Friday, March 25, 2011

ipad2_facetime

If you have a parent or a grandparent or just any person older than you who struggles with computers, and doesn’t like using the complicated processes and procedures, but then wants to do certain online activities, what do you do? Until recently, there was not much we could do. We had to get them a decent “budget” computer, and then act as their personal Tech Support. Mind you, we’ve seen some elderly persons really kick it with technology, so we’re talking only about the folk who find it difficult to get along with tech and gadgets and this huge, messy thing we young ones call “The Internet”. With Tablets (not Tablet PCs) becoming more mainstream, more productive and more capable, could they be the alternative that we’ve been looking for? Two recent incidents encouraged The Indian Geek to revisit our previous thoughts on the subject of Tablets and Netbooks. A colleague at work bought her parents an iPad. In her own words, they find it more intuitive and easy to operate than she does, since they don’t know too much about PCs - so they take to the touch-based User Interface (UI) like a fish to water. She finds it difficult to re-adjust her notions and practices learnt on a full-fledged computer when trying to operate and use the simplified computing experience offered by a Tablet. The other incident that happened was when talking to a middle-aged lady, it suddenly hit upon one of our geeks that she rarely uses a computer because it’s a little tedious to switch on, wait for it to boot, and then try to learn the software necessary to open websites, access e-mail, and chat with her friends and family. A Tablet, on the other hand, would always be with her, and is quite instant-on, when compared to a full-fledged computer. We thought we would take a look at what situations or requirements Tablets could effectively fill.

Note: For the sake of easier discussion, this article considers Tablets as a different device category from Tablet PCs, which are convertible Notebook PCs, with a digitizer stylus-capable input display. A good example would be HP Touchsmart series of Notebook PCs.

Price point

Most of the people who come to us and ask us to pick out a good, decent Notebook computer (Laptop) say very similar things. They all want computers that can fulfill basic web browsing, document viewing/editing and entertainment needs. And they want it in a package that costs around Rs. 25,000/- to Rs. 30,000/- Guess what? Most buyable tablets (meaning, anything apart from the cheap, Chinese ones that are sold for under Rs. 10,000/- by folks on eBay), right from the OlivePad to the iPad start at this price range. Previously, this made Tablets sound like a luxury item that only the people with cash to throw around should buy. However, if there is someone looking for basic computing needs, then you might want to suggest that they consider purchasing a Tablet.

Key Tablet advantages

If you think that a Notebook computer has plenty of advantages over a Tablet, you’re right. They do. However, Tablets have a few tricks up their sleeve too. We’re listing a few that we feel would make the most difference to the sort of people that we’re writing about here:

  1. Instant on
  2. Highly portable
  3. Long-lasting battery life
  4. Simple to pick up, learn and use

Netbooks

Let’s face it - the majority of Indians don’t know what a Netbook is, nor do they care. Frankly, that’s fine by us - we’ve always held that Netbooks were too far-fetched an idea for a value-conscious market like India. The recession that hit America which spurred the sale of Netbooks failed to make a big enough dent in India. For their features, they have been nearly costing as much as a larger, more capable, full-fledged Notebook PC. We have seen a few people buying and owning Netbooks, but those are for reasons of being content with reduced functionality and requiring portability - both of which would be satisfied by Tablets.

In our opinion, the nail in the coffin for the Intel Atom-based Netbooks is the launch of the AMD Fusion platform. Why would you buy a Netbook for nearly Rs. 20,000/- when a far more capable and powerful mini-Notebook PC (what Joanna Stern of Engadget likes to call “Notbooks”) is available for around Rs. 25,000/- or so. We believe that AMD’s Fusion APU will kill Netbooks from one end, while Tablets will hammer them from the other end, leaving Netbooks dangling at a almost-zero value-for-money level.

You should NOT buy a Tablet if...

We have praised Tablets quite a bit here, but please, please sit and think if a Tablet would really suit your specific lifestyle or your specific needs. Keep in mind that the following tasks take infinitely longer, or are more difficult, or simply cannot be performed on a Tablet.

  • Long hours of typing. If you need to constantly type long e-mails or documents, we suggest you don’t get a Tablet as a primary computing device.
  • Installing software. While Apple can provide lots of value with several amazing Apps for its iPad, there is still the need for specific software for certain folk (namely, Photoshop editing, software like Matlab or AutoCAD, etc.) and these won’t have Tablet-specific versions for some time to come. We still live in a mouse and keyboard-driven computing world.
  • Storage. If you plan on storing 50 GB of digital photos, 100 GB of music, and so on, a Tablet will have to humbly bow out of your plans as a main computing device. They’re not there yet.
  • Of course, we don’t think we have to mention this - if you work for a production house, with high-level editing of either photos or videos and the like, don’t even dream of it.

Final thoughts

Indians generally look at something that “doesn’t fit in” as an addition, or in other words, a luxury. This is the opinion most people have. The Indian Geek would like you to disengage from this thought-flow, and take a few moments to re-imagine the need for a computing device, and then see if a Tablet could fit those needs in a better way than a Notebook or a Desktop PC can. We don’t know if Tablets are truly “post-computing” devices, as postulated by Steve Jobs recently but we do know this - Tablets are great computing devices. The real question is, are they great enough for your computing needs?

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