Why are we tablet crazy? Do I really need one?

Last year Apple launched the IPad, and it was more successful than anyone thought. This year will be the tablet explosion as Apple’s IPad 2, and plenty of Android versions, will be available. I think the ultimate thought is that tablets will eventually take over laptops, but since this has not happened, why should I invest in one?

It seems as though the tablet has become the new $500 “coffee table book.” Recently, AdMob did a survey on tablet use, and they found that 82% of tablet owners use it only at home. The tablet has become the new casual computer at home for doing some web surfing, reading the news, or playing some games. My laptop can do all of these things and a lot more.

I also understand that a laptop is a little bulky and sometimes you want to do some casual Google searches, tweeting, and facebooking while sitting on the couch, but what is wrong with my Droid X? The only advantage a tablet has over my phone is size. There is no question that 10 inches would be better than 4.3 inches, and yes we are still on the subject of tablets. Is an extra 6 inches worth $500+ for casual internet experiences? Some people will attempt to argue that Honeycomb is an added user experience that you cannot get on your phone. This is true, but only temporarily because we all know Google is going to merge the phone and tablet software. I am perfectly fine pulling out my Droid X to read news, tweet, conduct searches, or check the weather. If I need to do something more sophisticated I can grab my laptop.

If I could replace my laptop then maybe I could justify a tablet, but I can’t, and 75% of tablet owners agree with me. According to a survey conducted by Sybase this past September, 75% of tablet owners do not feel their tablet is a laptop replacement.  Apparently they are willing to pay $500+ for a device that they feel does not replace their laptop, but at the same time desperately need 6 extra inches for their casual internet experiences. These people see no problem using their phone away from home for their casual internet experiences, but when they are home they feel the need for a bigger screen. If you are in the 25%, then by all means, get rid of your laptop and enjoy your tablet. I am not.

To me, the best reason to buy a tablet would be because it is more suited for reading books than a smartphone or laptop. If it is books that you are interested in, wouldn’t it make more sense to buy a Nook or Kindle for 1/3 of the price? The concept of the tablet came from digital books.

Lets go back to the late 90’s when the Personal Data Assistants (PDA) grew. Eventually the PDA merged with the phone to make it convenient so you did not have to carry two items. Then the smartphone evolved to add in a camera and camcorder so you did not have to carry those items. Now all of a sudden, I am being told I need to buy a phone and a tablet which are in a sense the same thing except for size. Do I need to carry both devices? Going back to the AdMob survey, the answer is no, since most people leave their tablet in the house. This brings me back to the tablet being the new $500 “coffee table book.” Well, at least for 75% of the owners.

Did the smartphone replace the camera or camcorder? The answer is yes for a lot of users, but not for someone who needs more. A standalone camera or camcorder gives you better quality if you feel you need it. I own a separate camera and camcorder because I have a 2 year old son and I want the best quality pictures and video I can get. If you spend $500+ for a camcorder or digital camera you get a huge leap in quality and  usability over what you get with a smartphone. The same holds for a laptop, if I spend $500+ on a laptop, I get the same upgrade in quality and performance. If I buy a tablet for $500+ am I getting the same upgrade in quality over my smartphone for casual internet needs?

So for 2011 we have tablets, smartphones, and laptops. The laptop and smartphone were already around for years. The tablet has crashed the party. Can it continue to grow as the third wheel? Something has to give. It is either going to replace the laptop or somehow the tablet and smartphone will merge much like the PDA, camera, and camcorder merged with the smartphone.

I think the Kyocera Echo and Motorola Atrix could represent where we are heading in the future. The Echo is considered a joke by many, and I would agree, but couldn’t this type of hardware evolve? It is possible that in the future a device could be made that is similar, but have a much better design where you would not see the split between the 2 screens. I have always said that if I could buy a 10-inch phone that would fit in my pocket, I would buy it in a heartbeat. My Droid X is 4.3 inches. If that doubled with a second slide out screen that would be a total of 8.6 inches. That is doable and when I feel like having a bigger screen I could do so easily and yet fit in my pocket.

How about the Atrix? I think it represents a more likely future in that the smartphone is getting more powerful and eventually it will be as powerful as today’s computer. I think eventually we could be docking our phones into tablets. If I could plug my phone into a 10-inch dummy tablet that would make sense. Of course that dummy tablet has to be priced reasonably. The Atrix laptop dock is way too expensive, but I believe the prices will drop considerably over the next few years. With this scenario I could have a dummy 10-inch screen sitting on my coffee table that maybe costs $200, and when I come home from work, I can dock my phone to the larger screen and enjoy my casual internet experiences. I could maybe justify spending $200 for the 6 extra inches.

This may seem crazy to some of you, but 10 years ago did you expect the smartphone to evolve to what it is today? Quad core processors will be out by next year. What do we need quad core processors for? These processors will enable the smartphone to be the central powerhouse for all of our computing needs and they will be available for both phones and tablets, so for the foreseeable future, tablets will continue to have screen size as its only edge.

I am not trying to say that tablets should go away. The funny thing is that I will end up buying a tablet, but not because I need one. It is because I am a gadget freak. I am just not  feeling the “techie high” that you get when you run out to buy something new in technology. It is hard to get excited about a third wheel, but as things change, I am sure I will be more excited about it. For now, I am happy with my laptop and smartphone.

About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • Ken

    I have now bought and returned both the ipad 1 and 2. I just cannot see the justification for spending $ 800 (Verizon 3G + Wi-fi) for a ‘coffee table’ tablet – I have a macbook pro and a macbook air. If necessary, I can get up from the couch and go to the dining room table, where my macbook is sitting to surf or read emails. not to mention, the Apple version cannot play flash video. So, many sites I go to just end up being a big ‘hole’ on the pages. uh-uh. not for me.

