturer of these Tablets has different restrictions as to what software will run on it, and where you can buy it -- and for different reasons.  This is yet another variable that you -- the consumer -- will have to decipher for yourselves.
  • You can add a keyboard (or mouse) to an iPad -- but only ones that Apple approves.  Unlike the Apple's Mac computers, you cannot use any old "generic" USB keyboard or mouse. (This may or may not be the case with non-Apple Tablets.)
Conclusion:  Who Should Buy A Tablet PC?

 At this time, Tablet PCs are best suited to single end-users who ....
  • Only need it for simple tasks such as accessing the Internet, exchanging e-Mail, Instant Messaging, etc.
  • Are satisfied with whatever applications the software/hardware manufacturers will allow you to have beyond these functions.
  • Only write short, simple documents, and perform no complex business functions.
  • Have ample funds to spend on enhancements and upgrades to provide "power" beyond simple functions.
   At this time, Tablet PCs are not suited to users who may want to...
  • Use it as a single device for all of their needs, other than the above simple functions.
  • May want to add a keyboard or mouse.  (...Depending on the manufacturer of the Tablet and how much money you're willing to spend.)
  • May want to (or need to) add a large monitor display, (...Again, depending on the manufacturer of the Tablet and/or how much money you're willing to spend.)

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