A longtime reader who asked to be anonymous got his first tablet and smartphone a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed, to say the least. “What’s the point?” he asked me privately.
To be honest, I understand. I got my first tablet a couple of years ago–a Nook Color that I loaded Cyanogenmod on. And, to be honest, once the thrill of hacking an e-reader into a full-blown tablet with no restrictions on it wore off, I didn’t do a lot with it. When I thought of it, I would check the weather on it when I was getting ready in the morning, and maybe glance at my e-mail with it, but mostly it sat on my end table. I probably used it 15 minutes a week.
At some point, I realized I was trying to use these devices for things they weren’t good at. Browsing the web with them, they felt like exactly what they were: a 1 GHz, 512KB computer with a small screen. Not too different from the desktop computer I was using a decade ago. A high-end phone or tablet is more like the desktop computers of five years ago.
So they’re not a replacement for a desktop PC, and if you use one like a desktop PC, you’ll probably be disappointed. I think that’s why Windows XP tablets failed a decade ago–they were just desktop PCs with desktop apps running on low-end hardware in a form factor that didn’t suit them well.
But a phone or a tablet can replace every gadget we’ve ever carried. Or pretty much every gadget we ever wanted to carry. It can stand in for a digital camera, an MP3 player, a personal data assistant, a GPS, an old-school Blackberry, a video camera, an e-reader, and more.
And there are apps that do a lot of the things these devices don’t do well via a web browser. The Google News app is a lot nicer than Google News on a tiny screen in a web browser. And both CNN and the BBC have very nice news apps.
And when I pair a phone or tablet with a Google Chromecast, it revolutionizes television. I can pull up video on the device, zap it over to the TV, and watch TV. I don’t watch much TV–I once went several years without watching any TV at all aside from the World Series–but now I can watch the two or three shows I like, on demand.
So I don’t think of them like a regular computer as much as I think of them as the ultimate Palm Pilot. I groused years ago about being ordered to carry a Palm Pilot, along with what seemed like a briefcase full of other devices. Now a phone or tablet can replace all of those, and if the phone and tablet are similar enough, they can sync up together, so you can use whichever is more convenient at the time to stay on top of what’s going on.
And I guess there’s one other factor. Android is something new. It’s a little bit different from the other stuff I’ve grown used to working with, so it’s something new and exciting to learn, tinker with, break, and fix. I’ve always been fascinated with technology, and since I did most of my growing up in the 1980s, that’s colored my point of view. The mobile space moves about as quickly today as computers did in those grand old days.