What is a tablet computer, anyway?

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Tablet computer
Variously called tablet PCs, tablet computers, or convertibles, mobile computing devices combining fully functional keyboards, touch screens, and all the performance and features you expect from a business laptop computer are solutions for business professionals on the go.

The iPad was not the first tablet computer. The tablet computer has been around for on the order of two decades. The original tablet computer was not a skinny undersized Internet connection device. It was a super-laptop.

In a fit of marketing hubris worthy of Microsoft, Apple hijacked the term "tablet computer" to paste on their oversized but underfeatured smartphone. The iPad is, in network-systems parlance, essentially a "thin client."

Now, I've never much liked the term "tablet computer," anyway. To me it evokes images of Edward-Gorey-esque illustrations of graveyards. I guess from that point of view, I'm perfectly happy having it applied to the physically thin, usefulness-challenged iPad thin client, which actually does look like a Colonial American slate gravestone that has been torn away from its rightful job keeping the mouldering corpse of a Revolutionary War hero from climbing out of the ground to pester third-millennium technogeeks who just wanna surf the Internet while pretending to pump iron at the gym.

"I'm resting between sets," they usually tell me.

I dunno. When I rest between sets, I'm usually waiting for the stars to clear from my vision, my panting breath to re-oxygenate my blood, and my heart rate to return to normal after exhausting my major muscle groups with nearly three-hundred pounds balanced on my shoulders. The last thing on my mind then is clearing out spam from my email inbox, or finding out what Lady Ga-Ga has been up to today.

But, different strokes ....

So, what were tablet computers during the first 90% of their existence?

Doc Manchek, a main protagonist in my novel Red is seen using the original style of tablet computer to run through his email during a stopover at the Driskill hotel in Austin, Texas while traveling by motorcycle across the southern United States. This description, which was drafted, edited, and ready for publication before Apple brought out their pathetic version, shows what is essentially a full-service laptop computer fitted with a touch screen.

Of course, just pasting a touch screen on a laptop-computer display would make a very clumsy package. To properly operate a touch screen, you've got to have it sitting against a fairly solid surface. Otherwise, poking it in the heat of doing whatever you're wanting to do with your portable computer, from ordering electronic parts online to writing the Great American Novel, or even just shoving email spam into the trash bin, would result in bouncing around of the display, knocking the whole thing off your lap, and possible premature failure of the display hinge. To avoid such unpleasantness, tablet computer makers developed an interesting display-hinge arrangement that allowed the user to either raise the display screen over the keyboard, as in a regular laptop, or flip it entirely over to cover the keyboard so it could be used like the current generation of tablets.

Being a complex enhancement of a top-of-the-line mobile-computing solution (which at the time meant a laptop), the thing cost about double what you could get a high-performance business-oriented laptop for. It was economically justifiable only for people who really needed touch-screen-oriented applications as well as keyboard applications. For the vast majority of casual consumers, who just want to download music videos from the Web, it was rediculous overkill.

Some of us, however, wanted them in them in the worst way. When Apple started yammering about coming out with a tablet computer at a bargain price, we started salivating.

When we actually saw the iPad, however, our faces fell. No keyboard. You try hacking HTML code without a keyboard! Or, writing anything more extensive than a text message. Worthless for professional use. In addition, the thing seemed to lack enough horsepower or memory to do decent graphic illustration. Basically, it was a smartphone that was too big to hold up to your ear!

So, it's not a smartphone. It's not an ebook reader. It's not a real computer. It's too big and heavy to shove into your pocket. It's a thin-client Web appliance.

I'd still like to get myself a real tablet computer.

I guess they're now called "convertibles."

I saw an ad for one of them the other day for less than $600. Maybe next time I get paid.

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1 Comment

Way cool, some intriguing arguments! I appreciate you making these thoughts online, the rest of the site is also high quality. Have a fun.

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This page contains a single entry by C.G. Masi published on June 3, 2011 8:20 AM.

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