What’s Better? A Computer Or A Tablet?

Netbooks were a big deal in 2008-2009, as the tiny affordable computers found a place in the homes of many. But then the iPad came in 2010, and they were forgotten more with each passing day. Why so? Because tablets were, let’s see:

Coller, thinner, lighter, easier to use, with speedy interfaces, didn’t have heat vents, battery life lasted longer, had fun apps, and did I mention way cooler than their bigger competitors?

On the other hand, the only good thing about Netbooks was that they could run native Windows applications that mattered to people. That and the connectivity ports found on a typical PC like USB, VGA, HDMI which allowed you to connect to big hard disks and projectors/televisions out of the box.

So what was the problem now? They were a pain to use, with their cramped keyboard and touch-pad. Also, they ran Windows, and with their cheap under-powered hardware, it wasn’t a buttery smooth experience at all times.

It was only inevitable that since the first batch of Tablets was priced like computers, they were expected to do all the tasks that a computer could.

I’ve seen some people dedicated to complicating their lives by trying to make this work. An array of accessories were peddled to morph that tablet somehow into a fully-functional computer. I’m talking keyboard covers, USB adapters, VGA adapters, HDMI adapters and the lot. Now that the hardware end was covered, they also wanted fully functional Office apps. Some even dared to expect Photoshop, FCP, Maya, Tally, etc. to run on it. It was a long road till a realization sank, “tablets are not computers, don’t expect them to be one.” For some, it may be sinking in right now.

What about smart-books?

Across all this tablet craze, one product that never got much exposure was the Smartbook. To marry the power-efficient ARM architecture that runs the Tablets with the ease of using a physical keyboard and mouse,

Smart-books were discussed as early as 2009. It would look like a Netbook but would have ARM chips (the kind you find in a smart-phone) and probably Android or some other Linux running inside, because back then there were no Windows for ARM. And April this year, Microsoft gave the world just that — Windows RT.

Windows RT is to iOS the way Windows is to Mac OS, get it? It is a derivative of the full-blown desktop OS, that is designed to run on ARM hardware. It won’t run any typical Windows application, only ones from their ‘App Store.’ So, why would anybody care about Windows RT over an iPad? Probably because of the one odd bone they threw at us: Microsoft Office 2013.

Windows RT runs a particular version of what seems to be, a reasonably functional MS Office. The only hitch is that it runs in desktop mode; i.e., the interface is pretty similar to using MS Office on a PC. Thus from a touch-screen only point-of-view, that may prove to be an unsatisfactory experience, as the video shows here.

So, what’s the fix?

Well, if you’re buying the recently announced $499 Windows Surface RT tablet, then you can buy a cover that doubles up as a physical input device. So we’re back to physical input mediums, albeit in a funkier form. With this, the experience could be similar to using MS Office on, well, a Netbook (10.1-inch screen, cramped keyboard, and touch-pad, you get the picture). Want to run regular PC apps? Don’t worry; products like an Intel-based Surface tablet will be coming your way soon.

So is this what we want?

The Netbook was praised for its functionality, then was thrown in the gutter for a tablet’s ergonomics. So now we want the best of both?

If I were to recollect the umpteen number of potential tablet buyers, I’d talked to, then yes. It will be interesting to see how people try to make this combo work this time around.

Personal Opinion: After owning a tablet for over a year, I find them to be great for reading and entertainment. That’s it. If I want work done, I use a computer. I’m waiting to be convinced otherwise.