What's the deal with tablets these days, am I right? *crickets*
December 25, 2010 10:00 PM   Subscribe

What's with all the tablet/slate hype? I hate to be a curmudgeon, and I almost always see the bright side on emerging technology, but I just don't see why everyone should own one. Help me find the light!

After years of hearing how amazing tablets are going to be, I'm still kinda failing to see the point. Sure, they're great media consumption machines (and in some limited cases, can be great at making media like music or sketching), but they're so much more limited than the netbooks the tech press have seemingly turned on (since the netbook craze of 07-08). I'm typing this from a netbook that has nearly instant-on resume, has 10x the storage capacity of a base iPad, weighs a few ounces more, is smaller when closed, is significantly faster hardware-wise, is upgradable, can run multiple OSes, and cost nearly half as much!

This is, of course, beside the fact that they need to run "apps". Apps are great on my Droid X, because it's too small to run a full OS and needs an entirely different paradigm of user interaction. But when I turn on my netbook and use my choice of browser running the extensions I choose, I have a demonstrably more pleasant and productive computing experience. Sure, this'll change in the future, especially with cross-platform HTML5 apps... by why be the earlier adopter when it just ends up limiting you?

In my mind, the Chrome OS netbook is so, so much cooler than the iPad. But why would any manufacturer make one when there's so much more profit to be had in packaging slow CPUs and microscopic SSDs behind a big capacitive touch screen?

But maybe I'm completely wrong! Maybe the tablet faithful can point out my myopia for me, or maybe the netbook army will back me up. What does AskMeFi think?
posted by speedgraphic to Computers & Internet (52 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I just spent the holidays with my family. At one point we had four people with iPads (owned by my family members) and me sitting here with my netbook, all playing various games, looking up recipes, etc.. I also have an HTC Incredible whereas most of my family doesn't have an iPhone/Android/Win7 phone.

The differences I saw in favor of the iPads were:
1. You can easily hand someone else an iPad. Handing someone a netbook is often cumbersome. There was a lot of "Hey, can you look up that mojito recipe?" "Okay, here you go"
2. You can use an iPad with one hand without much trouble (including the case where one hand is holding the device up). Holding a netbook with one hand and typing / mousing is very difficult. This matters a lot when you're trying to do kitcheny stuff.
3. You can set an iPad down on a dirty countertop because, unlike a netbook which has sensitive internals on the bottom, the bottom of an iPad (in its case) is just leather you can wipe off pretty easily
4. The interaction metaphors are straightforward. My grandmother has a hard time even on a desktop computer hitting the scrollbar or understanding the mouse wheel; on a trackpad on a netbook it's just impossible for her to manage a webpage without resorting to the keyboard. The "swipe to scroll" metaphor is so much easier.
5. Beautiful, full-screen games that don't cause a loud secondary fan to kick in. Angry Birds, Ninja Leap, whatever.

Things I never heard people say:
"I wish my iPad had more space"
"I wish I had a full keyboard on this thing"
"If only I could run Ubuntu on my iPad!"

Basically, for the scope of things which non-nerds (a set which I am not a member of) want to do, the iPad knocks it out of the park. For the things they don't want to do, it sucks 100% at. The netbook averages those out so it's decent for doing day-to-day things and makes nerd things possible, which is good for me, but worthless for them.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:19 PM on December 25, 2010 [13 favorites]

One of the big things that attract me to the tablet is that you don't have to open it up. The (HUGE) downside is that there is no real keyboard. I thought the old school convertible tablets were great.

I suspect you are kind of right- they are media consumption machines. iPhone + Kindle, sort of. An excellent replacement, in the home, for passing around photo albums.
posted by gjc at 10:19 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just don't see why everyone should own one.

Not everyone should own one. You shouldn't own one. They are an excellent niche product, though, and the people who have them seem to love them.
posted by grouse at 10:34 PM on December 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just walked my parents through the paces with their new iPads. I actually warned them away from them, even though I got one for myself. For me, light travel access to cloud data and my presentations, with the ability to do light email/reading work, is just what the doctor ordered. For them? I wasn't so sure, and I told them there might not be a really good use case for them.

But they persisted in their curiosity, and eventually they caved. It's remarkable, because these are people who didn't upgrade to touch tone until the phone company forced them to. But my mom, an old oil/acrylics artist who had to stop painting because of serious allergies, started seeing information about painting and sketching apps for the iPad. She kept hearing it was simple. And my dad, an engineer, realized that he could carry around PDFs of various technical documents and reference manuals on it in addition to catching up on old episodes of LOST that he hasn't seen. And then they realized you could play Scrabble on it.

Game, set, match.

The issue isn't that it's a better general purpose computer than a laptop or a netbook. The issue is that being OK general purpose computers has made netbooks worse at the relatively limited tasks that many non-nerd users care about. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that it's a creativity/consumption divide. There are a pile of art, writing, and even music production apps out there. There aren't a lot of programming and web dev apps, though -- and that's what a lot of our type of internet folks tend to think of when we say "Create."

If you can't build software on it, you can't be creative. While the iPads (and many of the other slates) are limited, It might be more accurate to categorize them as focused. The real question is whether they're focused on the kinds of tasks that certain people care about. That's not universal, because focus isn't universal.

As others have noted, the social dynamics of tablet use are a lot different as well. Doing something while others watch feels more like pointing at a map on a table than shoulder-surfing, and lots of board-game type apps are out now that assume you'll be taking turns and tossing the slate to the next person, or passing it around a table, or something along those lines. It's an interesting shift. Not that great for solitary focused work in large doses, but an interesting mix for other kinds of stuff.
posted by verb at 10:35 PM on December 25, 2010 [11 favorites]

Hey, use whatever works for you, just realize it may not work for others.

