Tablets are the WonderBread of computers

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like touch devices (all but the iPad which I refuse simply because it is a fad symbol, not a product, but I love my iPod Touch and Kindle Fire, so agnostic between iOS and Android). But tablets are NOT the end-all, be-all. They’re actually quite limited devices, frankly computers on training wheels, which, of course, is exactly what most of the technophobic public loves, dumbed-down devices that are also fashion statements.

Now, wait, I’m also not one of those primitives who loves Emacs instead of GUIs. New can be good, new can be bad. Traditional can be good, traditional can be bad. And that’s the point, judge products by their fitness for use, not their birthdate or pedigree.

I see an article that tells me the mouse is dead. I see other articles that tell me Microsoft is dead because tablets are killing it (OMG does anyone really want their server running off iOS!). Long live tablets and anyone who doesn’t agree is just an old foggy who isn’t hip (or whatever the hip word for ‘hip’ is today). Fine, fashion fads (and word fads) among the young are harmless, but when was the last time I wanted to substitute their ignorant judgment as the final answer on real products.

Wonder Bread is the perfect image for tablets. Once upon a time bread took a little work, either to buy at a bakery and slice up, or even more work, to make yourself. So in our never ending quest to dumb-down products we invented Wonder Bread, which is really non-bread. It’s cheap and convenient and lazy and tasteless, and bad for you (here I’m siding with Pollan, reluctantly since everything else he represents is food priesthood nonsense). Bread is supposed to taste good, provide some energy, and maybe some nutrients (even the magical mystical ones Pollan believe exist if you just don’t mill wheat too much). Wonder Bread only meets the criteria of lazy and bad.

Tablets are the dumbed-down product for people who don’t want to actually use a computer for anything more than a modern version of being a couch potato plunked down in front of a TV. Tablets are for passive viewing, not production. But production of content is hard, mindless reading of silly Facebook trivia is Wonder Bread, full of air, tasteless, and anti-nutritious. Tablets are for turning your brain off, not on.

Now, OTOH, I love actual mobile devices, i.e. something you can actually put in a pocket and carry around. I think smartphones have changed the world, in some stupid ways, but on the whole in many good and innovative ways. But tablets are just dumbed-down marginally lighter/smaller laptops. They aren’t really portable, they do nothing a smartphone can’t, and they do nothing a laptop can’t. Of course that means they are wildly popular, just as Wonder Bread or Bud used to be. But hopefully when the artisan or craft movement hits computing, tablets will be a thing of the past as much as Wonder Bread, a bad idea masquerading as a fad.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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One Response to Tablets are the WonderBread of computers

  1. dmill96 says:

    This is not an unbiased source, but since he agrees with me, I’ll note it here.

    Obviously, as Blackberry has failed (the usual corporate inertia of the market leader being resistant to change) they’ll knock tablets. But I think there is truth here. Like what seems to be nearly universal human trait there is just as much faddism in computing as there is in diets and tablets are the new Atkins.

    But, to knock smart mobile (and I mean something you can actually carry all the time) devices is just Blackberry’s continuing head-in-the-sand. But tablets are something else. They aren’t really portable and they’re power hogs (just like laptops). So the mobility advantage of smartphones (and thus apps that can be invented, like image recognition of writing on signs and translating them to your native language) is largely lost with tablets. Tablets are just an alternative form of a laptop but with numerous disadvantages and few advantages. They are the fad gadget but as the novelty wears off most users will start choosing devices that really meet a need.

    Unfortunately for Blackberry that natural market correction will probably take too long for them to survive. But Apple is clearly falling into a death spiral as well. Borrowing money to pay stockholders (as penance for drop in stock price) is a really stupid way to maintain their momentum. Apple is now out of ideas and the next minor rev in their current products isn’t going to produce the eager lines of groupies at their stores.

    So with the froth mostly expended now the market can settle down into focusing on the correct set of devices to meet real needs.

    btw: One place I’ll really side with tablets is in cars. It’s stupid for the car companies to be putting proprietary (and mediocre) solutions in cars. The touch panel (and way excessively expensive) toys my Prius has make no sense. Toyota should embed a cheap commodity tablet in the dashboard with an open architecture so the world of clever app designers can do things Toyota (who is still really a car company, not a computing company) can never do.

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