Monday, 11 February 2013

What an old imac told me about tablet computers ...

Yesterday was a hot, humid, sticky day with thunder rumbling around, and it was also the day that I'd decided to set aside to hack the hedge on one side of our driveway backinto something like a respectable shape. The hedge grows up between Manuel's , our neighbour's, car port and the fence which means I have to do my side.

It was a hot dirty job, hacking, cutting and feeding the trimmings through the shredder. Towards the end of the afternoon the background rumblings started sounding more serious so I thought I'd better check what was happening. The Bureau of Meteorology have this reall useful rain fall viwer on their website that lets you track storm activity.

I could have run inside, grabbed my tablet, or powerd up one of the computers and checked, but no, my eyes fell on the newer of the old power pc imacs I installed xubuntu on back in 2008.

Now this machine hd languished unused in the garage since 2009 on what had been my workbench, but when I flipped the power the machine powered up, as did the wireless bridge and the hub connecting it to the home network. Xubuntu came up, I logged in (obviously I'm not very imaginitive about user names and passwords), the machine told me I had about a zillion updates to install, something I ignored, started firefox and got the rainfall viewer page up, and hey presto I had a display I could check on to see how storms were tracking.

Now it was pretty gratifying to see what is a ten year old machine come up first time after four years of gathering dust, but it got me thinking.

Back when I was I proponent of desktop linux, the thing that always struck me was how linux would give a new lease of life to old hardware – basically it was just more efficient in its use of resources than windows, and I used to think that running linux was a way of extending the life of old hardware, especilally for web browsing, and basic word processing, which is probably ninety percent of what people do on a computer.

Well, desktop linux didn't happen. Tablets did.

The question of course is why tablets and not netbooks running linux which seemed the blindingly obvious way to go back in 2008. The difference was the interface. Full linux is scary. It's not actually, no more scary than windows or a mac but it comes with a reputation of 'scary'. And some of the applications are scary to use.

Manufacturers responded by creating dumbed down interfaces, as seen on the original Eee or Acer Aspire. What they didn't make easy was adding extra applications - and of course applications are what people use.

Tablets are highly portable not particularly powerful devices, but they have been a runaway success because they make tasks easier. You have your weather app. Your banking app, your mail program, a couple of other apps, and perhaps a lightweight editor and that's that. Adding apps is easy, just a couple of clicks.

What people typically do on a tablet you could do the same on a laptop, any laptop, irrespective of operating system. But you don't get reasonable battery life, and you get complexity, the dread pauses while a billion upgrades install, and sometimes they're not that easy to use.

Tablets take the pain away, and they are highly portable and let you do standard tasks easily. And that's why we have tablts rather than netbooks.

The other thing is that you just don't need that much power. My seven inch android tablet and keyboard combo is superb as a note taker, but no way is it a general purpose computer, instead it does a small number of tasks well.

People on the whole don't want a general purpose computer. People instead want to get stuff done, and that's what the tablet phenomenon is about. It allows people to get stuff done. And it means that those people who had computers at home to do the two or three things they needed to do, online banking, a bit of email, a bit of skype say don't need to have a computer any more.

What it doesn't mean is that the general purpose computer is dead. It's just that the use case for having one at home or at work has changed.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

Most Android tablets (everything except the Google Nexus range) solve the "waiting for updates" problem by never releasing any updates....