What's Next for the Tablet?

May 22 2011, 7:13pm CDT | by , in Rumors | Tablets

What's Next for the Tablet?

Evolution is on the way.

I've spent most of 2011 playing with, thinking on and writing about a whole host of different tablet computers. Some ran Windows or Android, there's the TouchPad with its webOS and even a few MeeGo slates. I own an iPad 2 and a PlayBook, and- in all- I've been thoroughly converted to the Tablet Side. This is the (near) future of personal computing.

But it's missing something.

Robust video and image editing software is still a generation off. The iPad has a host of apps that duplicate a few functions of something like Photoshop. But all of them lack depth of functionality. The advent of mobile quad-core processors- rumored to hit in 2012, should lend modern tablets the processing power to run more powerful editing programs. iOS already has a quite solid video editing application.

On both my iPad and my PlayBook, I frequently run into websites that simply won't load the right way. This isn't always a Flash issue either. Logging in to certain forums is a real pain, and even cloud-based services like Google Spreadsheet are often fraught with problems. It's a little surprising that, after years of waiting, there still isn't a single mobile device that can handle Flash without significant issue.

The PlayBook is the best mobile device I've seen at rendering Flash videos, and it still forces me to reload pages multiple times before they'll work. The iPad has mostly gotten around this issue. The Hulu and YouTube apps work exceedingly well, which is more than I can say for RIM's tablet.

My excitement for Android tablets stems from the potential of the App Market. Apple won't let developers build apps that duplicate core functions, but Android has no restriction against that. Which means we're on the cusp of a great flowering of tablet apps built to improve the browsing experience and offer expanded functionality for media playing and communication.

We're still waiting for a major breakthrough in tablet UI. iOS is stark and simple, but not all that far-removed from your desktop. Android's widgets seem closer to ideal, and the gesture-based UIs of the PlayBook and TouchPad seem to be onto something. But the large, multitouch screen form-factor screams for a more dynamic interface. I think BumpTop is the closest to "right" I've seen. (And since BumpTop was acquired by Google, we're likely to see much more from them soon.)

More powerful processors and higher RAM complements will allow UIs that react and adapt to your every moment. The current generation of UIs are very static, and I can't help but feel that this is only due to current hardware limitations. Once enough power can be delivered efficiently, without hobbling the battery, tablets are bound to take a step up.

The tablet form-factor succeeds now because it is new, flashy and much more comfortable for extended use than a laptop, smartphone or desktop. But designers are only starting to scratch the surface of what a tablet computer can be. The early success of RIM's PlayBook is evidence that there's room for more than Apple out there. It's been a slow start for Android but Samsung's 10.1" Tab is an improvement over the 7" tab- and the Xoom.

We're due for another wave of tablets this Fall and Holiday season. They'll be slicker, smoother and faster than the first half-hearted jabs we saw at CES this January. And, by CES 2012, I expect we'll see some truly interesting developments coming from outside of the iPad platform.

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