Not many people care about multiple OSes. Nor do they care about how big their computer is when it's closed. They don't need a browser with unlimited extensions or plugins. They just want to do a few things and not have to worry about a virus or crashing computer. Tablets do it better, where better is defined by the non techy crowd.
posted by nomadicink at 10:35 PM on December 25, 2010

...may NOT work for others...
posted by nomadicink at 10:38 PM on December 25, 2010

I am on your side. The iPad has no file system, so you can't save web pages and video to show to some one else (or yourself) when OFFLINE. Bad keyboard. Too big to easily carry around. No flash support. Et cetera.
The iPad IS a cool media consumption device with a cool touch-screen interface and some cool apps that won't work on a netbook. It's just the latest and coolest gizmo, but is too internet dependent and sometimes difficult to work with (keyboard, again.)
posted by noonknight at 11:11 PM on December 25, 2010

non-standard use cases. bed reading, computing on treadmills. tecnophobes; novophiles. And finally apple fanbois.

In some cases an ipad can substitute midi controllers that cost more than double its price (if you use touchOsc) -- can't argue with that.
posted by 3mendo at 11:24 PM on December 25, 2010

I'm a software developer who customizes the hell out of his main machine.

I also have an iPhone and an iPad. Yes, I'd like to have access to certain settings and functionality on these devices -- but HEY, everything that I do have access to works like a charm. If I want to get nerdy I just use the device to VNC into my main machine.

Plus I actually use the iPad in places I'd never use a laptop or netbook (in the kitchen, when I'm curled up in bed, on the can, out in the yard, etc.)
posted by adamk at 11:41 PM on December 25, 2010

One thing I'll note is that nerds, in general, seem to be almost hard-wired to think that what's important to them (technology-wise, at least) should be important to everyone else.

Very few non-nerds would share this view.

To look at your points from a non-nerd PoV:
  • "Instant-on" - Nice.
  • "10x the storage capacity" - Who cares, as long as it holds what it needs to?
  • "Weighs a few ounces more" - Maybe doesn't matter, but you're in a market where carrying / handling weight is important.
  • "Is smaller when closed" - Who uses it closed? Size / ease of handling when open is what's important.
  • "Significantly faster hardware-wise" - Again, who cares, as long as it's fast enough to do what you need?
  • "Is upgradable" - Yet again, who cares, as long as it does what you need? (and I'll note that non-nerd users have probably been burnt more by unrealised promises of alleged 'upgradability' of tech items than anyone else.)
  • "Can run multiple OSes" - to the average person who's been forced to adapt to different versions their chosen OS or application suite every few years, this is a minus, not a plus…
  • "Cost[s] nearly half as much" - a plus, but one that is easily overshadowed by previous poor experiences with 'real' computers, including the "you just need to buy this extra bit to do what you want" experience.
  • "The fact that they need to run 'apps'" - "You mean I can just choose the programs / games / trinkets I want? And run them straight away? Just by clicking on 'buy', without having to 'install' them (whatever that means!)? And I can pay for them with the iTunes card I bought with my groceries last week? And most of them are only a buck or two? Where do I sign up?!"
"But when I turn on my netbook and use my choice of browser running the extensions I choose, I have a demonstrably more pleasant and productive computing experience."

You're forgetting that approximately 80% of the browser-using public are using IE with no extensions (except maybe a dozen crap toolbars - which is not a plus!). Choice of browser and extensions is irrelevant for a large part of the computer-using market, let alone the wider non-computer-using potential market. Flash, maybe - but how long did it take for the major "irreplacable" Flash-based sites (e.g. YouTube) to offer a HTML5-based alternative? One week? Two weeks?

"In my mind, the Chrome OS netbook is so, so much cooler than the iPad"

Why? Because it's got a real keyboard? Faster processor? More storage? It runs Chrome? Because - and this is the big point to be taken from the list above - none of that matters if a tablet does what you want in a convenient fashion. It might be 'cooler', but 'useful' doesn't follow from that.

(Besides, isn't "buying because it's cool" what Apple-haters say about Apple users? ;-)

As you noted, 'tablet' computers are nothing new - they've been talked about and around for 15 years or more, on and off, in one form or another. They've all failed to gain traction (except in certain niche uses) for one or more of the reasons noted above (except cost - they always were more expensive), and were often saddled with poorly-implemented adaptations of familiar OSes. Basically, the reality failed to live up to the hype.

A similar things happened with netbooks. We were promised a new type of computer, and got pretty much the same old same old - except now underpowered, with an unfamiliar OS (in the early days, at least), and low-res screens unsuited to the style of apps they were expected to run (ditto). That's changed somewhat, of course, and now you can get a reasonably powered netbook with reasonably high-res screens running Windows - but the momentum was lost, and now they're seen as what they are; more portable laptops.

Whereas the iPad ('cos that's what's really being talked about when 'tablets' are mentioned) side-steps around all those problems. It's got instant-on, you don't need to care about storage capacity, it's light, it's small, it's fast enough, it fits a different market that doesn't really need or care about expansion, it's got a fairly intuitive OS that suits the way it's used (rather than a kludged-up version of Windows or a Linux GUI), it makes buying and adding 'apps' to it as easy as saying "yes, I want that one", and it makes using those apps as simple as pointing with your finger. Outside of the computer-using world (and for many inside), those are the things that people want.

