It is interesting to see all the blogs/articles about NetBooks, Tablet PC’s, etc. and why one will fail or the other will succeed. Windows 7 has been criticized as being unfit for Tablet PC’s. Netbooks are said to be “dead” and obsolete. Tablet PC’s are refered to as “post PC” technology, as if somehow desktop PC’s will disappear.
Let me say that I really like Netbooks and I think they deserve to be around for awhile.
Tablet PC’s look exciting as well.
What is often not discussed is the “real world” use of such devices. In the same way that with transportation vehicles there are many different types, so with computers (and similiar devices) there needs to be many different types. Cars will never replace trucks. They serve totally different purposes. How many times do I wish I had a pickup truckup, when I want to transport something that could never fit into my car. I definitely would not want to drive a pickup truck on a long trip (ie. on vacation) with gas prices so high, expecially when my car gets 37 miles per gallon. If I wanted to pull a very large trailer, a six cylinder pickup truck may not be a good idea and maybe a nice eight cylinder engine truck would be required.
Can you see my point ?
The same applies to computers. Tablets could never replace Netbooks or Laptop PC’s or desktop PC’s. They are simply just a different form factor which may serve a different purpose. Tablet PC’s may cut into NetBook and Laptop sales, but they surely won’t replace them totally. The real issue is “after the fad of such new devices” fades away, what will people ultimately require for specific tasks or situations ? Of course the “fad” of Netbooks is starting to fade away, so sales may not be a brisk, but guess what ? Netbooks are pretty useful devices and they likely will be around for awhile. They are smaller in size, so easier to carry that a full sized Laptop PC. They are a lot less expensive than bigger laptops too. They are more versatile than Tablet, because they have a built in keyboard, unlike Tablets which have a separate keyboard (if they come with one). While the tablet is very small and light weight, if you have to lug around a separate keyboard, it sort of defeats the purpose.
Also, how a device works and handles user input is critical. Touch screens will never be able to replace real keyboards. There is a big difference between the two. To illustrate this point, let’s look at keyboards for a moment. As a computer programmer, I am very picky about the keyboard I use. The only keyboard I can live with (be happy with) so far, is a real old time IBM keyboard. Nothing I have seen even comes close to these keyboards. These keyboards are 15 to 20 years old and harder and harder to find today, but look at the prices these used (and very old technology) get on Ebay : http://shop.ebay.com/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=m570.l1313&_nkw=IBM+model+M+keyboard&_sacat=See-All-Categories
Why would such an old technology be so valuable to many today ? Because it serves a purpose that modern keyboards can’t come close to doing. Most computers come with terrible keyboards and the replacements are not much better. Now laptop keyboards are often quite nice and better than many desktop keyboards, except the angle of the keys in relation to the user are never like a good desktop keyboard, because laptops tend to keep the keyboard very flat in comparison.
Ok, maybe you agree that some PC devices are not easily replaced by others and that each may serve a totally different need. There is one other issue, I didn’t mention yet (which is why different form factors may be here for quite awhile) is the cost of such devices. Now for some people, maybe they can afford to buy a new PC, laptop, etc every couple of years. But for many, money is tight and they have to carefully weigh the expense of a new device. Maybe this is why Windows XP has been around for much longer than many expected (or desired such as Microsoft). Windows XP has been a long time work horse operating system which allowed many to hold onto their PC’s much longer. This is a good thing, since we need to use resources carefully and not waste them. Desktop PC’s have many advantages and one of them is longevity. You see, it is easy to upgrade a desktop PC, with say a new hard drive or memory memory or even a new video card. Laptop PC’s can be upgraded to some degree, but it has problems. For example, there is no room in a laptop for second harddrive, so you have to replace its only hard drive, which means the operating system and all your files have to be moved first to the new drive (more work). A desktop allows you to simply throw in a second harddrive, while you can use its original “as is”. When something major goes wrong with a laptop, it is much more expensive to have it worked on, unlike a desktop which uses very generic parts common to all desktops. Now wait until Tablet PC’s have been around for awhile and they start failing (which they eventually will) and then users find they spent $500 or $700 on something not easily repaired and they have to throw it away and spend another $500 or $700 on a new one. Also how easily will Tablet PC’s be able to be upgraded ? That could hamper things a lot. So give it time to see how things work out with the latest “fad” in computer devices.
Ok, we have discussed some of the issues with hardware. Obviously some form factors in PC’s will be around longer than some may suggest, but the real key to making these devices useful is the software written for them. I really doubt software can be “everything to everyone on every device”. That just does not make sense. Tablet PC’s and NetBooks and Laptops, eahc have their strengths and weaknesses. Software needs to take advantage of those strengths and play down the weaknesses. This means software written for a desktop, simply may not run well (or be a nice experience) for users with a Tablet (or even a NetBook) PC. Screen (video) sizes alone can make a big difference. I doubt a 10 inch netbook or tablet screen will ever compare to my 20 inch desktop screen. I notice a difference even when I use my wifes desktop PC, which has an 18 1/2 inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution, compared to my desktops 20 inch 1600 x 1080 resolution. Some programmers can’t live with out multiple monitors side by side.
Realizing that different form factors are here to stay, we need to start developing more software specific to a task and specific to a device type. So the real issue, is not the hardware, but the software.
Did you notice the recent Windows 8 demo video (on the web) ? The user experience seemed nice for the new User Interface, but when the Microsoft employee pulled up and existing Microsoft application designed for a desktop PC, she had problems working with it using the touch interface and she quickly closed the application done, before anyone noticed. Touch screens are nice, but don’t expect “power users” who do a lot of work on the desktop to be able to stay productive on a tablet PC. There will have to be a new generation of software specifically designed for tablet PC’s for them to be trully productive. There will have to be different versions of software too, one for say Tablet’s and Netbooks and another for desktops.
The success of any of the next generation devices has more to do with software than with hardware. If hardware needs to use less powerful chips to save on power, then new software which is optimized for such hardware needs to be written. Developers for Windows have been spoiled for many years now, because desktop PC hardware has been so much more powerful than required, so Windows developers could write poor software (ie. bloated, slow) and it still appeared fine to end users, because the fast hardware compensated. Well its time to wake up from our sleep and realize that the new form factors (and cheaper prices) for Tablet PC’s, Netbooks, etc. requires developers to write better, more efficient and faster sofware optimized for the specific hardware limitations. Software is the key now and developers can’t be lazy any more. Some of the new form factors (in PC’s) will live or die depending upon the software which is written for them.
As a last note, finally (because of Netbooks and Tablet PC’s) PowerBasic programmers have a real advantage. For years it was easy for some to say, computers are so powerful that the size of an application or its speed doesn’t really matter any more. Well guess what ? It does matter and PC form factors will prosper or die based on the software developed for them. So programmers, “wake and and smell the Roses” and start writing software which matches the new computers and their unique form factors.