Sunday, February 26, 2012

Next Year's Commodore64?

I bought a tablet computer.  I work in IT, so I should probably know what these devices are all about.  A refurbished Toshiba Thrive, an android tablet, sold online at a cutrate price.

I have had it for about three weeks, and I am still identifying where it fits.  I have watched work colleagues use their iPads at meetings as note-taking devices.  One compatriot used to carry a notepad portfolio and one or two manila files to every meeting.  This meant shuffling of papers, referring to agendas and background documents, and eventually covering six square feet of space on the table in front of him.  He now uses his iPad to take notes, and includes any agendas and background docs electronically on the device.  Others use both paper for making notes, and the iPad to reference for email or other documents.

The visual is variant.  Most prop their iPads at a low angle using the flexible cover; others keep the device totally flat.  The tablets do not create a wall in front of them, in the same manner as laptops or netbooks.  But users can still seem distracted as they type, one-fingered, on the electronic keypad that covers half the screen.

 Anyone who carries one, however, have generally left all the other stuff behind.  Seemed like a good mode of operations.

These seem to be most effective as consumption devices.  Apps are freely available for movies, books, magazines – most of which, naturally, require payment.  I can read all variations of my email, from personal to work sources.  Basic games like solitaire, Words with Friends, the ubiquitous Angry Birds games, are nicely arranged and colorful.

One of the most popular functions are news aggregators, essentially RSS feeds from major publishers that appear as small pics with headlines, or magazine links, that will expand to full articles when tapped.  Sites like Pulse, GoogleReader, Freely give me the ability to designate favorite subjects – news, opinion, technology, baseball, art, etc – and will present scores of articles or sources in one instance.  Just scroll forever.

And therein, thus far, is the most interesting issue with these devices – they can present a flood of information.  There are thousands of apps to choose from.  Many of them can point you to sites on the internet that present me with thousands of activities, games, scores, things to read, things to watch, things that lead to other things, things to buy.

My 10inch screen can be the physical incarnation of TMI, Too Much Information.  I can’t focus or filter if the pixels keep pointing to multiples of pictures, words, shadows and lights.

I have actually downloaded certain apps a few times, only to remember, wait, I already tried that one, so I delete it again.  I was really anxious to access one of the major poetry sites, only to discover that it uses a wheel-like method of switching between screens – it spins from one category of poems to another, as if the letters were a slot machine.

I downloaded four major note-taking apps so far, each of them with the same feature sets, each of which can store my notes in some cloud-storage facility in an undisclosed location – but still accessible with my tablet, desktop, laptop, netbook, or smartphone.  And yet, I have to touch-type my way thru the tablet’s keyboard to create the note.  Not ready to accept that as an endeavor at a meeting, I guess.

I was not concerned with form factor of the device at this point.  The Thrive is actually thicker than most tablets, but contains a full-sized USB port instead of the micro-USB and a full slot for a memory card.  It operates the same as all the other Android tablets, and has access to the same vats of apps.  None of them -- including the iPad -- can multitask.

So far, then, this is an impulse method of discovery.  I read a list of ‘best apps’ online, find them in the app store, download and try them.  They then get lost in the clutter of unsorted miniature boxes on my screen.

But I suppose all of this is fitting.  I bought the tablet on impulse on Woot, the ultimate one-day impulse website:  hurry before they run out, or more urgent, before they become obsolete.

Too late.