What I Want in a Tablet

Posted by Mike Brittain on February 10, 2010

For the last week I have been laid up in bed and on the couch while recovering from ACL reconstructive surgery. I would estimate that I’ve been using my iPhone an average of 7 hours a day for online tasks:

– Reading articles on newspaper sites
– Reading RSS subscriptions (in Reeder)
– Posting links to Twitter and Delicious
– Reading and writing on Twitter
– Reading and writing emails
– Drafting blog posts in WordPress and Tumblr (this post is, in fact, being written on the WordPress app)
– Writing in online forums and posting bug reports for apps
– Instant Messaging (AIM)
– Searching for web content on Google and Wikipedia
– Taking photos and posting to Flickr
– Posting events on my calendar
– Checking the weather
– Ordering dinner (Seamlessweb)
– Ordering groceries (FreshDirect)
– Setting timers (post-surgery medication and exercise schedules)
– Reading and writing messages to friends on Facebook
– Trying out new native apps and web apps

I feel kind of like an expert at ingesting and creating content on a “tablet” computer. An iPhone truly is a mini-tablet.

Knowing that the iPad release is just around the corner, I’m somewhat upset that I don’t have one because a lot of this would be a lot easier on a larger device. Additionally, the suggestive video of a Chrome OS tablet is also intruiging. While a number of the tasks I listed above are being done within iPhone apps, I believe that nearly all of them could be done from web applications.

So here are some thoughts about the experience of doing all of this on an iPhone and what I’d like to see (or not see) in an iPad.

1. Web browsing. I would characterize web browsing on the iPhone as very good. You can san whole pages and zoom in on portions you care about. I can get to about 85% of what I’m interested in right from Safari.

There are some downsides.

Some sites don’t scale well when zooming. The text is just too small when the column is spread full width, either in portrait or landscape. My workaround is to send these pages to Instapaper and allow that app to reformat the text for easier reading.

Sites that use Ajax and fancy UI designed for desktop browsing don’t always translate well in Mobile Safari. The touch interface and the select/copy tools on the iPhone often get triggered inappropriately when using some of these interfaces.

Even with zooming, text is often too small. Horizontal scrolling back and forth to read an article is downright annoying.

Most of what I do on my phone is done in the browser, so I look forward to a larger display that will make it easier to read whole pages at a time without zooming in and out.

2. Missing Flash Content. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.” Sure, it’s kind of annoying that a lot of articles I’m reading embed a video player written in Flash. It’s actually a little frustrating to me that a core use of Flash for so many sites is simply to deliver videos. The same uploaders, transcoders, storage services, and video players have been written by so many sites. It really is time for video playback directly in the browser. So I think the web is at a growing pain. It may suck for a short while as so many Flash-based videos will be inaccessible to iPhones and iPads, but the prototype sites from YouTube and Vimeo show promise of in-browser video playback for HTML5.

I’ll admit there are still some areas, especially gaming, where Flash is a solid platform. As for so called Rich Internet Applications, I think most developers would agree that Ajax toolsets make these more capable directly in the browser today.

3. Battery Life. Battery life on the iPhone has always been pretty bad. If you have an iPhone, then you’ve trained yourself to recharge your phone every morning or evening. It’s simply a habit. When you’re using your phone for 7 hours a day, then you’re charging it a few times a day. A battery life at least three times as long as this phone would be appropriate.

4. Watching Video. There are probably a lot of conference presentations I would consider watching from my iPhone which I’m not doing now. I think this relates most directly to the battery life issue. My guess is that many (but not all) are already available for viewing on the YouTube app for the iPhone.

5. Multi-tasking. Gotta have it. One thing I’ll say that I like about iPhone apps is that they are fullscreen and keep your focus. It would be nice in a larger display to be able to run two apps side by side, but I don’t know that I want user-sizable windows.

What I do miss is having an IM client running in the background so I can be reached by people I chat with while working.

