This article was originally published on Nemoscope, a blog about technology from a teen's perspective.
When tech visionary Steve Jobs revealed the iPad in 2010, he introduced his final creation as a hybrid smartphone and laptop with e-reading capabilities. While the innovative genius did not invent the tablet, he actualized the first widespread touch-based computing device, setting the tone and path for many to follow. Some foresaw its arrival as a clear precursor to the laptop's downfall. The revolutionary innovation included 3G (and later, 4G) capabilities for Netflix-watching and Facebook-checking but was not capable of making calls, so cellphone manufacturers didn't lose any sleep over it. The iPad's e-reading faculties caused others to wonder whether it would take the Kindle's throne as the bestselling e-reader in the nation. The iPad thrived, but did not monopolize as Apple's iPod had. Dozens of manufacturers like Samsung, Sony and Google mimicked the revolutionary product with their own "do-all" gadgets in many different shapes and sizes. While the tablet is a fun airplane toy for playing Angry Birds, watching movies, and showing off to jealous friends, it is a multi-gadget hybrid sporting inferior qualities for each niche that it tries to assume.
Functionally, laptop users are plagued only by the inconveniences of the trackpad as opposed to their computer mouse and possible absence of an optical drive when they choose these mobile computers over stationary desktops. Since laptops share similar features with their office-anchored counterparts, like physical keyboards, standard ports (USB, Firewire, MicroSD etc. depending on specific model), and operating systems, there aren't many major feature absences that force desktop use.
Tablet users are confined to the options of their mobile app markets. Though vast and seemingly limitless, mobile apps don't match computer applications. While software developers are slowly releasing Android/iOS versions of major applications such as Microsoft Office, tablets are not made for sensitive work files, and each mobile adaptation is inferior to its full version, whether the shortcomings be physical, logistical or functional.
The touch keyboard has a long way to go. On smartphones, users easily adapt to virtual keyboards because their handheld size makes thumb-typing possible. However, typing is an awkward endeavor even on the smallest cursor-less PCs. The way the average tablet user holds his or her mouseless commodity creates an inelegant mess of thumbs failing to reach the desired key, and stumbling over a few others in the process. While some have mastered the technique, the inadequate simulacra does not begin to challenge the seamlessness of physical keyboards. Android and iOS have pixelized an untransposable physical technological component. For the tablet keyboard to become a viable competitor to its inspiration, touch-based operating system developers must return to the drawing board, and create a new, efficient, touch-based typing tool unlike anything consumers have seen before.
The tablet is not a functional equivalent to the laptop. It doesn't compete physically due to its inability to act as a technological base. It is made for mobility, and its sleek form therefore lacks USB, Firewire, and other standard ports. Tablets simply do not require them due to their mobile nature. Despite apps to serve many purposes -- video editing, photo enhancing, document writing - the tablet is not a sufficient base due to its limited capacity and functions, and therefore fails to accomplish the primary uses of the laptop.
The majority of tablets use operating systems like Android, which also run on smartphones. This makes them essentially large phones unable to make calls. Features unique to tablets versus smartphones are few, and generally insignificant. Their bigger screen can be an advantage to some, but others gripe about the awkward size and weight -- too large for the average pocket or purse compartment, yet lacking media productive features that would commeasure it to a laptop and merit a separate carrying bag. The tablet does not replace the smartphone because it fails to achieve its sole purpose: making and receiving calls.
While tablets such as the iPad and Galaxy Tab offer themselves as alternatives to Kindles and Nooks (which succeed the good old-fashioned book), are they really viable alternatives? Tablets are functionally e-readers that can do a whole lot more. However, their numerous other boasted features make them inferior reading devices.
The Kindle Fire may be the star of Amazon's e-reader family, but most Kindle models are considerably more mundane. Kindle Paperwhites, for instance, operate as e-readers and are not made for checking email or playing Fruit Ninja.
What they lack in flash, they compensate for in functionality. The non-Fire Kindles feature an electronic ink screen that reflects light like ordinary paper. Their matte screen is also optimizes crisp, print-like text rather than pixels. Studies show that LCD screens, found on computers, tablets, and tablet-like ereaders like the Nook Color and Kindle Fire, alters the body's biological clock by suppressing production of melatonin, a hormone critical to normal sleep. In other words, staring at one can keep you awake. This means that iPads may not be ideal for nighttime readers.
Physically, the Kindle is optimal for its primary objective. It weighs only 6-9 ounces compared to 1-4 pound tablets, considerably closer to most books. While its operating system is simple, the e-reader delivers phenomenal battery life.
An gadget built for reading accomplishes this task far better than one built for watching movies and surfing the web.
Tablets are fun, but not functional. They may be great for playing Words With Friends or watching "30 Rock," but not quite ideal for composing long emails or working in Quickbooks. Steve's vision of a smartphone-laptop hybrid was not accomplished. The tablet was certainly not a flounder, by any means. It has proven to be a novel, coveted trinket, useful in some forms of education and presentation as well as entertainment. However, a device that completely captures the mobility and sleekness of a smartphone or a book while including the functionality and completeness of a laptop remains a pipe dream.