We speak of universal technology design as usability for anyone, of any age, in any situation. The fact is that differences in lifestyle can dictate requirements in a device. Take the masters of lifestyle marketing, Apple, as case in point. Their philosophy on the lifestyle of their users and how they interact with their mobile devices allowed them to single-handedly create the tablet category. I mean, we blinked and all of a sudden there was a burning desire for a device to use in the time we spend between our smart phones and our laptops. Advocates for universal design might say that the limited functionality and closed nature of the iPad system will be its downfall in the end, but I say that is exactly what makes them king of the category.
So how do you decide? Do you ‘need’ a tablet too? Ask yourself some questions. Do you want beautiful design, an easy and highly intuitive interface, a lightweight feel, seamless inter-working with the Apple product family, excellent video conferencing, and access to a huge app store? There is no contest, buy an iPad2.
On the other hand, would you like the tablet to be your only computing device? Do you rely on friends and family to provide remote technical support to help you through the tech-y bits? Would you like to share content without ever having to understand the term ‘jailbreak’ outside the context of the ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ movie? Then you definitely want to consider your alternatives.
Boiled down, if you want to use a tablet for all of your computing needs then a device other than the iPad will probably be a better choice. The iPad will not be sufficient because (a) it is designed to work with a computer so you will not be able to take advantage of any upgrades or exceed the device storage and (b) it does not give you access to all of the content on the Internet which can be very frustrating without another computer as a back-up resource.
The alternatives worth mentioning, like the Motorola Xoom and the Blackberry Playbook, are certainly slick devices and worthy competitors. However if you recognize yourself in the description in the previous paragraph then my suggestion is, if you can, wait. Apple’s competitors were so caught off guard, they need a bit of time to catch up. The best alternative for you will come but it will come from someone we weren’t really factoring into this space before they launched their Android App store a few weeks ago – Amazon. Amazon, like Apple, has a vast customer base wielding credit cards and they are going to monetize it with a tablet. They already have some experience with devices like the Kindle and I think they will come up with a smart and sexy alternative to the iPad for these users with slightly different requirements.
So don’t get rid of that temperamental laptop or the hulking desktop just yet. Amazon hasn’t officially announced a launch but we should be seeing it later this year when you will likely have a few others to compare as well. You don’t know it yet, but the answer is clear, you need one. Happy tablet hunting.