And if they want more, they can also buy a computer to carry around - the two aren't mutually exclusive.

(I will say the iPad is not my thing - I don't own one [although I own an iPod Touch] - and I couldn't get by without a proper computer. But I've used one enough to know that if someone offered me one, I'd take it and use it quite a lot for all the things that don't warrant the effort of flipping the lid on the MacBook…)
posted by Pinback at 12:31 AM on December 26, 2010 [8 favorites]

There are also a lot of younger users who spent very little time working with computers (which are family owned), but do have their very own touch screen smart phones. We're starting to get to the point where the phone has replaced the desktop or the laptop as the primary computing platform for most people. This point has already be reached in Japan.

In many ways, computers (in the keyboard sense) have always been a niche product. They're used is science and other nerdy pursuits, but "joe the plumber" and his daughter that I just made up don't have much use for one other than to surf the web and send email. Both of these functions are something that phones do.

So to these people, the iPad is not a crippled computer, it's a souped up super-phone. It's just like what they already have, what they're already used to, only better. From that perspective, getting one makes a lot of sense.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:33 AM on December 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

Sure, they're great media consumption machines

This is the root of your myopia. Some play games, read email and browse the web, and listen to music, while others make and do real things with real apps.

Others who have these devices are perfectly happy making and doing things with their computers. You picked a different computer. It's not the end of the world.

It's not for you because your myopia doesn't let you see what it can do for you, compared with what's already in front of you: a computer that you're already comfortable with.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

probably just piling on at this point, but as a bit of a computer geek who has a number of family members and friends running the gamut from nerdier-than-I to some who won't even get on the internet, I see the paradigm of the iPad as others have said - souped up phone and, yes, media consumption device. We're talking about a generation that has voluntarily started micro-blogging on thumb boards and sends thousands of texts a month. You see it as a screwed-down, low-power computer; they see it as a freakishly huge cell phone (except wifi only, unless they've come out with a celly version; I don't follow the iPad that much).

And the screwed-down, black-box deal is the SELLING POINT. Exponentially less to figure out. Previous tablet configs either failed or stayed as niche products for mobile power-users because they were PCs under the hood.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:49 AM on December 26, 2010

I bought one instead of netbook recently, after a lot of consideration. For me, the big issue was the weight. I borrowed a tiny netbook from a friend and carried it around for a week, and it was a pain in the ass. I knew I wouldn't put it in my bag unless I knew I was going to need it that day. My tablet (the SmartQ R7), weighs less than 400g (about 14 ounces), and it sits in my bag or purse all the time.

I have a foldout keyboard to use for when I want to do real work on it. And the instant on feature means it is worth pulling it out just to check something online or to look at my email in situations where I wouldn't bother firing up a netbook. I like the touchscreen interface because it feels like magic, but that feature exists on some netbooks too, I guess.

On the other hand, my tablet runs a full Ubuntu system, so I don't have the disadvantages of an ipad or similar that you mention.
posted by lollusc at 1:58 AM on December 26, 2010

I just wanted to pile on for the purpose of saying: there is a massive difference in the User Experience between a mediated interface (keyboard, mouse) and a direct interface (touch the thing with my finger to make it do something). Humans understand "push this thing around with my finger" in a way that is very different than learning to use the tools that computer users take for granted.

If you've ever taught someone to use a computer that has literally never touched one before, and watched them pick the mouse up and wave it in the air, you know what I mean. Touch is intuitive in ways that you can't understand until you use it.
posted by griffey at 5:19 AM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Henry Ford was rumored to have said "I never listen to my customers. If I had listened to them, they would have told me they wanted faster horses."

For the moment, Apple has a box that presents a new paradigm, and frankly, the YouTube videos of a 2 1/2 year old baby and a 99 year old woman using the thing sort of speak volumes about ease of use.

Computers aren't about YOUR applications, they are about everyone else's applications. At best, you will only buy a few. The masses of humanity will buy as many as they need and can successfully and economically apply to their problem sets and usage demands.

You might want to consider that the iPhone, a thing which revolutionized mobility and which propelled Apple into the second largest company (by market cap specs) did not exist a mere 4 years ago. It still doesn't have a serious competitor when assessed by its immediate technical ecosystem and synergies. A few dozen tablet PCs were in use (intentional exaggeration alert!) before the iPad. Now, Apple seems to be shipping them rather briskly.

It appears safe to say that what you are missing here is insight. Perhaps you might ask the users what they think and how they are using their machines, and let their experiences fill in the answers to your questions. Believe me, they will be easy to find anywhere you look.
posted by FauxScot at 6:23 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Toddlers love touchscreens. There are cute toddler apps where they can touch the letters and have it say them, or touch pictures of animals and hear an animal noise. My toddler LOVES visiting his aunt and uncle with an iPhone and iPad, respectively, because he gets to poke things and have them respond. It's sort-of like an interactive board book, that he gets to be the boss of.

"Real" computers are much too difficult an interface for very little people.

Whether toddlers should be playing with computers is a different question, but friends with iPhones say they're INVALUABLE for entertaining toddlers while in line at the DMV.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:27 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's fine to say MEH! Why do you have to by into hype?

Really, some people enjoy Lady Gaga's music. I don't. Some people get all emotional about products that they own. You might say that commodity camaraderie has started to replace sports and regional pride as a source of identity but who says you have to participate.

The Newton was super hot when it came out. Now it's kind of a quaint joke for old nerds. Interactive CD-ROMs. AOL. Palm Pilots were once absolutely "essential for business". iPods. Etc. Etc.

