I decided to follow-up my previous post about BarCamp with another incident that has been bothering me since Saturday.
I attended a group discussion about the viability of a tablet market outside of the Apple environment. I missed the first few minutes of the session so I am not sure what the exact premise was but I gathered that the argument was this: “There is not a general market for tablet computers and the only reason the iPad is so successful is that it is an Apple product”. In other words, other manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, HP, and the like are producing iPad competitors in a market where nobody wants anything other than the iPad. The discussion flowed in and around this premise but it basically became an argument over whether or not the iPad and tablets in general had any real value in the overall computing world.
I sat and listened for a while and noticed there was one particular guy that just couldn’t stand the idea that tablet computers existed. He showed visible and audible disdain when anyone had anything good to say about the iPad. For him a notebook with a full keyboard was the only proper portable computing device. He fit the general stereotype of the geek who thinks he knows everything. Personally I thought it was very unprofessional behavior for someone at a conference supposedly made up of tech professionals. Anyway, the discussion continued and the debate shifted to what type of person a tablet computer would appeal to. At this point someone, and I don’t remember who, said that tablets are for people who don’t want to think. This is when I made the following statement.
“Why should you have to think…”
I was instantly cut off by the stereotypical geek guy mentioned above who couldn’t contain his laughter. He blurted out sarcastically, “HA…why should you have to think?” and followed that up with rolling of the eyes and a little huffing. Again, here was the guy who obviously thought no one should need anything other than a notebook with a full keyboard and everything else was a joke. I was personally offended by this behavior but I let it slide. It wasn’t worth calling someone out in a forum like that but internally I was seething.
I never got to finish my point but I am going to do it here because I still believe it is valid. My point was to be that why should a consumer device, including a computer, require any specialized skills or thought to use? Isn’t that what makes a good product? The ability to pick up a device and use it without having to have years of technical experience is a sign that the device has been well designed with usability in mind. I think that is why all iOS devices do so well in the market. They are designed to be simple. Tablets, and iOS devices in particular, fill a need in the market for computing devices that are designed to do a few things very well. There is no doubt that notebooks are more useful and have many advantages over tablets but there are thousands if not millions of people out there that don’t need the breadth of functionality that a notebook or a desktop provide.
At some point before the end of the session it was pointed out that the iPad was not made for geeks. That statement was right on and deserved to be talked about a lot more than it was. The iPad and its competitors are not made for people who care about processor speed, storage space, command line interfaces, or anything else that get those of us in the technical fields really excited about technology. Those devices are made for everyone else. They are made for people who want to enjoy the experience of the Internet but who don’t care about how it works and quite frankly there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it is wonderful because it brings more people into our world and helps grow technology and inspire new and creative uses for the things we geeks seem to care so much about. Plus, it is not like notebooks are going to go away. They will always be there when someone wants a little more out of their computing experience than a tablet can provide. Ultimately, however, the iPad and other tablets are consumer devices designed to be dead simple to use are not intended to replace notebooks . If someone stops using a notebook in favor of an iPad then they never really needed a notebook in the first place. They just didn’t have an option before now. The way I see it, this is a good thing. Technology should fit the way a person needs or wants to use it and not the other way around.
I think the problem that many geeks seem to have with tablets and any device that doesn’t require electrical engineering experience to operate has to do with a sense of entitlement. We seem to think technology is our “thing”. Technology for many is a refuge and for a long time it was the only place we could feel comfortable and be surrounded by people like us. As technology becomes more accessible to the masses there are some in the field that see the thing that makes them unique disappearing and in a way it is frightening. Is this why devices that make technology accessible to the general public are often scoffed at by technical professionals? Do they see the one thing that has been their own being drained away? It is an interesting question but what I have seen personally is that the more “technical” a person is, the more likely they are going to be to dismiss anything that doesn’t require that level of knowledge to use and the more likely they are going to be to look down on others who don’t care or need to have the same level of knowledge. Geeks are just as territorial as anyone else it seems.
My point is simply this: Technology doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated in order to be useful. If something doesn’t require a lot of thought to be amazing it is not too bad a thing.