Do I Need a Tablet?

Do I Need a Tablet?The tablet computer has come a long way since its early days running Windows XP and requiring a stylus to operate. What was once a tool for doctors and other medical professionals who needed to enter information while standing next to a patient’s bed has now become a best-selling platform for consumers and small businesses.

While visiting my local big-box electronics store the other day, I overheard a college student telling her parent, “I need an iPad so I can take notes in my classes.”

This phrasing struck me as unusual since almost every class I’ve seen either doesn’t allow computers or allows laptops. Surely a Windows laptop running $300-500 would cover the vast majority of a typical college student’s needs? Have tablet computers (like the iPad) become a staple for modern university attendees?

Do You Really Need One?

I have a tablet. In fact, I’ve bought several since the original iPad came out a few years ago. Currently, there is a Sony Tablet S (Android ICS) sitting on my coffee table in the living room. I use it to browse the Web while watching movies with my wife. It also comes in handy from time to time when I’m traveling as it lasts longer on battery power than my laptop and can be used just about everywhere.

What would my life be like without a tablet? Could I do what I do without one? Absolutely!

Tablet computers, while incredibly innovative and fun to use, are still a luxury for the vast majority of people using it. It’s not something you “need” so much as something you really want. A mobile phone is hardly a necessity when you think about it. Almost everything you could possibly want to do on a tablet can be done on either a laptop or a smartphone. The tablet space as it exists today is in its infancy. It still hasn’t decided exactly what it wants to be yet.

Tablet as a Primary Computer

For some users, the tablet has replaced their laptop and/or desktop. Carrying around an Android or iOS tablet is a great way to maintain easy access to your information, and the removal of any desktop sync requirements makes the transition from one to the other easier.

If you ask Microsoft, a tablet will eventually replace the laptop for most users. That’s obviously its target with the upcoming Surface tablets, complete with keyboard and USB ports for external storage and a mouse. This shift won’t happen overnight, despite the radical changes taking place on the Windows platform to accommodate it.

Apple, on the other hand, is still maintaining a degree of separation between tablets and desktops. The iPad can perform a variety of tasks from basic Web browsing to video editing, but it still isn’t capable of running full-featured desktop apps available on OS X. At least, not yet.

We may be five years away from the tablet becoming a truly viable primary computer for most normal users. At that point, I’d probably consider a tablet to be a necessity. Right now, though… not so much.

What do you think? Do you need a tablet computer? Is it a requirement for your day-to-day tasks or simply just a convenience? Is there anything you can do on a tablet that you can’t do on a smartphone or laptop?

Photo: Caesar Wong