These things go out of style faster than capri pants and ponchos.

I can think of two possible killer apps for the iPad neither of which are important to me:

1. Reading the NYT web site while sitting on the hopper.
2. Surfing porn in the park.

It's also expensive, unergonomic and locked into a proprietary system controlled by a monopoly known for ripping off their best customers.

I say MEH! I get more excited about cheap bottom up technologies like $20 mobile phones that have a 3-week battery life, hackable routers and tiny, cheap Taiwanese mini-PCs.
posted by mr.ersatz at 6:45 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone's complicating this too much. Lounge out on your couch or lay down in bed with your netbook. It sucks, right? Gotta like prop up on one arm or squirm around to get both hands on the keyboard. Tablet can go anywhere a book can and do basic "computer" tasks. Badabing
posted by Patbon at 6:53 AM on December 26, 2010

You can use an iPad w/ a bluetooth keyboard.

Additionally, there's tons of stuff that you can create with one. There are great art and music creation programs. There's Pages and some other word processors.

BTW, I haven't evaluated recent netbooks, but my wife has a Dell Mini 9 and it's a piece of crap. Extremely slow, cramped, and tough to type on. I think it was around $300 new a few years ago. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

If I were getting a computer for my mom today, I would get her an iPad. Especially now that it has multi-tasking. She has a laptop that's a few years old and at first she was very excited about it and used it a bit, but it lives up in a spare bedroom and it doesn't get much use lately. I don't think that she'd likely bring the iPad out of the house (although she could surprise me) but she would be more likely to use it and bring it around the house.

My dad got an iPad as a gift this summer and he loves it. He was never interested in using computers and never even had email. He uses it all the time and brings it with him a lot. He now has email and all sorts of other things that he never used to do.

I'm going to consider buying an iPad v2 when they are announced in early 2011.

BTW, many of the iPad apps (or at least the good ones) are redesigned from the iPhone versions so that they take better advantage of the larger screen.
posted by reddot at 6:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Newton was super hot when it came out. Now it's kind of a quaint joke for old nerds.

It was a quaint joke for nerds when it came out. Rid poo river factually fuse a coupon?
posted by verb at 7:01 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just don't see why everyone should own one.

I think this the flaw in your premise, and it goes to the heart of your confusion. What you are really saying is "I just don't see why *I* should own one." And the answer to that is, of course, you shouldn't. It wouldn't perform any task that you isn't already performed in a manner you're happy with by a device you already own. I'm with you on that -- I don't own a tablet b/c I don't see it fulfilling a need not currently met by the laptop on which I am composing this email or my iphone when I'm out and about.

But clearly for many other people that's not the case, and they see tablets as performing a function that either they are not currently equipped for (portable web-surfing for example, if they only own a desktop), or one they feel tablets can do better (web-surfing in their bed, for example, rather than using their comparatively heavy and noisy laptop).

I genuinely don't understand people who rail against tablets as not having the same functions as their netbooks. It'd be like people railing against a car because it can't go in the water, or their microwave for not being able to properly toast bread. It's something designed for a narrow set of functions, even if it bears similarities in a general sense to other 'portable computing devices', like laptops.
posted by modernnomad at 7:23 AM on December 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

You mean I can just choose the programs / games / trinkets I want? And run them straight away? Just by clicking on 'buy', without having to 'install' them (whatever that means!)?

Most technically adept nerds seem to have a difficult time understanding how simplicity and ease-of-use can be so important to the layperson.

When Apple previewed a Mac App Store for their upcoming "Lion" OS, many of my tech nerd friends mocked and laughed at it. After all, how hard is it to download an application and install it?

But I thought of my stepdad, who currently has at least four .dmg files on his desktop because he has installed applications (or is running them directly from the mounted disk image!) and is afraid to delete the .dmg files for fear of losing something important. I have explained the application install process to him many, many times, but he simply doesn't get it.

Being able to install apps with a single touch is profound for a non-technical nerd.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:36 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

My netbook is slow, the screen's too small, and it doesn't sync my iPhone!!!

My iPad is fast. It's bright. It doesn't sync my iPhone either, but unlike my netbook, it never promised to.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:36 AM on December 26, 2010

A reason why I am seriously thinking about getting an iPad is that it has a display that is about 8.5x11." Which means I can look at a full page of pdf rather than scrolling around. Given the huge number of documents I carry to meetings, this is a major issue for me. And, to reiterate Pinback, above, most of what you object to are not things that I care about on what will be, more or less, an office machine. Except, perhaps, the keyboard.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:42 AM on December 26, 2010

I want an iPad for when I want to have something a bit less cramped than a smartphone with me, but don't want to lug a proper computer around. The niche for a portable device in between a phone and a proper computer can be filled by a bigger phone-like thing or a smaller computer-like thing; for my purposes I think I'd find the touchscreen tablet form more convenient, whereas it's clear you prefer the netbook concept. I can't see why anyone would really need to have both, although I can imagine those who can afford two similar toys contriving sufficient granularity in usage cases to justify having both.
To me, it's a lot like the choice between a touchscreen-only smartphone or one that has a hardware keyboard. Pick the one you like; most people don't need both. You'll see the odd person with a Blackberry for this and an iPhone for that, but they're not normal.
posted by nowonmai at 7:44 AM on December 26, 2010

Overthinking all around. I have a tricked-out Mac Pro at work with heavily modified emacs running on my local machine and my lab's Linux cluster. I also have an iPad that I use, mostly at home.

