Last Christmas, we received a Kindle Fire. This was our first tablet device, and in fact we still don't own a smartphone. After hearing all the talk about the post-PC world and iPad hype, now was our chance to try out the tablet life.
So how has it gone?
The biggest benefit of tablet devices is, of course, portability. Compared with a traditional laptop, it's very easy to slip it into a bag or toss it into the car. We usually think twice about whether to bring a laptop on a trip with us, but with the Kindle Fire we can toss it into our travel bag without thinking.
At home, the Kindle Fire lives in the kitchen for the most part. Jean discovered that the touchscreen still works even when covered with plastic, and so made a cover for the device. And this way we can still use the device even if we have a bit of flour or oil on our fingers. Not surprisingly, it's used mostly for looking up recipes, at least when it's not being used for Hangman.
But the other day, Jean actually got up from the table where the Kindle Fire was sitting, walked out of the kitchen and into the office and looked up something on our desktop Windows machine. Why?
1. Instant On - the Kindle Fire starts up pretty quickly. It would start up even quicker if we didn't shut the thing completely off all the time. However my desktop machine is usually on during the day. Which means all you have to do it move the mouse or hit a key and it's ready to go. It might even have Google loaded up in a web browser already.
2. Big screen - and then of course, the screen is much larger on the desktop. You can actually read all the text if you bring up a normal webpage without zooming in.
3. Usability - the touch screen is neat, but typing anything on a tablet is a big pain. Even for web browsing, entering in a search string or log in information or a URL is painful. If you make a typo it's even worse. On a desktop machine you just click near your typo, hit an arrow key or two to go to the right place, and hit Del or Backspace. On a tablet you tap with your fat finger near the URL, and then ... Well, there are no arrow keys, so you either have to pinch-zoom-in and tap more accurately, or tap & hold to bring up a selection dragger thing, at least on the Kindle Fire. Selecting text is awkward. And there is no "hover", which means you often have to click on something just to find out what it does. There are also a number of things that just don't work, like the slider controls on hotels.com. If you try to drag them, it just drags the whole screen around as is normal for tablets, so I'm not sure how to actually use the drag-slider controls there, if in fact there is a way.
The tablet is certainly a neat gimmick, and useful for traveling. It was useful for looking up random things at the hotel. For me, I think a smartphone would actually be even more generally useful, just because I would be more likely to be carrying it while walking around, and the Kindle Fire needs Wi-Fi for internet access.
The idea, however, that PCs are obsolete and will be replaced by these devices is just laughable. I can't imagine doing anything that requires even a moderate amount of typing (like creating this blog entry) on a tablet. The ergonomics of laptops are not great compared to a properly set-up desktop machine, and a tablet is even worse. And the Kindle Fire's incompatibility with our other Windows-based machines doesn't help things either.
So I think this is not so much a post-PC era, but more of a PC-plus era, as somebody put it. The tablet has its niche for travel and for carrying it around the house and tossing it onto a crowded kitchen table. For pretty much anything else though, it doesn't even come close to matching the power and convenience of the trusty ol' desktop machine.