  • http://mondegreen2.blogspot.com/ Erik Neu

    Some good points. For years I have thought something with the form factor of the Echo would be a winner. Also, I am intrigued by the Asus Transformer concept–that could be the best of both worlds. I am more skeptical of the Atrix. Atrix approach seems expensive, and I think that for the same cost you can have a separate, fully-functional tablet that is also probably going to be more powerful, since it is a much larger form factor.

  • Hotmann

    I want a tablet simply because as a nerd I have a compulsion to have any gadget possible. I have powerful custom desktop, I have a netbook mainly for getting stuff done away from home, I have a dell streak which is almost as good as a full fledge tablet…But I still want a tablet just to have one. Would it render the netbook almost useless, yes…completely useless, no. If I got the asus transformer with the keyboard it will wouldnt leave the netbook completely useless because there are still a few things I can do on windows with a mouse that I cant do on a tablet (real photo editing, gemcraft, coding, etc)

  • Jongo

    I have an Archos 101 ($299) which is a good amount thinner and lighter than the ipads 1 & 2. I bought it so I could surf etc. while in the living room, kitchen, or elsewhere where there is Wi-fi. I chose this tablet because I couldn’t justify spending $500+ just for surfing and email. Mostly I use it for light surfing, reading online news, reading ebooks, and occasionally I play games like angry birds. I hope to eventually get a stylus and use it for notes and sketches, but I haven’t gotten around to this yet. I am quite happy with the Archos and it has exceeded my expectations. I had read a lot of negative reviews which seemed to be secretly promoting the iPad, but most of the gripes I read about were incorrect, this is a solid unit with good graphics and plenty of apps. And the price was right on. This is my first tablet and I have never owned a smart phone or iPhone.

  • DThor

    I think the coffee table book metaphor has it’s points, but you know, I’ve had a Xoom for a couple weeks now, and I’m using it constantly. It’s replaced my newspaper sub(thanks pressdisplay.com, and yes, I love newspapers *and* rss/online), it’s awesome for meetings, watching movies, playing games, well, you know the drill. If you’re absolutely happy with a laptop, then stick with it, but if you’ve ever craved something with less hassle factor, I’d suggest looking into it. Plus, obviously, the price will keep coming down…

  • http://www.sweepemarketing.com Eva Jonshult

    I’m in love with my motorola zoom. I use it for client presentations and working on clients stuff in coffee houses. All my client material is in the cloud so it has partially replaced my laptop. I still use my laptop for HD video editing and image manipulation.

    I run an online marketing firm and it’s too cool to whip up the small zoom and impress the client. Plus the battery life means I can see many clients in a row without worrying about plugging in.

    Tablets are the future.


  • FredOak

    I have had 4 under $300 “tables”, 2 I have kept.
    I have and love my Nook Color that is rooted and my kids love the Pandigital I rooted.
    I cannot see paying more for a tablet than I would for a netbook PC.

  • http://www.strivearth.com Zenstrive

    I bought my Archos 70 mainly because it has 7″ screen, can play most musics and videos out there, and can be used as e-readers and portable gaming console with comfortable screen size.

  • Carl

    Given the announcement of the 2Ghz processors, I tend to think the transformer will be the way things go – yes, you’ll have tablets for the casual user, and will effectively replace the netbooks (arn’t they the 3rd wheel already?)
    For those of us who a) want more power to do ‘proper’ computing a.k.a big games/video editing etc etc and b) want a larger screen to play videos/read when out I think the more powerful tablet that can dock to a base-station will be the way to go – laptops all have base-stations right now to expand their capability.

    Once the power starts to really get going, together with a decent battery life, I can envisage a time when you’d pay $500 for the base tablet, with processing power running android/linux/windows, on internal memory only, then another $200 would buy you the base-station which would have charger, usb replication for mouse/keyboard, and a hard drive – which could either sync or allow fast swaps of those big files….

    Looking forward to it…

  • David

    Your math is faulty. A foldabe 4.3″ screen, so two screens of that size, is not a 8,6″ I am afraid, is rather a 6″ depending on the screen’s proportion. Far from the 10″ screen. A 10″ screen is aprox double the surface of a 7″ screen. II bought a 7″ tablet because of portability and it does replace more often than not my laptop, not for long text writing, but for many other things..

  • NerdArmy

    The arguments you make against tablets are rather weak, considering you run a blog dedicated to celebrating the benefits of one type of touch screen phone over another. You’re happy to attack iOS users as sheep, or to run stories about insignificant tweaks users can make to their phones, but you fail to recognise the benefits of having a bigger, more powerful device with a larger screen.

  • NerdArmy

    Also – David above me is right – you would need FOUR 4.3″ screens to make an 8.6″

    Remember it is the DIAGONAL you need to measure.

  • T

    Kosmaz compufone concept is great. It is not all about price, but the hassle of dealing with data and apps on multiple machines. I have never seen a sync of os and apps settings till now. When smartphones are so powerful then why not use them for driving tablets also.

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  • Jordan

    in my opinion there are many things that can happen
    for example the Asus Padfone a phone that is placed in the back of your tablet when the extra screen size is needed now the phone/table has not come out yet but this is a way I can see it going , especially with android ICS unifying smartphone with tablet software.

    the other one is the Samsung galaxy note 5.3 inch screen that in my opinion is plenty big enough for ‘casual web surfing on the couch’ and it is a phone so it has other uses unlike the tablet ..