Sunday, June 6, 2010

Apple iPad - Tablet, slate or what?

Since its launch many commentators have referred to the iPad as a different class of device, and have also referred to it as a tablet. The problem with these commentators is that by doing so they show their ignorance of the sate of computing tech today.

First of all this is not a new class of device. The slate computer has been around for a number of years and a Google search on slate computer will reveal to the least tech savvy amongst us that this type of device is not new. A slate is basically a computing device with no attached keyboard, a touch and/or active screen and minimal buttons for quick functions. The slate form factor has been popular for specialised operations but has not had a large penetration in the main stream. It has remained a fairly niche product, mainly due to user ignorance. Manufacturers have not been keen on publicising slates up until now and no one has put a lot of effort into developing or promoting the form. The iPad is really a low end slate device, without a serious CPU, RAM or OS. Hardly new, if you are talking about a crippled computer being a new type of device, but seriously, I think not.

Tablet? Well the Tablet computer has been around for about ten years and comes in two basic forms. Convertible or slate. A convertible Tablet is similar to a laptop but the keyboard twists and folds up onto the back of the computer to allow it to be used in a slate mode. This makes the device larger and heavier. Many people use a slate form factor and attach a portable keyboard and mouse whe required. The Tablet has a pen, active matrix display and may or may not have touch. It is a mistake to call the iPad a Tablet computer. It is a slate without the tablet functions. To be a tablet you need to be able to use a stylus which has been specifically omitted from the iPad.

I am eagerly awaiting the plethora of Windows slate computers now in the pipe line to see what they are like. It would be nice to see some real slate Tablet computers emerge from the scrum.

At least one good thing will come from the popularity of the iPad. It demonstrates to manufacturers that there is a market for real slate computers (as opposed to the toy that the iPad is) and that some real development work will be put into developing a serious contender.

The truth is the iPad is a very high quality device but the average consumer does not care. They want a device that is cheap and convenient. If the main stream PC maker comes to market with a real computer for the rest of us then then they will carve a huge market for themselves. This reminds me of an exchange between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs from the movie The Pirates Of Silicon Valley.

Jobs "Our products are better than yours."

Gates "It doesn't matter."

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