The description upthread about someone's parents being sold on the iPad after hearing about Netflix and Scrabble? That's not mutually exclusive with owning and knowing how to use a Unix workstation. I don't need raw power and customizability and three different web browsers for everything I do. Sometimes I want to sit on the couch and read my RSS feeds, or lie in bed and watch TV downloaded onto my Mac Mini, converted on the fly and streamed over wifi, or just play a dang game of fruit ninja or backgammon.

Key point: It's a niche product, yes, and you really can't know FOR CERTAIN if you'll like it until you take it for a real-world-use spin.

My rant: It's insulting, though, to say/imply that nerds ABSOLUTELY CAN'T FIT into the same niche as their 50-year-old parents. It's insulting to both the nerds (you're not allowed to enjoy things you can't SSH into!) and to their parents (it's so cute that you've found something that EVEN YOU can use!).
posted by supercres at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have an iPad. I haven't had a laptop for many years, and the iPad provides that portability for me in a better way. As people have said up-thread, it's easy to use on a couch for things like reading, playing games, checking e-mail and so on.

My primary creative outlet is writing, and I recently got a Bluetooth keyboard. With this and a cheap bookstand for the iPad, I was able to use the iPad as my computer for a weekend at a monastery, where I did a lot of writing.

But I would sell it to anybody as a great device for moms. I like to read on-line a lot, and being on a computer separates me from the kids. With the iPad, I can be right where they are, and for some reason, it's easier for me to put it down, knowing I can pick it up again quickly, than it is for me to walk away from the computer. I homeschool two of my kids, and when they're working on something, I often sit at the table with them doing little bits of this and that on the iPad, and am easily available if they have a question.

More than that, though, you can hand it to any kid. My 2-year-old mastered the thing in about 30 seconds; she's 3 now, and she knows how to find and watch movies from Netflix as well as play games. My older kids play games, watch movies, listen to music and audiobooks, draw, and all like that. Anyplace I go, if I have a restless or bored kid, the iPad means I have 100 different options to entertain him. And it's so easy to use that I really can hand if off and they can figure everything out themselves. It's much better than a laptop or netbook for that, I think.

For me, for my purposes, it's a great instead-of-a-laptop tool. I am sometimes irritated by the ways that some apps I use have less functionality than their desktop counterparts, so I wouldn't want it to be my only computer. And I would never claim that everybody needs one. But I've been very happy with mine.
posted by not that girl at 8:04 AM on December 26, 2010

As a 20year MS/Windows support guy... I've had my iPad for a few months now. Here are the things that impress me about it:

* Instant-on.. and incredible battery life. I can charge it up to 100%, let it sit in a bag for a week and turn it on and its at 99%. I've purposely tried to see how fast I could wear the battery down (turn brightness up, watch a movie, multi-task,etc.).. and it took about 5 or 6 hours.

* one of the only things I hate about my iPhone is the small screen. iPad is a joy to use because of the bigger screen and multi-touch input. I think people who haven't used an iPad for any length of time really under-estimate how much more intuitive multi-touch is over a keyboard/mouse. (To Wit:.. I recently bought an Apple Magic Trackpad... thought I would hate it. Turns out I haven't touched my mouse in about a week.)

* File-storage has never been a problem, in fact I probably bought a size to big. (I bought the 64gig model... but I'm only using roughly 20gig --- even so, its far more Apps/Music/Books/Movies than I could possibly watch in 1 day. Maybe if I was going on extended vacation or something 64gig would be useful. But for the average user... storage isn't a problem. (and I say this as someone who's iTunes library is pushing 100gig..and growing)

* It's amazing to me that something so small/thin has so much capability. To be able to hold Google Earth in your hand (and touch/pinch/zoom with your fingers) is pretty much mind-blowing EVERY. TIME. It feels very "Star Trek" / futuristic to use. (not like a clunky netbook)

* I don't have to fiddle with it. It "Just Works." No viruses, no spyware, no fiddling with browser extensions, plugins or add-ons. It. Just. Works. Every. Time. I mean, I'm pretty much a super-nerd who likes Command Prompts and Registry hacking.. and I've never found myself wanting some extra functionality that isn't there.

* iPad seems to adjust to me... not force me to adjust to it. (example: the screen rotates so no matter how I pick it up.. the orientation is right). Does a netbook do that ?

It's really just simply a joy to use. It's easy to take anywhere.. and it's rock solid reliable. What's not to like?
posted by jmnugent at 8:38 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm basically married to my iPad. I don't own a laptop or desktop or a cell phone (though I would if I had the money), I get teased about how frequently I check it, I basically squirmed for weeks until the 3G versions came out and my preordered baby got shipped. It's with me everywhere, minus very short grocery tips or dog walks. I made Seagull Bags custom make a case for it that attaches to the insidemof my courier bag with Velcro. A total stranger wrote a very nasty Craigslist Missed Connection accusing me of being a "provocative billboard who likes popular electronics." I had mine early enough that I had to explain what it was to countless older people on the bus who perhaps thought I had made a deal with Satan. I'm typing this on it, obviously, laying naked in bed with it propped on my pillow. I really, really, really like the fucking thing.

I don't think everyone should own one.

People ask me constantly, "I've been thinking about getting one of those, what do you think?" and I usually ask them what they're going to use it for. If they want to edit long text documents for school? Not the best choice. If they don't have another laptop or desktop at home? They're not going to be able to update the software on their iPad. If they already own a laptop and just want the Wifi version for snuggling on the couch? Well, it's your money, but I don't know if I'd spend hundreds of dollars on having a slightly more comfortable seating position under the blankets.

