Take Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning


This item was originally published on June 24th, 2010 at Fast Company.

I don’t have an iPad yet, but I really really want one. Well, I don’t know if I want an iPad per se, since I have an iPhone already (and really, isn’t the iPad a giant iPhone that doesn’t make calls? But that’s what you get with AT&T! Thank you, I’ll be here all week) but I am totally on board with the tablet computer. Or the ebook. Or the slate thing. Or something-pad. Come to think of it, have we decided what these things are called?

Just before the iPad was announced, there was a lot of speculation as to what it would be called. Certainly it would use the lower-case “i” that Apple now inflicts on all its products, but suggestions ran rampant as to the noun that would follow it: iSlate was a strong contender, as was iTablet, and even iBook (though that seemed unlikely due to the existing MacBook). For Star Trek geeks, iPad certainly seemed like a direct steal from Next Generation, where the PADD (Personal Access Display Device) was ubiquitous.

Jokes about feminine hygiene products aside (and they weren’t that funny, honestly), iPad isn’t a bad name. It’s generic and yet ownable in the style we’ve come to expect from Apple: it’s not just a phone, it’s an iPhone! It’s not just a notebook, it’s a MacBook! So “iPad”, while not thrilling, get the job done – and more importantly, lets you know that it’s an Apple product.

Since the iPad hit the streets, a wave of tablet/slate/pad/book devices have hit the news, although few of them are actually available. The big money is on the Google, which was mentioned by a Verizon exec in May of this year. Maybe it’ll run Android, maybe not. But the combination of Google and Verizon effectively counters the two main complaints about the iPad and iPhone – the craptacular AT&T service and Apple’s paranoia about its OS. So far, the mythical Google device doesn’t have a name, I wonder whether they’re going to come up with something new, or try to extend the Nexus brand (Nexus Tablet, perhaps).

A quick survey of the competitive set shows a lot of variety in the names, including other “pad” names (Lenovo IdeaPad, MSI WindPad), several “book” names (Fujitsu Lifebook, HP EliteBook, MSI Slatebook), a couple that include the word “tablet” (Viewsonic VTablet, Archos 9 PC Tablet), and then a whole bunch of other stuff:

Samsung Galaxy
Notion Ink Adam
Dell Streak
Panasonic Let’s Note
Fusion Garage JooJoo
Halteron iLet
Entourage Edge
ICD Vega
Pandigital Novel
Qualcomm Mirasol

Any idea what a JooJoo is?

I found a lot of these products by doing a Google search on the words “tablet computers” and it looks like that’s the default designation right now. Of course Apple doesn’t ever call its iPad a tablet, but everyone else does, and a lovely picture of an iPad dominates the Wikipedia page about tablet computers. Tablets should not be confused with tablet PCs, which are pen-based, fully functional x86 computers with handwriting and voice recognition, according to Wikipedia, and there are even sub-categories of tablet PCs: booklets, slates, convertibles, and hybrids. If you are like me, your eyes have now glazed over and you’re back to wanting an iPad.

I like “tablet”. It’s good to have a word that focuses on the form factor, rather than the specific functionality; I think devices like the iPad are blurring the lines in terms of what counts as an ebook reader, a media viewer, and an oversized smartphone – and that’s not a bad thing. As for me, I don’t think I’ll be buying anything that connects – or, more accurately, doesn’t connect – to AT&T. I already have that with my iPhone.


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