What I Want in a Web Tablet

35 Comments

It seems that everyone is obsessed with tablets these days, a far cry from the Microsoft Tablet PC (s msft) days when no one cared. The focus began to shift toward web surfing slates last year, and it has heated up as it gets closer to the expected Apple (s aapl) tablet announcement. I have a unique perspective on using a web tablet, as I have been using tablets for years. These have included slate devices, and while they would do anything a “real” computer could do, they certainly did the web well. I have turned that perspective toward what type of web tablet I would like today, which is a much simpler device than you might think.

A web tablet to me means one thing — content consumption. I don’t want to create very much content on such a device, I have many better gadgets to use for content creation. I want a slate that is designed in every way to help me surf the web, watch online videos, listen to music and read e-books. That is all I want to do with my tablet, and I want no compromises in those tasks.

My slate should have a screen of 9 0r 10 inches, not a bit smaller or a bit bigger. I want it to offer a great web experience, and in my actual experience with screens of all sizes, that is the sweet spot. The slate must be easy to handle for long periods, so that means less than half an inch thick and not more than one pound in weight. I can use devices thicker and heavier, but I don’t want to.

My ideal tablet will have a Qualcomm (s qcom) Snapdragon processor running at least 1 GHz, but faster would be better. I have played with a number of phones and even a 10-inch slate using the Snapdragon, and it is a wonderful processor for these tasks. It also offers great battery life and days of standby without the need for charging.

I would like the ability to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to the slate, but to be honest this is not a major requirement. I am serious when I contend that I do not intend to use this tablet for content creation. I can see myself happy just using an onscreen touch keyboard. This takes me to my main requirement for the slate — a capacitive touch screen. Multitouch is mandatory for a good usage scenario, and I won’t budge on that.

The web browser needs to be as good as any desktop browser, as I must be able to surf to any web site I do on the desktop. There cannot be problems with that, a web tablet must serve the entire web as good as anything out there. That probably means the Mozilla browser, fully opened to accept extensions. If you sense a theme of no compromised web surfing, you get my point.

The browser needs to handle all online video perfectly, and that means good Adobe Flash (s adbe) and Java support. There cannot be deficiencies in the display of any online content. That includes PDF support — no compromises.

There needs to be a good media player for both audio, photos and video. This slate is designed for leisure more than anything, and that means media playing. I will also use my slate for reading e-books, so a good reader application is a must, preferably one that is compatible with both Kindle (s amzn) and Barnes & Noble (s bks) content.

I would be willing to settle for integrated Wi-Fi for connectivity, but I suspect eventually I’d want 3G support. This could be integrated or a plug-in solution, initially I don’t care. I just need to get online — it is a web tablet after all.

I don’t care what OS the slate runs, as long as it is optimized for touch control. That means seamless, intuitive control by touch. There shouldn’t be anything that is difficult to do, as touch is the only control the user has over the interface.

It may sound like I want a lot, but I think my requirements are reasonable. I also think they could be provided at a decent cost. I’m thinking in the neighborhood of $300. The more I think about my ideal web tablet, the more I realize I am describing the slate part of the Lenovo U1 hybrid that I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show. I wonder if Lenovo has plans to sell only the slate?  Hmm…

35 Comments

Scott

You might need it, but given James’ stated use for a slate, it seems like an optional extra rather than a necessity. (I say this as someone who’s also looking for a slate for more or less the same use case.)

Jayce Tohline

Scott… true… given the context, but Riles echoes what I’m looking for. When I’m browsing the internet, or reading an ebook, I want to jot down notes. Those notes should be in context with what I’m viewing at the time, but should be converted to electronic text so they can be harvested and used in other applications. I might never need another moleskine in my life.

Riles

I have to agree that this is something I really want even though my usage scenarios match up pretty nicely with James’. I’m not going to do any major content creation on a tablet this size, but I basically would imagine dragging this with me everywhere for both content consumption and as an endless notebook.

I think what it boils down to is that I want the Courier.

ArchiMark

+1 for Handwriting Recognition!!!!

