We are coming up quickly on CES (in early January) and as usual we are seeing a lot of preshow announcements as companies work to have their products noticed. The big thing this year seems to be the all mighty tablet. Inspired by ST:TNG, just like the cell phone is inspired by ST:TOS, tablets promise to alter the user experience a even further than we have already come with smartphones. We, of course, have full tablets that Microsoft and manufacturers gave us almost a decade ago that are full PCs, generally pen-based with a convertible or detachable keyboard. I’m a huge fan of these for the field, but their bulkiness and their price are limitations in many situations.
The new batch of tablets are smaller and priced just above that of the now ubiquitous netbook. There are basically three formats of tablets coming out: 1) the thin client that allows you to connect to the cloud to access your information, 2) ebook readers, and 3) media tablets. The next batch of tablets will be combining these capabilities most likely (joojoo/crunchpad, apple tablet, asus) but the limitation as I see it is the question of LBS capabilities in tablets. So far the models announced focus on content…which is definitely important and key to the usefulness of these devices…but they focus on the thin-client/cloud access aspect TOO much, leaving the location aware tech we have come to expect from our smartphones behind. While it is easy to argue that we have those capabilities in another device, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want the capabilities to be ubiquitous across devices. Sure, when we are in an urban area we can use wifi to get us generally close enough, but in places that haven’t been wifi mapped we have very poor accuracy if a position is possible at all. Also, jumping back to content, without a significant internet connection to access the cloud these things won’t even be useful as doorstops let alone the next greatest thing in computing.
I am excited about tablets, don’t get me wrong, I want to watch movies, read books, stream webcasts, and edit documents on one of these. I use my iPhone enough at this point that I can even see one replacing my laptop (eventually). But I also want to be able to do all of these things on a plane or in another country where I don’t have the ready (relatively inexpensive) access to the interwebs. I want to be able to run my favorite mapping app ON the device and make annotations on places when I am there, not when I get back to a connection.
In the end I want my future tablet to by light, small, inexpensiv(ish), and location aware. I want the ST:TNG tablet experience now, but without the tethering to the cloud that is inherent in that metaphor, ’cause our cloud just ain’t ready for that yet. What do you think about the promise or lack there of for the next gen tablet devices?