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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2011 Gift Guide Part 1 – OK, Great! Now What Should I Buy?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about mobile devices and ecosystems and the companies that make and distribute them. Let’s take a quick moment and figure out what you should actually buy.

As complicated as this might seem, it isn’t really complicated at all.  We’ll get to specific goodies, next time, but I wanted to take a few moments to talk about how to determine exactly WHAT to buy, given that investing in an ecosystem largely takes you down a specific road, given that you’re likely going to want to mix and match your data on your devices.

What does this mean?

Simply put, if you start a document on your computer, at some point, you may want to shoot it to yourself via email or upload it to your choice of cloud storage (like Dropbox, Windows Live Mesh. iCloud or Amazon Cloud Drive to name a few) so that you can edit it on your laptop or tablet when you get home.  Maybe you stumble upon a bit of brilliance on the way home from work (or where ever you might be) and you stop to take a moment to jot down a few notes in it on your smartphone. A fully functioning, adopted (on your part) ecosystem allows you to do this with your data and your devices. For everything to function this way, its all gotta be connected somehow.

So, again, what should you get?  Here are my recommendations on how to figure this out.

Mac Users
This is probably the biggest no brainer of the bunch; but its not as open as other platforms.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Stick to the Apple ecosystem and iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The desktop tools all have iOS components and partners, and the data you create on your Mac is designed to enable you to work on all of Apple’s devices. You’d be amazed how elegant and simple it is; but then again, you’re stuck there, and you have to want to be stuck for it all to work.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Since Amazon also has developed Kindle software for iOS, users wishing to move to or from parts of the Amazon ecosystem will also find a bridge here. However, since the Kindle Fire is Android based, see the Google Ecosystem, below.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Trying to implement parts of the Google ecosystem in an Apple/iOS world isn’t going to be easy, so be ready for some challenges. You aren’t going to be using iTunes to sync content to any Android device, and if you’re a Mac user, you undoubtedly have SOME content there.

Windows and Linux Users
Windows users have a few options, as basically all ecosystems are open and available to them. Linux users (and non-iTunes users) can use doubleTwist for media and rely on Exchange or Google Sync for PIM data.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Windows users have been using iDevices for years. The Apple ecosystem is completely open to all Windows users. The only thing you need to insure is that all your iDevices and iTunes have been updated to their latest versions.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Windows and Android go well together. In fact, many Windows users are also Android users and vice-versa.  Amazon has carved itself a very unique corner of the mobile market by introducing its own app store and inking deals with music labels, and movie and TV studios. The content is available through Amazon Prime, and you get a 30 day free trial with the purchase of a Kindle Fire.  Google itself hasn’t been able to nail this bit down yet, so Amazon stands apart as the most complete player in the Android space, despite the lack of an Amazon-branded smartphone.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Despite recent developments with Google Music and Google Books, Google’s ecosystem is still somewhat disjointed.  For as much money as Google has, they really need to nail this down. Users who go with an Android tablet and smartphone should be able to exchange purchases and data with all of their devices, provided they are compatible. The only difference may be the Amazon App Store, as I’ve not bought any apps there as yet.

In the end, you shouldn’t really try to mix and match Apple and Amazon/Google devices. You’re going to run into too many challenges trying to get the data and content from one to another, especially on the media and productivity sides of things. eBooks are easy, but will require Kindle software to bridge the gap.

Come back next time, and I’ll have specific gift recommendations for your 2011 Holiday Gift recipients.

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