What are tablets for?

Intel was nice enough to hand out exo-pc tablets to people at the Desktop Summit. I didn’t queue up for one, since I already got a brace — and seen as geek toys, they’re not even that desirable. The wetab I took to the MeeGo conference was a geek magnet, but those days are over for this hardware.

But remarks I’ve heard around suggest to me that people are mistaken about the purpose of these machines, and even about the purpose of the tablet UX it’s running. Not all tablets actually are created for the same purpose, but from what I’ve seen, no tablet is actually made to be a productivity tool.

For instance, the iPad is designed to bleed you of dollars or euros, a few a day, maybe ten or twelve euros a week. It’s a boring device where the big draw is the app store. Every app is a bit boring by itself, and after playing around a bit, you tend to want something new. Say… Another app, or a bit of media like an eBook or music file. Or a comic. So you go to the app store and spend a little money, not enough money to think about. Less than a beer in a cafe (unless you’re in Helsinki)… It’s a very good device for that purpose. The way it seduces you is by being very nice to hold and inviting to play with, but boring enough that you need something new for it regularly. And when you’ve got a few dozen apps, it becomes very unattractive to move to another platform and lose your “investment” — because they do add up, those nickels and dimes.

The WeTab is sort of the same, but instead of bleeding you, it’s intended to bleed advertisers. The huge scrolling pinboard is intended to be sold square by square to content/advertisement providers who can place a little app that can continuously show information you might find useful along with advertisements. You’re seduced by the information to take in the ads. The applications on the WeTab are secondary, in my experience.

Intel’s tablet UX has, basically, as its purpose to get you to buy a tablet with an Intel CPU. To that purpose, they have created an interface that shows the average user what they probably want to see: a quick look at their music collection, video collection, the noise their social network is making and a bunch of favourite webpages. For that, the concept is perfect, even if reminiscent of the plasma netbook interface with its columns in some ways. The version of their UX on the exo-pc’s is pretty old, there are newer images on the MeeGo website. I think that the Intel tablet UX is actually quite good and quite useful for the kind of user it’s intended for.

But the exo-pc is a developer device, meant to make it easy for people to test their new multi-touch enabled MeeGo application. And the tablet UX is not meant for developers… People complaining that the terminal doesn’t have a virtual keyboard are really missing the point. The terminal is useful if you attach a usb keyboard so you can execute a few commands to install your app. For that, I think it’s really good enough. All rise to the challenge of multi-touch apps on Linux!