My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

I kind of want a tablet--in 3 years

I have to say, I'm experiencing some strong technology lust for the new wave of Android 3.0 tablets, beginning with the Motorola XOOM, that are hitting the market. Future Shop's tech blog has posted some video reviews by rgbfilter that show off the XOOM, and there's a part of me that's saying, "Want. Want. Want." It's exciting to see competitors for the iPad running the first version of Android that's "optimized for tablets," and along with the release of the BlackBerry PlayBook, the tablet market is starting to get very interesting.

I have been somewhat sceptical of the niche tablets fill since the release of the original iPad. In retrospect, I think that was as much a reaction against the hype surrounding the iPad itself than any qualified evaluation of tablets in general. The idea that the iPad is a "game-changer" (whatever that means) was silly to me; yes, it's a significant new product, but tablets are still in their infancy. They haven't even started teething yet.

I've had my Samsung Galaxy S for about six months now, and I love it. This experience with an Android smartphone, and some good observations regarding the utility of tablets, such as this post by Peter Nowak, have caused me to change my mind. That is, I'm a little more excited by (and about) tablets now than I was last year, and I kind of want one.

But not yet.

My philosophical difficulties with Apple preclude me from ever owning an iPad. Still, I'll admit to lusting after the physical device itself--I've never had a problem with Apple's design, and I think the iPad is a beautiful device. So I've been watching with interest the emergence of competitors, and of course my own biases make me partial to the Android crowd. Nevertheless, I still can't justify buying a XOOM or similar device, because I'm just not willing to pay $600 for tablets as they are now.

I know some people are, obviously, and all the more power to them. I guess I just have to face that I am not an early adopter (except, apparently, when it comes to HTML5!). Perhaps if I had a legitimate need for a tablet, rather than the mere desire for one, then I would be more amenable to the price tag. When it comes to that sort of money, however, I force myself to be honest: I don't need a tablet right now. Between them, my venerable 4-year-old laptop and my shiny smartphone serve my needs. Sure, I can think of plenty of uses where a tablet would be more ideal--lately I've been bringing my phone into the living room when my dad and I watch TV, so I can sign into my IM client through it. I can see myself doing much more involved work on a tablet in that living room--coding, or writing blog articles--that just isn't practical on my smartphone's small screen and isn't comfortable with a laptop in the living room chair. Likewise, a tablet is a great portable compromise in those cases where I don't really need to bring my laptop to school but want more than just my phone.

(This last attitude, if anything, demonstrates the effect tablets are beginning to have. I suppose it's part of the "game changer" paradigm shift iPad enthusiasts want to see. Laptops used to be the pinnacle of portability; now they are big and clunky. Tablets are sleek and shiny and sexy. How the times change.)

So a tablet would be wonderful, but I don't need it; I just want it. And for me, $600 is too much to spend satisfying a want. Even $450 (the no-contract price AT&T is offering for the comparable Acer Iconia Tab A500) is rather much. If I had the extra money, perhaps I'd buy one anyway, but I would still hesitate and think long and hard. Tablets are just very young.

It's similar to my reaction to trying the first generation Kobo eReader last year. I love the idea of an eReader, but the technology isn't mature enough for me yet. Likewise, I love what I've seen of tablets so far, but I can envision them getting much better in a relatively short period of time. I imagine it's similar to how laptops began to proliferate throughout the 1990s; I still see people using really old Thinkpads, and all I can think is, "I admire you for using last year's model ... but wow, that's an old device." Of course, if I took this argument to its extreme, I'd never buy any technology, because "next year's model" is always around the corner and always better in some way.

But it all just comes back to a question of needs, wants, and opportunities. Why should I buy this year's tablet when I don't need it, especially if I decide next year I need a tablet and there are much better models available by then? This is not intended to be an anti-tablet polemic. I'm sure other people have plenty of legitimate reasons to buy existing tablets at their current prices, and I don't begrudge them that. I'm just expressing my own mixed feelings about my lust for a technology that's still very young and still improving in leaps and bounds. I want a tablet, but I also want a better tablet than what we have now. And since I don't need one right now, I'm willing to wait a little longer.