6. Webcam or Camera. I could care less about both of these. I can’t see aiming a device the size of a textbook at someone to take a picture. And as for the webcam, I agree it would be convenient, but picture the following case. You are relaxing in your favorite easy chair reading the news on your tablet which is in your hands but resting on your legs. You get invited to a video chat and accept. The way I see it, from the position you are sitting the webcam on your tablet will have a great shot straight up your nostrils. This is not the image that sells video conferencing on tablet devices.

7. Virtual Keyboard. I tend to think the iPhone keyboard is pretty good and easy to adjust to. I’ve written this entire post from my phone, and it likely has a few spelling mistakes to prove it.

An improvement for a larger device would be to have a more functional keyboard with command/alt/option keys. This would make SSH clients more approachable on a tablet device.

8. Functioning “File” Form Controls. One thing I hate on the iPhone is signing up for some new online app ad not being able to do something simple like uploading an avatar. Would be great to see file fields in Mobile Safari that could pull from files stored by various apps (camera roll photos, documents, etc.)

Decision time.

I’m very excited about tablet computers and expect that unless there is a good looking product announced prior to the ipad release, I’m 90% certain I’ll buy one.

There are still some open questions about iPad functionality that may be addressed prior to it’s release. How exactly do you get files in and out of it -all via iTunes sync? Will there be background apps in the next iPhone OS and will that roll out onto the iPad immediately?

But even if the product is not perfect out of the gate, Apple has already demonstrated a successful model of revising and deploying updates. Like the iPhone, the iPad is a product that will continually improve while you own it.

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3 Comments to What I Want in a Tablet

  • You forgot the most important use case – checking recipes on Onetsp.com. :)

    I’m in 100% agreement with all of the above. iPad = consumption.

    Here’s a thought – one of the big selling points of the newer Macs (and one of the BIG reasons a lot of people made the switch) was the fact that the Intel Macs could run Windows in a dual boot/VM capacity. Honestly, the only thing tying me to my Netbook in addition to my MBP is that I literally *need* Windows to do my job. If there was any easy option for virtualization on the new iPad, I would switch in a half a second. I think most people would as well.

    Also, it’s a nice backdoor way to get people using the iPad that ordinarily wouldn’t. I think a lot of people bought the Intel Macs thinking they’d run Windows a lot, then didn’t when they realized how much better OS X was.

    I don’t know the complexities of virtualization on the iPad and it probably isn’t possible out of the gate. I do think that it’s a solid move down the road though.

  • Two questions: 1. What part of your job *requires* Windows? 2. Why do you think you would need Windows on an iPad?

    Aside from being a “consuming” device, I also see this as a “casual” device. There are probably use cases for those who run ultra-mobile business who could get away doing real work on this device, and maybe people who want to rip through their work email at the end of the day. Other than that, I see this as a casual, personal device.

    I don’t anticipate the option to run Windows or VMs on this device. Also remember that there isn’t an Intel chip in the iPad. And why would you want it anyhow?

  • 1. Getting a CAC reader to work on OS X, being able to *actually* log in with it, and then being able to view sites that are all built to IE6 or IE7 (if you’re lucky) is a virtual impossibility with a Mac.
    2. See above. Other than that, I wouldn’t for the majority of things.

    That’s not the point, though.

    Like I said in my first comment – “I think a lot of people bought the Intel Macs thinking they’d run Windows a lot, then didn’t when they realized how much better OS X was.” I think the same would be true for an iPad with even the most crippled (can I say that?) ability to run Windows. Most people have no use for it, but would think it would be a factor in favor of purchasing it.

    I realize this has no Intel chip, but I also realize this is a *complete* Apple masterpiece. It’s magical. I’m sure that magic could spread to some sort of emulation that would allow Windows to run or be virtualized easily.

    You don’t think Apple (or some other 3rd party) could make a Wine/Crossover type app that would easily be marketed to the Windows zealots who wouldn’t buy it because they “can’t run Windows programs that they need and aren’t available on the Mac”?