Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where do the e-Book reader and Tablet fit in?

More than decade ago, I would slip a cellular phone into a pouch strapped onto my belt, and place my appointment book, a legal-sized pad, and a sign pen in my briefcase before going to work. When my mobile phone became a smartphone, I used it to keep track of appointments. Later, with smaller and lighter laptops becoming affordable, I carried one around and ditched the pen and paper. Today's laptop, is pretty much the same as what I lugged around ten years ago. It is now just smaller and more powerful. 

The smartphone on the other hand has developed more in the past 7-8 years than any other technological device. First it replaced the pager and PDA. Cameras and video recording capabilities were built in. With a set of headphones, it also became your portable audio player. With a larger screen and faster processor, it now can also replace your PSP and is a viable internet access device. The laptop had its job, and the smartphone was poised to takeover the rest of your life.

The trend has changed lately, with more purpose-driven devices appearing in the market. The personal audio player was resurrected in the Apple iPod. The E-book reader was created, the most popular being Kindle. The "tablet" concept was resurrected in a new form with the Apple iPad.

The new devices do not bring added functionality. You can play music on your phone, read e-Books from  you smartphone or laptop and the tablet is just a laptop without a keyboard isn't it? Do we really need them? The short answer is yes.

The purpose-driven devices are all about ergonomics and comfort. A long time ago, we decided that a pocket book should be of a certain size, which was a balance between portability and readability. In the effort to fit them in existing technology, the pocketbook was shrunk into a mobile phone or converted into a rather clunky laptop. The Kindle prioritizes you, and not forces you to adapt to technology.

With a 6-inch screen it is about the size of a traditional pocket book, much more comfortable than reading a book from a 3.2 inch mobile phone screen. Being small in size it can be read the way you would normally read a pocket book. You can read an e-Book from a small laptop while lying down in bed, with the laptop on your chest. It would just be much more comfortable with a dedicated e-Book reader. The grayscale screen is less stressful on the eyes than the colored screens you find on mobile phones and laptops. Basically, the e-Book reader is designed to do one job, but to do that one job perfectly.

Similarly, a tablet is designed to give you the functionality of a small notebook computer, during occasions and times when carrying a notebook is not so convenient. The laptop replaced the typewriter and my legal-sized yellow pad and pen. The laptop replaces the typewriter perfectly, and does a fair job at replacing the notepad and paper. The smaller and lighter tablet actually best simulates the notepad we used to carry around to take notes and the folders we used to keep our files in. It is not all that easy to flip open a laptop and take notes or read data when doing the rounds in a hospital or a plant.

Some may see the new trend toward purpose driven devices as a ploy to foist more gadgets into the market. But really, it is all about choice. Instead of being forced to do something one way, we now have a choice of doing it the same way we did before technology led us down this "one tool to rule them all" path. So welcome back the pocketbook, notepad and pen, they are here to stay.

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