Jun 21, 2012


a tablet and a laptop are two conceptually separate things which will probably have to evolve separately as long as keyboards are our primary method for entering text data. on a laptop, writing is possible, even easy (we do it all the time). on a tablet, regardless of the quality of the attached keyboard, writing is a pain. a tablet is primarily and optimally a device for consuming content, not for generating content. a laptop or desktop is relatively better for generating content and is okay for consuming it.

the tablet's native text input device is a virtual keyboard and other interactions occur through a touch-screen interface. this pulls the hand away from the keyboard even for minor navigation, as anyone who's ever tried to move a cursor in a block of text knows. worse, as implemented in the major tablet operating systems, virtual keyboards don't persist when users switch applications or views (nor should they persist, given the size of current virtual keyboards relative to tablet display sizes).

when entering and editing text is a major use case, both a keyboard touchpad (as on a laptop) or a mouse next to the keyboard (as with a desktop) are superior to touch interfaces for non-text entry interaction. i've brought only an ipad and a keyboard with me on several trips of various lengths, leaving the laptop at home. if i have to do any real work at all—writing, editing, really anything more than reading feeds and emails that require only short responses—the combination of ipad and keyboard is intolerable: it remains a tablet that needs you to touch its screen to navigate, except with a keyboard attached.

now, how about a tablet (with exclusively touch-oriented interaction) that might convert under some conditions to a keyboard- and touchpad-oriented tablet device? (such conditions being: a keyboard + pointer combination being attached, whether directly or over the air.) this would work, but only if the OS successfully switches interaction logics completely, from virtual keyboard+touchscreen to keyboard + pointer device. something like this is probably unlikely to come from accessory manufacturers, since it requires significant OS integration.

this means that surface is potentially quite interesting. but i am ready to have my heart broken again by technology and dumb UX decisions.

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