This time last year Apple’s iPad had just made its local debut. A year later and the iPad2 is now well established in the market, so much so that you can even buy one at your local Pick n Pay.
So, should you spend your Christmas bonus on a tablet PC, or should you rather spend the money on new notebook?
Here are a few things to bear in mind before you blow your entire budget.
Lean back use
iPads are excellent devices for casual browsing, reading news, playing videos and reading a book. Many of these actions, which are often annoying on a desktop PC or a laptop, are more enjoyable on a tablet PC.
Tablet PCs are perfect for when you’ve got your feet up. Notebooks aren’t as well suited to lying in bed, sitting on the couch or lazing by the pool.
Consumption versus creation
In general tablet PCs are ideal media consumption devices. Their lean-back nature is fine for consumption but when it comes to creating new content, tablet PCs don’t yet compete. Of course you can create some content or do some work on your iPad but when it comes to the heavy lifting, crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, writing up a document or editing a photo, nothing but a decent keyboard and pointer will do.
Of course you could add a bluetooth keyboard and mouse but then it’s becoming a little over the top.
Not only that, but you’re a little restricted in the apps available. There are many good ones but unless you’re prepared to do all your “serious” work in Google Docs, you’re not going to find the applications you need day-to-day.
For the artists
Even if you’re one of those “creative” types – the ones that wear cool clothes and have never encountered a spreadsheet – tablet PCs may add to your cool factor, but may well not enhance your productivity.
Editing photos on a touchscreen is painful; editing movies with iMovie for iOS is passably good; and editing audio on Garage Band for iOS is also passable. In most cases, however, serious work of this type requires some serious processing power, so a tablet PC will inevitably come up short.
For the serious workers
Ironically, while the iPad probably appeals the most to the creative niche industries, it’s in the less glamorous work sectors where iPads, and other tablet PCs, could well prove to be the most useful; in particular those jobs that require workers to be on the move all day.
Nurses and doctors for example could benefit from a tablet PC over a notebook for logging patient data. Similarly, workers in retail could find tablet PCs useful as they roam stores and sort out customer queries. Or office workers that need to move between departments daily could find a tablet PC useful.
As much as tablet PCs have huge potential (much of which is still to be realised) they do have some limitations. Among those are the lack of keyboard, limited storage and a software compatibility.
The first two can be circumvented to some degree with an external keyboard and online storage or memory cards depending on the tablet you own.
Software limitations are still a real consideration. Irrespective of whether you have an iPad or an Android-based device, you’re limited to the applications built for those platforms and those may not always match your work needs.
There is also the reality that iPads don’t support Flash-based formats. For now that is a serious limitation, although over time Flash applications will become less common as even Adobe looks to dump Flash for mobile devices.
Even if Flash does become less prevalent there is also the consideration that not all common formats are supported on all devices. Tablet PCs are in still in the early days of development and will inevitably fare worse than notebooks when it comes to the range of formats they support.
What’s the answer?
If you’ve already got a notebook and you have the spare cash then absolutely, get yourself a tablet PC. You’ll love it. If you don’t have a notebook and you need to be a mobile worker then rather spend your money on a notebook. You’ll love your tablet PC but you’ll quickly become frustrated by its limitations.