But me? 

I want to be able to watch porn on the bus.

I want to be able to use Google Voice for text messages and completely eliminate the need to pay a separate cell phone bill every month, a bill that for a lot of people is a lot more expensive than the $30-month unlimited AT&T 3G data plan I'm grandfathered in on.

I want to completely abuse said unlimited 3G data to the point that I don't even bother paying for Internet service at my apartment because I can happily stream movies to my heart's content over 3G-another bill eliminated.

If we have a discussion about vajazzling at the bar, I want to be able to Google Image Search it and hold up he results for everyone to see. (Uh, not that this happened last night, or anything)

I want to be able to send email from the toilet.

I want something I can check maps on as I'm standing lost on the sidewalk.

I want to be able to quickly check Twitter about five thousand times a day.

That's it, basically. My needs are simple, and the iPad fulfills them, so it's right for me. Someone with different needs? Well, they might need something completely different. That's fine. It's not one size fits all. You keep your net book, and I'll keep my little iPaddington Bear.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:40 AM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: WOW, I can't believe how many awesome and constructive answers I've recieved so far.

It seems like the big selling point here is "easier". OK, I get that, and believe me, I have parents too so I know how important that is. And I certainly get that most people don't let the internet or computers rule their life (or at least, they don't think they do), so an essentially unbreakable (software wise) computer that does popular tasks is essentially the realization of a long-unfulfilled dream (Netpliances, Audrey, thin-client computing for home use, etc.).

I guess what gets me is that the hardware is just all wrong for most kinds of creativity. Numerous MeFites here have talked about how creative they can be... when they carry around a stand and a keyboard. How is that a better solution? And what about things like photo and video editing? Granted, most netbooks could never run Premiere, but I LOVE using Lightroom/Picasa/etc. to edit photos on vacation... something no tablet does well to my knowledge.

Anyways, everyone here has put forward some great points and I'm going to think on them a bit. I guess what I hope is that there will always be netbooks or a similar device for people like me (especially because many great manufacturers like MSI have essentially stopped making them in favor of tablets), and I hope that tablets develop to the point where you can edit/make things more easily instead of just consuming them. I know, it's not impossible now, but until I can run Photoshop Elements or Lightroom on a tablet, I'll be left wanting.

Thanks again guys!
posted by speedgraphic at 8:48 AM on December 26, 2010

Response by poster: And one last thing.... (heh) a LOT of the things that people say that enjoy about their iPads are things that are actually done BETTER on phones! Browsing porn on the toilet or twittering about what your kid ate or checking Maps are all things that are more conveniently done on a phone, assuming you don't have an iPad size pocket or a gigantic purse. Right?
posted by speedgraphic at 8:51 AM on December 26, 2010

Speedgraphic, I think you're still approaching it from a binary perspective, as though people must choose either a tablet OR another computing device and have nothing else. This is just as illogical as imagining that people who own a PS3 or an Xbox would so at the expense of owning a laptop, and then complaining that you can't create on a PS3. Neither a PS3 or an iPad is positioned as "the only computing device you need", but rather a particular tool to serve a narrow set of functions. You CAN browse the web on your PS3, but does that mean you will never use your computer?

Approach owning a tablet device from the same mental perspective as owning a gaming system, and I think a lot of your confusion or worries vanish -- I can't edit photos or movies on my PS3, but that really shouldn't be seen as a criticism of it. It's designed to fulfill certain computing functions, and even though my laptop can replicate most of them in one fashion or another (I can play games on it, I can watch movies on it, etc), that's not an argument for owning a laptop INSTEAD of a PS3. Rather, it's an argument for seeing that different tools have different functions, even if there is some overlap between them.
posted by modernnomad at 8:59 AM on December 26, 2010

Seems that tablets are not for you.

The IPad is great however for other people like my 98 year old grandmother, who doesn't want to have to manage an OS or a file system or remember where she saved something. Its not perfect and she forgets how to do stuff and calls me every couple of weeks. But, generally, it just works. Its simple, and i can tell her that she can't break it or screw it up by pushing the wrong button or typing the wrong thing or deleting something.

But, again, she's 98 and is not interested in Chrome or storage or upgradability.
posted by jindc at 9:06 AM on December 26, 2010

> "And what about things like photo and video editing?"

The first page of Google search results for "photo editing ipad" includes a lot of solutions, including Adobe Photoshop Express for iPhone/iPad. An iTunes Store search shows around 10 Picasa-related apps. I don't know their various functionality/limitations.

A search for "video editing ipad" seems to have less results, but still has some. (an App called "ReelDirector" seems to be the front-runner. .but there may be others.)

> "Browsing porn on the toilet or twittering about what your kid ate or checking Maps are all things that are more conveniently done on a phone.."

Try doing any of those things on a 3inch screen.. then try them on a 9inch screen. Considering the interface/multi-touch/"ease of use" is pretty much the same.. which would you rather have?.. I know my answer.
posted by jmnugent at 9:07 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess what gets me is that the hardware is just all wrong for most kinds of creativity.

What are you talking about when you say "most kinds of creativity"? Because a couple of Google searches revealed the following:

6 awesome photo editing apps for iPad.

Video editor for iPad.

Drawing on the iPad

Animation creator for iPad.

Audio editing for iPad.
posted by nomadicink at 9:21 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe not everyone should own a tablet. Maybe you shouldn't. That doesn't mean that they're not appropriate for a lot of people. Face it, you're a geek. You expect different things out of your computing hardware than non-geeks. And there are people who have different needs and desires than you.