Otherwise, I basically agree with what James wrote, although I would like

A) to have Mac OSX running on it, so, I can run apps of my choice for light usage…and

B) some choices in display size, while 9-10″ is great for some purposes, I could also find useful a bit smaller device with 7″ display for example…

But HWR and Mac OSX are a must for me….

Russell Smith

My last experience of handwriting recognition on the Mac (about a year ago) was terrible. Ink really isn’t worth using.
Even our most devote Mac users where I work agree that the one in Vista/Win7 is a long way ahead.
It’ll be interesting to see how this effects Apple if they do release a table with a full version of OS X on it.

Brian

I agree James, that’s just what I’m looking for also.

However, I thought the Lenovo U1 had a resistive screen, or am I missing something?

Also, I think I’d prefer a tablet with an ‘e-ink’ style mode, like the Notion Ink device. But, I’ve yet to use an e-ink reader, are they really any better for eye-strain?

Russell Smith

To be honest, most people’s complains about Flash aren’t to do with Flash but more the people that code for it.
The actual Flash runtime is pretty well written and performs at least as well and usually better the most Javascript engines.

It’ll be interesting to see what effect HTML5 has when the people that create the cpu hogging flash banners start using it.

Adobe’s own documentation says not to use lots of vector layers if you want performance on lower power machines. Hopefully things will get better as time goes on.

Marauderz

My own feelings about Flash support is that a lot of people only think that Flash support = VIDEO support. But Flash is more than that, animating and moving vectors around are a very processor intensive operation. On all the embedded devices that I have seen Flash run before they always fail (as in slow and not very usable) in the “Anything other than playing video” category.

David McCormack

The forthcoming Flash 10.1 will leverage hardware acceleration to a much greatest extent than previous versions. We can expect that this will increase performance while reducing power consumption. It was announced in October that 10.1 would be available on most of the major smartphone platforms (including BlackBerry, webOS, Win Mo, Android, and Symbian) by the middle of this year.

On the face of it then, the mobile Flash experience looks set to get a whole lot better over the coming months. From what I’ve read however, most of the focus has gone into enlisting the GPU for video decoding. And as you rightly point out, there is a lot more to Flash than just video playback. If rasterization continues to be done in software then is likely that non-video Flash apps will continue to perform very poorly on mobile devices.

David McCormack

The latest rumours on Apple’s iSlate are describing it as an ARM-based device running the iPhone OS rather than an x86-based device running full OS X. Put another way, it’s going to be more akin to an iPhone on steroids than a MacBook on a diet. If these rumours turn out to be accurate, you would have to wonder to what extent, if any, the iSlate will support Flash (given that the iPhone doesn’t). I agree fully with James that a tablet without Flash falls well short of the mark and would not be considered by many potential customers.

Marauderz

I know a Windows 7 PC might not be able to satisfy the BATTERY LIFE part of the equation, but have to say that it comes close to satisfying the rest of the parts.

While my ViliV S5 does not have a HID Touch Driver (Curse the poor hardware support) The graphics chip supports hardware video decoding to view 720P videos. It’s definetly a slate since it doesn’t have a keyboard.

A bit slower on Flash app cause they jsut rely on RAW CPU power which the 1.3Ghz Atom doesn’t have. But generally quite usable.

James Kendrick

I have enjoyed using the S5 for months, and I agree with you it’s a good solution. But I want a bigger screen, and preferably not the hassles that go with maintaining Windows.

Mickey Segal

I agree that different form factors are better for different tasks and environments, but ideally that would not mean two computers to coordinate, it would mean one portable computer to dock back at your desk. While mobile one would optimize for battery power, and while docked one would optimize for speed and driving a large screen.

If Apple puts out a big iTouch, the main questions will be:
1. What else is added – Flash, Java, Office-type software?
2. Is it dockable to drive a large screen?

James Kendrick

I do not want a single computer for all my needs. This slate will be strictly an auxiliary computer for me. Docking to a large screen I do not even want.

Mickey Segal

If all you want is an auxiliary device, a big iTouch should make you happy, but allowing it to access all web content, including Flash and Java, and do multitasking will make people even happier. Another thing to watch is whether there is a pen and handwriting recognition in addition to finger touch. It is hard to do very much if your only pointer is a finger.

