Sometime around 1981, Bill Gates supposedly made a rookie error. The story goes he predicted no one would ever need more than 640 kilobytes of memory in a personal desktop computer. Of course, even today’s typical refrigerator has dwarfed that limitation. Flash forward to 2013. Tablet computers have taken the world by storm, and some analysts predict these devices may outsell typical computers tenfold by 2015. But Gates, obviously much wiser 32 years later, has his hesitations. Gates believes people will become frustrated with tablet devices because they can’t do any real work on them.
Tablet computers, and that includes Microsoft’s current offerings, are nowhere near ready for prime time. If you’re retired, unemployed, or a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t do more than just check email, look up recipes, watch fools post silly Facebook messages, play Candy Crush, and watch Mad Men on Netflix, then a tablet may be all you need. But if you still have a job and need to do any sort of content creation, a tablet just won’t work.
If you have ever tried to type a letter or a paper of any length on a tablet PC, you’ve probably found it to be inconvenient if not impossible to use. And spreadsheets? Forget about it. A touch screen keyboard is very difficult to become accustomed to and type with any great speed. I know that children text on their phones at light speed. But if you’ve ever reviewed their spelling and grammar, their third-world English won’t be readily accepted in the business world. The touch screen keyboard on most tablets is the biggest challenge. There are external keyboard devices available for tablet computers and smartphones, but the keys on these devices are abnormally small. They have been shrunk down to a fraction of the size of a traditional keyboard to keep the device portable. Plus it is difficult to angle any one of these keyboards to a comfortable position. I’ve seen people struggle with both touchscreen keyboard and external keyboards, and all I keep thinking is carpal tunnel syndrome.
Artists and photographers may find a tablet to be a convenience, but only for reviewing work, not creating or manipulating it. If you’ve ever tried to draw on a tablet with your finger, your 6-year-old kid would do a better job finger painting. A stylus can help, but consumer tablets are limited in the resolution they can handle. For anyone who creates content or does any type of real artistry, a tablet computer it just won’t work.
Does size matter? If you’re 40 or older, it does. It’s ironic how laptops began with 10-inch screens, then evolved up to 17 inches in the United States and up to 20 in Europe. Today, those devices are shrinking once again, as popular tablets typically feature between 7- and 10-inch screens. And since light and thin seems to be preferable, there’s no room for cooling, and that means power-sipping processors that won’t be as powerful as their traditional brethren.
And forget about archiving your photo, music, or video libraries on a tablet, because there’s no storage. While computers typically tout 1,000 gigabyte hard drive, you’re lucky if your tablet sports 32 gigs. Apple’s tablets do not have external ports to connect external USB hard drives. Apparently, they didn’t think that was important. Plus, now they can charge you an annual subscription to store your stuff on their “cloud,” ensuring gobs of future income if you even want to see your data again. Sure sounds like extortion to me.
Gates’ former company has made significant inroads into promoting the tablet platform in a way that makes sense. Microsoft tablets allow you the possibilities of real keyboards, more powerful processors, more storage, and the availability of traditional productivity software. Essentially, most Android and Apple tablets aren’t much more than electronic toys. Perhaps if all tablet computers morph into something more like a fully-functional laptop computer with a removable display, then perhaps tablet computing will take off.
The bottom line is, if you are a content creator, need to do spreadsheets, write letters, or do any sort of real work other than playing games all day, then you will still need a more traditional computer for the foreseeable future. Of course, there are workarounds for more clever folks (I wrote this article via Google’s voice recognition on my Android smartphone).