Most tablets are not intended to be a one-and-only computer, although for people with limited computing needs, they will probably suffice. When I evaluate what I would use a tablet or netbook for, about the only thing that a netbook has in its favor is the fact that it's cheaper. Everything else is pretty much a wash. I don't care whether my computer runs Linux/MacOS/Windows. I don't really care that the netbook is a smidge smaller or has more storage or has a faster processor. I want it to work when I turn it on, and to be able to do the things I want to do on it. I don't need lots of computing power -- I want to be able to check the weather forecast before I send my kids off to school, refer to the pattern I'm knitting without digging through the knitting bag, have four or five books and a few games for when I'm stuck in a line or a doctor's office, be able to refer to a tutorial (either on the web or in the files) for a step I'm stuck on in a project, check FB/LJ/Ravelry, have some way to access the web when my kids are doing homework, etc. I have a desktop computer for doing my editing and layout, and don't expect to be able to do that on my portable computing device.

I have a friend who happened into an iPad, for all that he really wasn't intending to buy one for another year or so. He travels a lot on business. He now leaves his AirBook at home most of the time, and uses the iPad instead.
posted by jlkr at 9:59 AM on December 26, 2010

Creative Pro here. Why I'm considering an iPad:

Drawing/painting on my MacBook Pro:

Take Macbook out of bag
Find a flat surface to place it on, preferably near a power source
Plug in Wacom Tablet
Dig stylus out of bag
Launch Photoshop and wait 3 minutes

Drawing/painting on my iPhone

Take iPhone out of pocket
Launch Brushes

I am totally sold on touch-based bitmap editing on cheap single purpose apps and am eager to experience it on a larger screen. iOS is a godsend to creative types.
posted by Scoo at 10:38 AM on December 26, 2010

I have to say that staying in bed with my Ipad on a cold morning is an unexpected experience that blows a laptop out of the water. Your netbook might overheat in twenty minutes burried under a comforter, but the Ipad doesn't, and it's much less awkward to use in that context. In fact, I bought it from someone who only had it for entertainment while they were sick in the hospital.

That said, I didn't buy the thing for that reason, but I am constantly finding little uses like that where it outperforms my full featured laptop. It's pretty nice to use around the kitchen. It's easy to use on the bus. It would be my travel companion of choice for just about any trip under a few weeks. I absolutely love being able to pull something up and just hand it to someone next to me. It is my go-to calendar since I always have it with me and it always syncs with everything through my Google account, but the screen is big enough to see a month at a glance, unlike my phone. I am still up in the air about whether it can be seriously used for class notes, but I gave it a one semester test drive and it did so-so without the keyboard. PDFs are still hit and miss since I want more markup and organization functions that most apps provide (or maybe the OS just isn't capable).

So, it doesn't really do all that well for some of the things I wanted it for, but it continues to justify itself in other contexts. Is it everything I want? No. Would a netbook do better at all the things I want? Probably not. I didn't really buy into all the woo from Apple about how the user experience would change my life or whatever, but it sorta does.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:55 AM on December 26, 2010

speedgraphic: "I guess what gets me is that the hardware is just all wrong for most kinds of creativity."

Damn right. And that means you're still not quite getting what's going on here. These new devices are creating a new niche for the computer market: true consumer devices. A regular computer is both a creation and consumption device. Pads and phones are focused on consumption; creation be damned. I hate making predictions but I think the iPad is a bigger shift in the computer world than most people realize.
posted by chairface at 11:22 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pads and phones are focused on consumption; creation be damned

This is a bit of a strange myth. People do fine making new things with these devices: writing, painting, making music, editing video, etc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Back in 2003 NEC produced an x86/Windows based tablet called the NEC Versa Litepad. I had one for a few months.

Some things about it were a PITA. The handwriting recognition worked OK when you were writing dictionary words - but programming or using the command line, where you need to tell | from l from i from 1 from \ from / and ( from < from { from [ the handwriting recognition wasn't good. It was difficult to use MATLAB.

The screen/pen interface never seemed very precise to me. I found it difficult to do pixel-precise positioning.

Traditional sitting-at-a-desk PC tasks were difficult with the lone tablet as you have to hunch over the table to get a good view of the screen. To help with that it came with a special stand to keep it at a comfortable angle - but when it's in the stand it's hard to use the touch screen. NEC have a solution though; it's supplied with a USB mouse and keyboard.

Being as it was Windows, the guy who gave it to me had put a virus scanner on it. Windows has an API that lets applications control the mouse cursor - but some viruses use that API to disable virus scanners, so some virus scanners don't let you access their settings window though that API. It happens to be that API that the tablet's screen uses. So if you want to adjust the virus scanner settings you have to plug in a USB mouse. The virus-scanner designers probably never noticed this as they don't test on tablets.

The performance also wasn't great. You know the old joke about how software halves in speed every 18 months, right? And the NEC was underwhelming in 2003. So the text recognition could lag behind your actual writing, for example, especially if you happened to be running an up-to-date web browser. The slow 2003-era NEC had a 933MHz PIII-M processor. The iPad has a 1GHz ARM.

