Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

Summary:Pundits are willing to declare the PC on the way out, and the tablet taking over. Convincing the majority of the marketplace to lose the keyboard may be a lot harder than folks realize.

The post-PC era may be underway, but that means different things to mainstream consumers than it does for tech-savvy folks. Many think the conventional PC is on the way out, both desktops and laptops, in favor of the popular tablet. If that is indeed what defines a post-PC era, then in simpler terms it means losing the keyboard in favor of touch screens. Therein lies the rub, as that pesky keyboard may prove harder to ditch than pundits realize.

My recent analysis concerning how few folks can go all-in with tablets has generated a lot of interest. Some folks believe the physical keyboard is not important, as some people don't create a lot of content. There is some truth in that, but many still need to create content, either personal or for work. While onscreen keyboards on tablets are actually pretty good, they cannot replace the old QWERTY standby for pounding out lots of text.

Tablets can easily be paired with physical keyboards for heavy lifting in the content creation department. I do it myself almost every day. I have the best of both worlds with this arrangement-- convenience of the tablet most of the time, and ability to get busy with text entry when needed. I wouldn't trade this setup for the world, it works so well for me, but for average users this is beyond what they are willing to do.

See also: Evernote: Secret weapon for writing anywhereTypical day in the life of the iPad 25 good productivity apps for the iPad 2; Evernote for iPad: Latest update broke wireless keyboard support

The techie crowd sees the benefit of my method for using the tablet, that is not in question. These are the same folks already ordering the ASUS Transformer Prime due out next month. A tablet plus a keyboard is as good for the tech-savvy crowd as it is for me.

The problems are "real" users, the mainstream consumer who wants things as simple as possible, do not like multiple components to do what they need to do. Through many conversations with this group, they have made it clear to me they don't mind having both a notebook and a tablet to do everything they want to do. When it comes to simply using the tablet and a physical keyboard, I get a resounding "NO!" They comment favorably about my own iPad 2/ Logitech Keyboard Case combo, but are adamant that's too much trouble for them.

An external keyboard requires having a second piece along with the tablet. While some keyboard models handle this by becoming a case for the tablet, folks tell me they do not like this arrangement. On top of having to deal with a second gadget, they would also have a second gizmo to keep charged. This seems to be the major deal breaker, as consumers already have to deal with keeping phones and tablets charged. It seems like such a minor thing to me, but these conversations with regular people tell me it's a big deal to many of them. Throw in the inability to use these wireless keyboards during flights and it is game over.

While it's easy to get past the lack of a keyboard on tablets, I am convinced it is not something the many are willing to do yet. I suspect the laptop isn't going away any time soon, and not until a solution to deal with that missing keyboard comes along that is palatable for tablet owners.

See also:

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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