There will be a day when desktop-level power is so small it can be in your pocket. I don’t know if we are quite there yet, but many of us would prefer not to fuss with coordinating different computers. It is OK to divide your work among different computers if you store all things of importance in the cloud and are always connected to the internet, but I’d rather have stuff on my hard drive and use other copies just as backups.

Bic

Can you really see yourself reading books on this for any length of time, compared to an e-ink screen?

James Kendrick

I read for hours each week, and most always on LCD screens. I have no problems, fewer problems than on a Kindle a matter of fact.

James Kendrick

Wow. That shows how much one’s needs can change over 5 years. Wow, 5 years! Thinking on it, the main change since that time is multitouch. That is much easier to do on a larger screen. The other change is that of web pages. Most pages today require a wider screen than 5 years ago.

This shows the danger of living one’s life online. :)

Carl Spackler

JK,

You didn’t mention how MUCH Graphics Power you need (HD Videos ?). Are you planning on consuming any games on this CC device ?

I would definitely want a good gaming experience. Say goodbye to that DS and PSP toys. hee hee

Also, I suspect the upcoming 2GHz Snapdragon might change your mind about on-the-fly editing.

BTW, editing Photos using your finger and a good tool palette is pretty awesome stuff. Think of your fingers as a set of various brushes for use on your OLED CapTouch Canvas.
Yeah baby, that’s what i’m talkin’bout.

urbantopro

I’ve been using tablets since the Newton … and my opinion is that its all about the OS. Apple’s tablet just has to recreate the awesome experience of going from a smart phone to the iphone in a larger form factor with a brilliant web experience and its bye bye windows.

Derek

10″ capacitive screen for $300? You’re going to be waiting a while unless it’s subsidized by a wireless carrier.

Jake

Could you actually see yourself needing one of these though James? Such a specific device (large enough but not capable enough for content creation as well as consumption) just seems like a wasted opportunity. What is the benefit of this sort of device over, let’s say, a netbook?

Try as I might, I just don’t see this category of device taking off because it seems to answer a question that nobody’s actually asking. The blogosphere is madly crying out for a tablet but nobody seems to know what they want to use it for Discussions always seem to include comments like, “I’d need to be able to connect a keyboard to it” or “it would need to act as a digital photo frame when I’m not using it” and so on.

James Kendrick

Actually, I described exactly how I want to use it, and a slate would serve my purposes better than a netbook. Do not forget that I am not proposing that I want this for my only (or primary) device.

Jake

What are your purposes though? For instance, could you see yourself taking this sort of thing anywhere or would you just use it on a sofa at home? Do you think you actually NEED something like this – does it actually fulfill a need that no other device satisfies?

Personally, I have my mobile, a laptop and a couple of PCs, one of which is an HTPC. I can’t think of any usage scenario where a “dumb” tablet would satisfy a need that couldn’t be satisfied by one of these other devices. If I didn’t have all of the above (say I only have a mobile and/or a desktop PC) and was in the market for something more portable I still don’t think I’d want something so limited.

You described what you’d want it to do (or not do) but didn’t describe usage scenarios. That’s what I’m getting at.

James Kendrick

I could see using this at home, sometimes taking it to the coffee shop to enjoy the web. Strictly leisure. Do I NEED it? No, but that hasn’t stopped me before. I can see ENJOYING it, and that’s good enough for me at this point in my life.

I don’t need half the gadgets I use, but I enjoy using them for their intended use. This would be no different, but I think I would use it a lot.

johnkzin

For me, my purposes for a tablet are … rather similar to my mobile phone (G1) and/or a laptop. The differences are:

0) mobile phone screens are too small.
1) mobile phone input methods are too slow, or too taxing (ie. endurance with thumb typing is lower than endurance with touch typing). Though, some phones at least give you an ability to use a bluetooth keyboard.
2) mobile phone web browsers, even on the iPhone, aren’t “full” web browsers. That doesn’t just mean Flash and AJAX, it also means things like “dedicated iPhone web sites” and “dedicated Android mobile web sites”, “dedicated mobile web sites”, that push you into a different set of content than you’d get on a desktop web browser. An Android or iPhone based tablet probably wont fix this, but a tablet that might eventually run a merged Android and ChromeOS might. Or even an Android with Fennec, Firefox, or Chrome might (fennec appears to get real web content, not mobile device oriented content).
3) a laptop is over-kill. I don’t need my portable computing device to have the horsepower to run Photoshop/GIMP, or high end computer games, or do 3D rendering, etc. It just needs to do things like web browsing, web apps, media playing, a few local apps, ssh, and vnc.
4) Laptops are too big. I don’t want to be forced to carry a certain size of gadget bag, just so I can carry my portable computing device. I can carry a much more comfortable/manageable gadget bag if the device is 9″ or 10″, instead of 15″.
5) Due to #3 and #4, laptops tend to be over-priced.
6) Laptop keyboards are dead-weight and just get in the way. I’d much rather use a folding-USB or folding-Bluetooth keyboard, which I only have to fuss with when I need it … than always have the keyboard there to get in the way when I want to just have the screen there (for reading e-books, reading RSS feeds, or watching movies, for example). A convertible tablet netbook would be acceptable, because it at least lets the keyboard “get out of the way”, but it’s still heavier than it needs to be.

Those are the reasons that my phone (or any pocketable device) or a laptop don’t fit the need for a 10″ tablet (nor netbook, for that matter — except that #6 applies to netbooks as well).

The other thing I expect from the upcoming 10″ tablets is: device convergence. I expect it to replace all of the mid-size specialty devices that are currently out there:
a) e-readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.)
b) movie players (like those single purpose mobile DVD players)
c) my netbook (email, calendar, rss, taking notes in meetings, doing work “on the go” or “on the road”, web surfing, ssh/vnc to my servers, work desktop, or home desktop) and/or couch computer (web surfing (usually IMDB to lookup movies I’m watching), email, ssh/vnc over to my home desktop)
d) various little information appliances, similar to those 3 categories, but that are escaping my mind (to some extent, “digital photo frames”, for example).

It WONT replace/obsolete my work desktop nor home desktop systems. Those need more CPU, bigger displays, and more capacity (both RAM and storage). But, my netbook and couch computer have already made my old, discarded, laptops obsolete. I don’t anticipate ever buying another 13″+ laptop dinosaur again.

In a way, it’s the same niche as a netbook … but in a different (and, IMO, better and more flexible) form factor.

That’s what my purpose is in finding the right 10″ tablet. And my contenders (currently) are:
* The Notion Ink Adam
* HP’s semi-officially announced Android version of their 10″ tablet
* The EnTourage eDGe
* ICD’s hinted but not announced 11″ version of the Vega and Ultra
* I’ll evaluate the Apple Tablet, if it comes out, but only be actually interested if the above 4 don’t pan out
* If a 10″ Chrome OS convertible tablet comes out soon, and it has the ability to run Android/Dalvik apps, I’ll give it pretty strong consideration as well (especially if it also has a PixelQi display).

Shogmaster

I have doubts whether a 1GHz ARM core is good enough to handle Flash in acceptable manner for me to use the web as I do with my normal computers.

IMO, today’s web experience is so Flash heavy that if you choke on it, then you forfeit the right to be my web device.

The sad fact is, Flash is horrifically bloated and inefficient, but it’s here to stay. And it require even Atom (X86) processors clocked over 1.6GHz to be supplemented by something like the ION platform (which proper software support by Adobe mind you) to work in acceptable manner.

I suppose you could say that you just don’t bother with large Flash video sites. Well crap, that’s a huge chunk of what I do on the web! (don’t judge me!)

Jake

Agreed. If Flash can bring a Core Solo or Atom processor to its knees then a Snapdragon processor won’t be up to the task either.

Luscious

Very true. I’ve seen Flash bring to a standstill older P4 machines with dedicated graphics – and that was just version 9. Good luck with multiple tabs/windows open on that 1GHz slate. Flash is a resource hog, poorly coded, lacks backward compatibility and creates more problems than solutions.

Rant aside, given the problems so many devices have encountered trying to run flash-based web content, it amazes me that Adobe refuses to optimize and overhaul their product. Of all my browser plug-ins, Flash has been the number one headache.

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