Anyway, here's the point I'm making: You make a tablet that tries to be a laptop and people will try to run normal PC software (in my case MATLAB) on it and they'll realise it's a pretty weak laptop. On the other hand when you remove that ability (the ability to attempt something the tablet did not do well anyway) and restrict users to software designed and tested for the tablet form factor, speed and user interface, and instead of being a weak laptop it becomes something else. Something that's not so weak.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:00 PM on December 26, 2010

I don't want to be a dick, but this might make me seem like one. Sorry in advance. Seems like you have a preexisting notion about the uselessness of iPads/tablets. and instead of putting your hands on an iPad, or any tablet, you're trying to reinforce that notion by asking us, "Tablets is useless, amirite?"

I think I already said why the binary between power user/iPad user makes no sense to me. To me though, it's more than the sum of its parts. Being hands-on with the Internet is just somehow different from clicking around. It's more interactive. It's like the difference between keyboard-only computing or keyboard-plus-mouse computing.

I'm not saying tablets are for you. They may not be. But asking strangers if your assumptions about tablets/iPads are correct is not the right way to figure out if they are or not. You're right- it fits between a laptop (even though I don't own a modern one) and my iPhone in my life. You have to figure out for yourself whether there exists that space in YOUR usage.

All I'm saying is: If you read responses wanting to be convinced that you're already on the right track by eschewing iPads and their kin, you will be. If you want to really figure out why SOME people like them (and yes, there are people who can both use a computer competently and love their iPads), try using one for an hour.
posted by supercres at 1:20 PM on December 26, 2010

I thought ipads were totally ridiculous until I saw someone using one. When my best friend got one, I used it for a couple of minutes and then wanted one badly. My husband ^H^H^H^H Santa got the whole family one for Christmas yesterday, and it's already a giant hit. My four year old daughter, my one-year-old nephew, my technical-writer husband, my super-geek brother, and my parents all love the thing. (My mother is a perfectly competent computer user, my father is an extremely technical research scientist.) You know what we used it for first? Streaming Christmas music via Pandora while we cooked Christmas dinner.

I think what you're missing is that it's not a computer. It's not a computer any more than a Tivo is a computer. Your netbook IS a computer, but an iPad isn't. It's something else. It's a tricorder, it's a slate( like in Ender's Game), it's. . . something else.
posted by KathrynT at 1:38 PM on December 26, 2010

Perhaps a better way of saying that is to compare tablet shopping to something else I see tons of posts about on the green: bra shopping. (I hope I don't mangle this analogy, being male.)

One can ask about models that are generally well-liked, but to really know, you have to try it on. It's more difficult than finding the right, say, winter coat, because personal fit is really the key. In the same way that funding the best laptop is more about obvious factors, like speed, size, looks, so is finding the best coat: warmth, looks, etc. Just because of the way tablets are meant to be used, it's more about how it feels to you, or whether you need one at all.

Out-of-my-depth analogy over. I feel like every answer here has been "I do/don't like tablets. Your mileage may vary." Rest assured that there are ALL SORTS of people who love their iPads and tablets, so you can't really rely on accepted wisdom about who the iPad is "meant" for. It's meant for people who LIKE IT.
posted by supercres at 1:38 PM on December 26, 2010

I think the main reason it is so suitable for older folks is that they aren't as afraid of screwing it up. It's software internals are "shielded" from the user in a way that makes it less frightening to use. My mum is now comfortable with apple mail and iphoto but is leery of the other parts of her computer because she's afraid of trashing some important part of the operating system. I'm thinking she could really get her head around an ipad.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:12 PM on December 26, 2010

This reminds me of how I got hooked on the iPhone. I didn't see the advantage, and it was pricey compared to my phone. Besides, I had a MacBook already.

A friend had one, and once when we were at a pub we came up with a question that neither of us could remember the answer to. I borrowed her iPhone and googled it in a couple seconds. I *could* have done that with my laptop, but frankly I wouldn't have bothered since it would have taken me that long just to get the damn thing out of the bag.

I'd suggest going to an Apple Store if you can and trying one out. You might find that the limited subset of features is the subset that you use 90% of the time.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2010

griffey said:

"If you've ever taught someone to use a computer that has literally never touched one before, and watched them pick the mouse up and wave it in the air, you know what I mean. Touch is intuitive in ways that you can't understand until you use it."

Excellent point. I can geek out with the best of 'em now, but the first time I ever touched a mouse, I rubbed it all over the monitor and was crestfallen when it didn't do my bidding.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:04 PM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Late thought: what do you do in your downtime, when you're not doing productive or hobby work on your computer?

Those are the things tablets are good for. Light browsing, light email, light word processing, light ebook / enews reading, YouTube-ing, dicking around with silly-but-fun music / graphics toys, life-sized Pocket Frogs, and Angry Birds that you can actually see are stylised birds rather than vaguely bird-like blobs.

And that's enough for many people - including a subset of real computer users who want a separate handy device for just those things.
posted by Pinback at 6:59 PM on December 26, 2010

The iPad's not a creative device for the average user, and I don't think that matters. I spent the afternoon drawing at my desk with my new Wacom tablet, and the evening cuddled on the couch with my iPad, reading and web browsing (and now, typing this). It's just another way to more closely merge my mind with the internet.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 11:14 PM on December 26, 2010

I love my iPad. I also think of myself as a geek; for example, I'm replacing my second Linux home server with another Linux box, only this one is a modded pogoplug running Debian.

I love my iPad because it does a number of things well. (From my perspective, a netbook does nothing well.). The best thing about my iPad is that it just works, which leaves me more time and attention to spend on the things I enjoy fussing with.
posted by Good Brain at 11:46 AM on December 27, 2010

New article @ Wired about Photogene iPad app updated with many new features.
posted by jmnugent at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2010

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