I’ve owned an iPad since you could own an iPad. I upgraded from iPad 1 to iPad 2 because the thinner form factor, faster response and Smart Cover were too hard to resist. So, I suppose you could say I’m a fan – both of the iPad itself and the overall tablet experience it provides.
But here’s the thing: I now often carry a tablet and a laptop and a smartphone. The dream of one device to rule them all has morphed into a hazy vision of three devices that are all somehow necessary (tablet for browsing/consuming, laptop for real work, phone for on-the-go updates/camera – how did it come to this?).
Now, I know there are people out there who can bend a tablet to their will. I don’t have that super power. “Inputting” on my tablet is an exercise in hunt-and-peck futility. More often than not I delay long email responses and other typing-intensive work until I’m stationed in front of a proper computer. This is why my tablet experience, in its current form, can never replace my laptop experience.
I bring all this up because participants in a recent back-channel email thread did something really interesting: They ignored the question of where tablets fit in now and instead examined the specific features they would need before tablets could replace their laptops. The focus was shifted from how tablets currently work to how they should work.
Here’s a few tablet wish lists from the email thread (republished with permission; names withheld).
I want a laptop with a removable screen that acts like a tablet – in other words, a dockable tablet. I want it to have great voice recognition. I want it to have Swype, so I can input text without having to “poke type” at a virtual keyboard with fingers or thumbs – and so I can input text one-handed quickly and easily. I want it to have great battery life in tablet mode, augmented by a second battery in the dock. I also want it to have a stylus, but the stylus should slide into the tablet, like my old Windows phone (v 6.5), so it doesn’t get lost easily.
The dock would have a touchpad, the large battery as mentioned earlier, and would have extra USB ports so I can hook up other peripherals. The dock should obviously have a built-in keyboard and a reasonably large hard drive (250 GB or so). The total weight should not be much greater than existing lightweight laptops (a little heavier because of the extra battery). The tablet should be chargeable from the dock battery, so that if I run out of tablet power and place it in the dock, the tablet recharges from the dock battery. I want it to have a decent rear-facing camera (I don’t care much about a front-facing one), Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, speakers, and (optionally) 4G cell radio capability.
I find it hard to fault my Lenovo S12 – 3 pounds, 6 hrs of battery, great keyboard, 250 GB hard drive (no CD drive), HDMI output, 3 USB ports, Wi-Fi, ethernet, Windows 7, Office 2010. It makes tablets seem like Vespas (not to denigrate Vespas – just being realistic).
I’ve tried to take my iPad to meetings, and I’ve seen people with that toy keyboard Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) offered initially (though I like the looks of some of the new case/keyboard combos), and I’ve seen people do great presentations with an iPad. But input is the barrier. I’ve never had an opportunity to use Swype, but it’s an intriguing solution. Voice recognition also seems plausible if you’re not in a public setting.
I think what I really want at this point is a 1-pound S12. Lenovo has an interesting Android tablet, but it all comes back to the keyboard and input, doesn’t it? If Windows 8 can deliver both the traditional desktop experience and a tablet experience that builds on WinPhone7, that gets closer to what I want. If I can get to three screens (TV-Tablet-Phone) instead of a dozen or whatever it is, that would be good.
Mac Slocum is O’Reilly Radar‘s online managing editor. He’s been writing, editing and producing web content in various forms since the mid ’90s. He also dabbles in video interviews from time to time.
This article originally appeared in O'Reilly Radar.