Sunday, January 29, 2012

Producer / Consumer - The new personal computer paradigm ( Buying a Tablet PC )

Im sure you have all recently been to Coffee House or even business / professional meetings where you have seen a diverse group of computing devices in use; Laptops, Netbooks, Smartphones, Tablets, and Media Players.   Seeing all this variety I started thinking about a general paradigm for computing devices when trying to rationalize purchasing a Tablet PC recently.  I explain below...

Tablet computing devices (what I define as mobile computer with an interactive screen) have come and gone over the decades and so has my interest in purchasing one.   For me it all started with seeing someone use an Apple Newton Message Pad in 1994.  While they were very clever devices I never really saw someone effectively using them without a) Running out of battery power or b) fighting with the handwriting recognition.   Either way I didnt have an abundance of cash back then so I never got around to owning one.   

In the 96 I purchased a PalmPilot PDA which quite literally changed my life in a way that no other computing device had ever done before or since.   I was able to keep track of ToDos, Grocery lists, calendar appointments, read books, read / send synced email, and even play games all on one device.  Even the Graffiti interface was extremely intuitive and easy to use for writing text.    I would hazard a guess that most folks that had early PDA's have since migrated onto using the smartphone form factor (Visor / Treo, Kyocera 6035, etc) as did I.  

This left a little bit of a gap in the Tablet concept until Microsoft reintroduced the concept in the early 2000s which were essentially the first round of large screen / big CPU Tablets to be produced.  As "Cool" or  "Star-Trek like" these devices were I could never justify spending money on that platform and really didnt know why at the time.   Curiously adoption rates weren't that high and I wouldn't really consider the platform a success unless you talk about the "Hybrid" Tablet PCs that evolved out of that.    

The recognition of a new computing platform paradigm started with the Hybrid Table PC.  These devices married an interactive touch screen with either a folding or swivel based keyboard that could be hidden.   Compaq was the first notable manufacturer of this devices for Microsoft's new platform and I was quick to pick up an HP Compaq TC4200.  Finally a computer I could justify spending thousands of dollars on! Well I have examined that justification over-and-over-again ever since, as the more I used that computer the less I used the interactive screen and the less I understood why I bought it in the first place.

The iPad!  Apple's re-introduction of the same concept, however, this time with "je ne sais quoi" that enables mass amount of people to purchase them.  There doesnt seem to be many profound differences over the earlier Tablet PCs other than a slightly more intuitive touch interface, perhaps a bit better battery life, and less weight.

And last but not least, the Apple chasing OEMs with various Android / Rim / WebOS based devices promising the same experience but unable to make as huge of a dent in the marketplace.

For a long time Computing devices overall have been categorized as "Mainframe / Personal Computer", "Client / Server", "Desktop / Laptop", "Netbook", "Tablet / Phone", etc.    As technology increased in both computing capability, peer-to-peer protocols, and wireless digital networking I believe these categorizations need updating and is the key to understanding how a Tablet PC fits in.

Quite simply, in the Personal Computer world people are performing either two tasks; producing content or consuming it.   Therefore all PCs can be classified and weighted by their ability in these two areas of "Producer / Consumer".   This is obviously a very broad classification system that like all others has exceptions (Graphics Artist Producing Content who finds Tablets better than keyboards) so this categorization cannot be used without considering the user of the device.   But for the the general population I think device classification can applied and people should rationally consider how the device they are using fits into those two categories for them.

Now your thinking, well that is not very profound and quite obvious.  Well.. How obvious in the productive "producer" workplace?  How many times have you seen people in meetings are scrambling to enter data by hunting and pecking at a Tablet or Smartphone keyboard instead of their Laptop? ;)

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