For a while now, I have been wondering when the laptop would become dated technology and we would all switch to tablet-like devices with keyboards. Cost-wise, it would be another move to make computing more accessible. Usability-wise, I really enjoy the experience where you can tap a screen and type. I got an HP laptop a while back that had this functionality and it was a fantastic user experience. I adapted to it right away. I have been wondering when Apple would include this feature in its own devices and create a type of hybrid tablet/computer experience.
My tale starts with me needing a new laptop for work. My previous one had sticky-key-itis. Every day, a new key would stick on the keyboard and I'd type random characters at random times, from spaces, special letter characters for foreign languages, all sorts of things. It's not like I spilled anything on the keyboard. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When the keys would come off, there would be a bunch of dust with the rubber-plastic stuck to the key mechanism as if it were squished. Everything was super dry and sticky from plastic being dusty in occasional damp air. Nothing sugary, sticky sweet was there.
During this process to get the new computer configured, I had to wait for the IT guys to transfer my files. I figured this would be a great time for me to get current and see what the experience is like to use a tablet only for a few days.
The verdict: It was not entirely productive.
Here are the apps and sites I used and why my experience was challenged.
General insight: What made the tablet work experience shocking in general was the degraded experience that many apps transferred to a tablet. To me, a tablet is nothing more than a smaller laptop. A user should be able to do anything he does on a laptop on a tablet. But that's not exactly what happened. It was as if the tablet was considered to be a sub-par device to these companies, which isn't true. In my view, it's computing-lite. Not computing-none. Everything should work the same as a laptop/desktop more or less, or at least that was my expectation since tablets are a 10+ year old technology.
Selecting text. What a pain in the a**. I'd tap, go to select the string I wanted, and either get too much text string or not enough (we're talking paragraph or letters). I prefer this experience on my phone. Why not let me tap to select a word and then select more or less? So annoying. I don't understand how my phone has a better experience of this than my tablet. It's the same software managing the experience. Ridiculous.
Powerpoint. I use Powerpoint often to summarize issues and make my ideas and proposals simpler to explain. It's one of my go-to apps. The problem was that I couldn't just tap the screen and edit slides. A slide had default text that instructed me to double tap it to edit the text. To me, that made no sense. I would think single tap for text, double tap for formatting. However, if I would tap onscreen, I'd get a popup that would make me select "Edit Text" or other key Powerpoint functionality to edit a slide. It was a complicated experience. I also work in tables often in Powerpoint. At times, I couldn't select text in the table for the same reason. I'd tap the square and it would highlight the square for formatting rather than editing text. I finally had enough and decided to wait for my computer to be ready to update my client slides, nevermind my webinar slides.
Microsoft Word. I use this often on the tablet already. This experience worked as expected. You tap, write, and edit. It's actually pretty easy.
Dropbox with Microsoft. I like how this works. Microsoft got it right with autosave using their app with Dropbox. Now if they could only do this for files saved to the laptop/desktop through their apps (they still don't have this down right). I found it interesting that they couldn't get the laptop file autosave function working properly but they can manage it for the app/Dropbox experience, even on the laptop. The inconsistency between experiences blew my mind. I expected consistency across the board - all file sources, all platforms. Again, this is 10+ year technology. They should have worked this out by now.
Evernote. Another go-to app. I love how they setup their experience so the tablet app and desktop app are the same. It's a perpetual keeper.
Email. It was functional. No real complaints here.
Web apps like PivotalTracker: Not even usable on a tablet. I would type and the text would appear after a long lag time - like 30 seconds. I had to get the app for future use. And I'm not sure why the Web app was that challenging to use on the tablet for both Safari and Chrome. I also had fewer features accessible to me. For example, I couldn't copy the story link to use to associate with story text in an email. It was just difficult all around. Disappointing for a software development company that works on an Agile product. You'd think they would have worked this out.
Google mail. My primary complaint: why couldn't I add bullets to an email? I had a horrible time with this in the app and on Chrome for tablet. I couldn't format text beyond bold or italic. Again, the same question - why is the browser app experience that different on a tablet? It makes no sense and I'd expect better from Google. They have a sea of usability experts there - why allow such different experiences to exist on platforms. The phone is great, the desktop is great - why should tablet be any different?
Adobe Comp. Interesting app! I like the idea of it, but I had a hard time drawing, tapping, and dragging. Maybe I'm too used to InDesign and Photoshop? I need to give it more of a chance I think.
What did I learn?
- We need to make sure that any Web apps we develop can be used on a tablet. The expected experience should be the same between desktop and tablet. There is no excuse anymore for a different experience given a tablet is really nothing more than a smaller laptop with less processing power.
- Make sure that the tablet device will support easy access to the main function someone wants to have. For a slide, the main function is NOT editing the design; its updating text. Make that simple. At the same time, allow someone to easily edit the design, but don't make it harder to edit text than necessary.
- Don't create web apps that require such extreme resources that using it on a tablet makes it not usable. Any app should be usable on a tablet through a browser. If there is that much complexity to the app that it is difficult to use on a tablet browser, revisit the app architecture (front and back ends).
- I tried to design on the tablet but it wasn't a pleasant experience. Lots of tapping, hard to grab and item and move it. There still is work to be done for tap and hold design.
All in all, tablet experiences still have a long way to go before they are really mainstream. I can see why we still need the laptop. Actually, I was overjoyed when the Apple repair store told me my computer was ready. I couldn't wait to get my computer to start working again like a normal person.
Although I love my laptop, I also love my tablet. It lets me write in cafes or brainstorm on the go. I also get to watch my movies on it and take a whole library of books with me wherever I go. But for the time being, maybe that's as good as it gets until the software catches up and I can be more productive and truly work anywhere.