Can Lean Back Devices be used for Lean Forward Activities

…or can you really do that with a tablet??

6a0120a805e490970b01538e1c68a3970bI saw an interesting article by Preston Gralla the other day about how productivity boosting tablets were the gift worth giving this year. Preston sites three in his article – one Android (the Nexus 7) and two Windows Pro (Surface Pro 2 and the new Dell Venue 8 Pro). The bent of Preston’s article is that while there’s a great deal of convenience and multimedia capability built into these, they also contain a great deal of productivity power, providing the user with a well-rounded computing experience.

In his mind, this combination of lean back form factor and lean forward productivity is what makes these types of devices a sure winner. Preston has a point, but I’m not entirely convinced. I think it’s this mixing of features and form factor that are causing problems for these devices.

Tablets were originally (re)introduced as relaxation, or lean back, devices that provided basic, essential computing power in a highly portable, light weight, performance minded form factor. They were small enough to take and use nearly everywhere from the bathroom to the beach; and they got you on the internet, reading and answering email and posting to your favorite social networks without requiring a lot of bulky, computing hardware. They did just enough just about everywhere, and that’s what made them successful. Taking the lean back out of the tablet has changed the dynamic of the device.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device was a movement that BYTE tried to address between July 2011 and April 2013 over at InformationWeek.com I wrote many BYOD focused articles there and you can still find many of the articles I wrote here. The entire house of cards starts to crumble the moment you try to bring your iPad to work. I know, I tried to do it for 3 or more years. Part of what I wanted to do on the iPad – hand written notes – really doesn’t work well, due to the type of digitizer and touch screen the tablet uses. To this day, handwritten notes aren’t easy, despite the advances in processor, memory, etc.

I have found that both iOS and Android, while capable of running productivity apps, are more suited to handling content consumption focused activities. In other words, while possible, both mobile OS’ are really better at running entertainment software – audio and video players, book reading software, game play, etc. again, even with the enhanced hardware they’ve received over the past few years.

When you put a more productivity based OS on a tablet as well as add a keyboard, you get devices like the Surface/ Surface 2 series type devices that have more in common with an ultrabook or notebook PC than they do a tablet. While this has a bit to do with hardware, its really more pointed at the OS. Windows 8 is more suited towards full-blown productivity apps than entertainment software, though they also do exist on the platform.

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Interestingly enough, my son-in-law recently received a Toshiba Satellite Click 2-in-1 13.3″ Touch-Screen Laptop for his birthday from my daughter. The device comes with a detachable keyboard and Windows 8.1 Pro. He is using it as a productivity machine for school. I recently asked him how often he had used it as a tablet. He hasn’t. Not once.

He said while he can use the device in tablet mode, the device works better as a notebook. When I pressed him for an explanation, it was clear to him that Windows 8.1, despite its live tiles and ModernUI interface, is more of a familiar notebook OS than a tablet OS. Office works better while using the attached keyboard than the on-screen keyboard. Computing in general, worked better with the attached keyboard; touch pad and extended battery than simply with the tablet. So, he is clearly leaning forward rather than relaxing and leaning back with it. He also hasn’t used it as an entertainment device – i.e. to watch movies, listen to music or to read eBooks – though he can do all those things quite easily with the device.

I’m finding that is exactly the case with the Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet. Its all productivity and very impractical as an entertainment device.

You’re likely going to hear a great deal of advertising this Holiday Shopping Season on how Windows 8.x tablets are the perfect combination of lean back and lean forward – entertainment and productivity – devices. In most of the cases I’ve seen and in my personal experience, it just doesn’t work out that way.

The potential for having both in a single device is great. If it works out for you, you can obviously save a great deal of money. However, I’ve noticed that most people don’t actually take advantage of both in a single device. Their device gets “mentally tagged” with a single or main purpose, and using the device for something else violates that tag.

I’ve seen people do that with a number of things – cars, pens, clothing, AND computers. Its not that you can’t drive the sports car to the office, its that you’re saving it for the fun times. As a child, I had school clothes and play clothes. You didn’t mix the two; and I suspect that with many people, whether they do it intentionally or not, they aren’t going to be able to put a ton of movies and music on their work machines. Let’s forget about how most enterprise admins frown on stuff like that and just say that you probably aren’t going to want to give up all the space you might need for documents, spreadsheets and presentations to MP3’s and videos.

In the end, it’s a metal paradigm that I think many people won’t accept. Its not because they can’t, but because for them, the whole idea just doesn’t fit well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion below.

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