Saturday, November 06, 2010

How People Use Tablets Now and Soon

One of the number one factors that holds many people back from buying a tablet is the big question of why. They want to know what a tablet PC will offer that a netbook or laptop could not. And while I personally believe that a Tablet PC can offer all of what a netbook or laptop offer and more, I have been thinking lately about what specific features of a more traditional keyboard based machine users might miss in the conversion to a mobile touchscreen.

For example, the flexibility of the keyboard – touchscreen keyboards are hit or miss. Some work far better than others, but across the board, it depends on the screen and the software behind the screen. Devices like the TegaV2 use EyesBoard to provide a tremendous amount of flexibility in how they function, while other devices have their own proprietary keyboards that are regularly being updated.

Another big issue is touch screen input. Right now, a lot of software developers are still thinking in terms of how to provide input that is adapted from existing software. Business users think “Word and Excel are hard to use on a Tablet” largely because the interface is adapted for touch use, not build around it.

In time, I hope to see more native touch applications that rethink the most intuitive way to enter data. Where keyboard shortcuts and mouse input make the biggest difference in traditional apps, what about multi-gesture inputs or voice input for a tablet? These are the types of problems I think software developers will turn their attention to as tablets increasingly become a viable part of the computing market.

Right now, though, a lot of companies are bridging the gap with hardware solutions. Apple has their Keyboard Dock for the iPad and many devices come with styluses or outside attachments for more traditional input.

For a long time (before the iPad or Galaxy Tab came along), tablets were often hybrid devices, converting from touch screen to standard keyboard input. While most devices have strayed from that in favour of the sleek, attractive body of the iPad and Android devices, some companies are still eager to push the boundaries of convertible devices. The Inspiron Duo from Dell is a great example of a netbook/tablet hybrid that doesn’t result in excess bulk, though it remains to be seen how the device will function in real world circumstances (i.e. weight and profile).

Already, we are seeing processors, screen technology, games, and the future of not a few manufacturers building off the tablet trend. That makes it very interesting to see where we might be headed with the development of new software and even new hardware that makes a tablet PC more intuitive and downright easier to use.

I use a tablet every day for much of my computing; how long until it’s possible for even the most traditional users to follow suit?

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