Dropping That PC for a Tablet? Not So Fast!

Dropping That PC for a Tablet? Not So Fast!

Consumers are dumping laptops and desktops in favor of tablets, responding to the so-called “post-PC” era, but the change may come with more challenges than people think.

Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.

Already Apple’s newest iPad is stoking the tablet fire, prompting many to take the plunge and raising questions about how the latest device impacts traditional computing habits. If tablets are, as many analysts proclaim, ushering in the “post-PC era,” what does that mean for regular people?

For example, my 78-year-old father proclaimed last week he was getting an iPad 2. Being a child of the Great Depression, he couldn’t pass up the value-priced $400 Apple tablet.

A tablet would be a big, but necessary, step. Being somewhat tech-averse, he let his desktop get overrun with viruses, which made it too slow and difficult to navigate, especially for the main reasons he used it — e-mailing and Internet browsing. A tablet offered a fresh start as well as a much-touted ease and convenience for the basic tasks he does.

I was impressed with my dad’s willingness to try to keep up with the tech curve. But that quickly gave way to concern once he said, “Now I can get rid of my Internet provider.” Like most consumers, Dad is not a fan of the bundling of cable, phone and Internet from his provider, and always suspected down deep they were ripping him off. But the comment reflected a common misunderstanding of just what the transition to an iPad tablet would require, and highlights other considerations.

My brother helped him with the purchase, which now included not just a Wi-Fi enabled iPad 2, but a router, service to install home Wi-Fi, and breaking the bad news that he would still need an Internet provider. My father didn’t get the 3G version of the iPad 2 for a variety of reasons many looking to replace a desktop or laptop probably share: he didn’t want a contract — he didn’t need a constant connection and the monthly fees would be higher.

In other words, for Dad, and likely many others, transitioning out of PCs into tablets is easier said than done, no matter what the analysts say.

Yet the hoopla and fanfare over this transition is playing out in the media and in slick marketing campaigns, at a time when everyday people are trying to figure out what the transition means for them, their devices and the bottom line. The technology proceeds at such a breakneck speed, making it hard for consumers to understand what device can be replaced and which features best suit their needs, amid the noise of pie-in-the-sky innovations that are super cool, but better observed from afar (at least for now).

In other words, consumers need to understand the strengths and limitations of tablet devices, as well as think about what they want to use the devices for, to better judge if the transition is right for them.

Rather than a death knell, tablets may be the next evolution for the PC. Functions like e-mail, surfing, gaming, and social networking make the tablets similar to a PC, just in a different package, which boasts its own advantages.

The biggest edge is portability. The weight and size difference between a laptop and a tablet is a strong selling point to both on-the-go workers who carry the increasingly preferred device with them to the workplace as well as stay-at-home users who play games on the tablet in the family room, shop from the device in the living room, and browse the Web or read from their tablets in the bedroom.

The majority of tablets, and certainly iPads, have a battery life that is far better than laptops, enabling extended use, and giving occasional laptop owners another incentive to cut the cord. But those who work intensively on laptops, like writers, designers, accountants and others, may find tablets complement their tech collection for other uses, but can’t yet replace the productivity a laptop provides.

Still, while tablets may not have the versatility of a laptop, their larger displays lend themselves better to productivity tasks and entertainment viewing, especially when compared to a smartphone.

Those growing accustomed to mobile entertainment on smartphones, but looking to take it to the next step, could find a good fit with recent additions from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Both Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, are connected to the retailers’ huge content libraries, which are designed with entertainment at the forefront and connect to the retailers’ huge and varied content libraries.

These devices, with their affordable $200 and $250 price range, coaxed many interested consumers off the fence to give them a try in huge numbers this holiday season. As consumers gain experience with these tablets, they will likely become increasingly comfortable with the devices and consider them an essential gadget.

More people are adding tablets to their personal technology collections alongside smartphones, desktop PCS and laptops, and to entice them, companies are tailoring the mobile devices to a wide range of different activities and preferences, adding to the challenge.

Consumers need to do what they always should do before making any major purchase — think how they plan to use the device in their daily life and look for the best product with those features at the best price. After all, there really is no single mobile computing device for everyone, but with the variety of tablets available and increasingly affordable price points, more people might find it a good time to give the mobile gadget a whirl.

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