Devin Coldewey at CrunchGear has a mini rant on why the Dell 5” slate is too small. Actually it’s not a mini rant, it’s actually quite detailed and well thought out; but he’s still wrong (still a good read).
Basically he’s saying that the 3.5’ iPhone and 10” iPad define what people want so if any company comes out with something different from the mold they must be idiots.
I may be putting words in his mouth a bit but read it yourself; it’s very much to the tune that anything to different from apple is destined to fail. In other words don’t “Think Different”.
And from a sales perspective he may be right, PMP’s and small computing devices have traditionally sold like crap. A lot of people think this may even be the failing point with the Apple Tablet since so nobody has been able to make that form factor mainstream except maybe the Kindle.
But he makes a lot of the same wrong assumptions that other tech journalists have been making; let’s break a few down.
Small size and small price are coming together.
First off is the general ideal that PMPs are always destined to fail; while this has traditionally been true times are a changn’. Netbooks and smartphones have created a perfect storm for the era of the PMP and mid sized computing devices.
Historically it was very expensive to shrink full computers into sub-laptop sizes; nobody did it with much success other than a few expensive Sony devices. And then you’re stuck with a slow computer that costs more than a laptop. However now people realize that when mobile they don’t need full gaming computer functionality, just the basics of your average office computing and internet surfing. Average processing power and good battery life can now pack more feature than you need into a tablet sized device.
Second people didn’t think they needed advanced capabilities in a portable device. I remember showing my HTC Wizard to friends in 2005 and how I could surf the internet from anywhere in the US without a computer. Their reply was, “Why would I surf the net on such a small screen? All I need my phone to do is make calls and send texts.”
Two full years later the iPhone came out and now the same people rave about how much they can do with it. People want more than SMS in their pocket now.
Usage and interface
I’m not sure exactly what the draw is to small-screen devices like this. With phones and PMPs, the idea is that you operate them like an iPod: in your palm, with your thumb or the index finger of your other hand. Usually there is one point of contact, so UIs are designed around that.
Actually I use mine “Blackberry Style” thumb typing. Since my phone has a slide out keyboard it spends more time in landscape than in one hand stabbing at it with an index finger.
5” and 6” are the PERFECT size for this.
I could kind of do it with my 9” netbook but it was awkward. If you want to type on a 10” device you need to set it on your lap or something.
Optical track nubbins? Stylii? You’ll never break through with that kind of anti-fun going on with your device
I think anti-stylus sentiment is the mark of somebody without much imagination, or more likely just an iPhone junkie. If a stylus is REQUIRED for input it sucks donkey balls. But if it compliments a touch screen interface as a secondary input it’s far superior to a fat finger, much like adding a touch screen interface to a desktop OS is a nice added feature. It’s nice to have the alternative to use a stylus for delicate work, which is needed on small touchscreens no matter how nice the finger interface is. Plus my current phone has double the resolution of the iPhone in a .7” smaller screen, so a stylus allow much greater interaction when drawing or writing. When I quick sketch a diagram in One Note it doesn’t look like a 3 year old’s fingerpainting.
The reason I can play XCOM:UFO defense on my phone is thanks to the stylus. On an iPhone or finger only phone you don’t have the precision for RPG gaming. It also makes complex kanji on my Japanese input possible.
Most people bash WinMo because things like the close button are too small to hit without a stylus. But this isn’t true, you can still fat finger the button and the software estimates the center of pressure, just like capacitive phones. I’ve been thinking of making a video just to put online so that people can see that the difference between capacitive and resistive is minute.
People say putting a full desktop OS on a tablet will cause the same problem but it’s mind numbingly easy to remedy that, even without skinning the phone with a new interface. Just adjust the fonts size and accessibility settings and you can make those icons big enough that any monkey can hit them with their finger.
I agree, Apple WILL define what a tablet is…
…But I think it’s a bad thing. They’re under powering the tablet with a Phone OS. Many including Devin are already setting up Apple for the win by trying to convince people that this is a good thing and that only a 10” Apple iPhone Tablet can truly be defined as a tablet.
Other tablet-like products out there — convertibles, Windows 7 tablets, MIDs, high-end smartphones — either shrunk the desktop OS or added some functionality to a mobile one. So you’ve got a TG02 with a nice big 4″ screen (it’s gorgeous) — is that a tablet because it’s bigger than any other smartphone? No, it runs WinMo. Similarly, is a 6″ MID running XP a tablet? No, because XP and its applications aren’t tablet-friendly; maybe 7 is more so, but it’s still a desktop OS at heart.
Guess what Devin, Apple is likely going to be running iPhone OS on their tablet. So will this be a tablet because it’s bigger than the iPhone? By Devin’s own criteria, no, it’s just an iPhone, albeit a big frickin iPhone (I’m sure to him because it’s a still a tablet because a 10” iPhone is different than a 10” WinMo).
Using a full desktop OS on a 10” screen isn’t hard, many people have done it before in the days when VGA graphics and 13” screens were the standard on the desktop. Most people used XP on screens that had less resolution that many new tablets have. Squeezing that into a tablet isn’t a bad thing, and now that Desktop OS’s are a bit better at scaling to different screen sizes you can easily make icons finger friendly.
However many people are mistakenly thinking that tapping an icon is gong the way of the Dodo and multi-touch swipe gestures are the new thing. This is a load of crap, add too many types of gestures to learn and it’s no longer intuitive. Tap and Double tap make sense, pinch zoom is good, even two finger scrolling makes sense. But when you have “three fingers rotated 1/4 counter-clockwise while swiping up to maximize” you’ve gone too far.
When I say Apple will define the tablet, I mean that literally: it’s going to create definition. It’s actually much the same as with the iPhone: a stagnant device class with lots of potential, weighed down by traditional UI and input elements. Apple comes in like Alexander and cuts the Gordian Knot, defining an entirely different experience that resonates with consumers. Apple didn’t create the smartphone, but smartphones are now defined in terms of the iPhone.
And again I agree but while it excites Devin it saddens me the same way the iPhone’s popularity did.
The phone I had BEFORE the iPhone was released was a more capable device, it literally was a computer that was shrunk down to fit in my pocket. The PDAs I had before that were even more capable, the Dell x51 had a larger screen than an iPhone, double the resolution, a separate 3D graphics acceleration chip. I could telnet into routers through WiFi, stream music and video across my network, play games, surf the net, sniff and hack wireless APs. The only thing it was missing was a 3G mobile phone connection (and GPS but that’s less important).
iPhone came and set a standard but it set the bar low, unlike PDAs which were shrunken computers the iPhone was just a beefed up feature phone. Even now with the app store I’m frustrated with how limited they are in the way of capabilities and the locked down nature of or the OS itself, you can’t customize anything. At least if you don’t like Windows Mobile you can load a thirdparty program that skins it into an interface you like.
With the tablet Apple is looking to do the same. We can fit the full features of a desktop OS in a tablet, my Netbook runs Win7 professional for goodness sake. Why in the name of all that is wonderful would Apple port the already limited iPhone OS into it?! Even adding a few features like Flash, HD video, and a full browser doesn’t make up for it if it can’t be customized into MY device. It will always be what Steve wants to you to use.
“But Dustin! You will have more multitouch gestures to
Meh. I’d give up pinch zoom if it meant I could
copy/paste install my own apps, or customize the interface.
Or synch with third party software.
Or interact with open source frameworks.
Or add software that uses hardware on the phone.
Or add software that improves upon the phone’s software…