Vendor-Tech

Operational Excellence with Technology

Tablets, Tablets Everywhere, Part 2

The last article talked about various tablet options. In my opinion, the battle will be between the iPad and various Andoid tablets.

It wasn't surprising to see a plethora of tablets at this year's CES. Enough that low cost Android tablets seemed to end up being the theme of the show. How many? The estimates vary, but easily 80 to 100 new tablets were on display. And it seemed like one in every four Chinese or Korean exhibitor had a tablet computer in their booth.

Of the 100 new tablets introduced at CES, 60 to 70 likely will never get released, and it wouldn't surprise me if 80 to 90 of the 100 don't exist by next year's CES.

Google, the primary creator of Android (technically it is open source, but in practicality its being entirely driven by Google), hasn't even released the version of Android, Android 3.0, codenamed Honeycomb, that will officially support tablet computers. It's due in March or April. Most of the tablets on display were running one of the Android 2 versions, although a few of the really cheap ones were running Android 1.7 or 1.9.

One of the first questions you need to be asking during this transitional period is whether the vendor is going to be releasing upgrades, especially to Android 3.0. A lot of the early inexpensive entrants will likely never make it past Android 1.9, if they even get that upgrade. And the problem is getting an enforceable commitment for those upgrades. I'm not sure a local retailer has a lot of power over a Chinese manufacturer's product development.

Another big decision you need to make selecting a tablet is the touch screen technology. There are two: capacitive and resistive. The iPad uses a capacitive touch screen, as do a few Android tablets. It is generally a bit more expensive, doesn't work with gloved hands or most stylus options, but is very responsive and allows multi-touch gesturing. Most of the other tablets use a resistive touch screen, which is less expensive and works well with a stylus (if you are thinking of business applications, checking boxes and filling forms are likely needs which for many people are more comfortably done with a stylus). But resistive touch screens can be unresponsive to just a finger and will be limited in their multi-touch options. Resistive touch screens have a wide range of responsiveness, from just short of requiring a stylus to being indistinguishable from a capacitive touch screen. The touch screen technology makes it important to actually play with any options; you can't just order a tablet based on its specifications.

Interestingly the normal differentiators for computers, processor, memory, and storage capacity, are less important for tablets. The reason is tablets really need to be viewed as a user interface to the cloud, be it websites or internet stored data (that includes video). As a result, as long as the tablet works to your expectations you really don't care what processor it has, very unlike the "old days" when your processor determined your operating system which determined your application options.

There will be Android tablets with screens all the way from 5 inches (not really much bigger than the full sized smart phones) through 12 inches. To a point, increasing screen size will mean increasing costs. On the other hand, in some applications smaller might be better. For example, a 7 inch tablet might be a great personal media player, letting you watch video on the go. And 7 inches is the screen size of my eBook readers. But if you are going to be doing much data entry with the on-screen keyboard, you’ll find a 10 inch or larger screen much more useable. Unfortunately the screen resolution doesn’t necessarily increase with corresponding increases in screen size.

While the lack of maturity of the Android options might suggest the iPad as the better option, one feature of Android is its App Builder, which lets relatively inexperienced developers build custom Apps without the significant programming native Android or iPad Apps require. You could have custom Apps running in days instead of weeks or months. Many of the exciting possibilities for tablets will be custom apps making your business more effective.

You need to start thinking about creative ways tablet computers can impact your business. That might include getting a tablet to experiment with. And I suggest you look around as you are doing business to see how tablets are being used, or where they might be used. There is definitely a tablet in your future, the only question is just which one and when.

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