Lure of the tablet: No intimidation

Lure of the tablet: No intimidation

Summary: The average person uses a computer mostly at work, and finds them to be somewhat intimidating. Tablets feel familiar from the first time they are picked up, however.


The definition of a tablet may vary depending who you ask, but no one can question how popular the genre has become with mainstream consumers. The iPad kick-started a computing style that has resonated with millions of buyers over a short period. There are many reasons why tablets have taken the mainstream by storm, but none as pertinent as the fact most folks are less intimidated by tablets compared to computers.

Power users and those more tech-savvy than the average person on the street laugh at the thought that computers are intimidating. They are just sophisticated tools that can be used to do whatever needs to be done, and easily. Those folks are not the ones this article is referring to, and often are the ones who believe tablets belong in the hands of others, being mere toys.

Mainstream consumers see the computer in a totally different light. They are those complicated things that are used at work, and are approached with trepidation. God forbid the work computer should have problems, as that overwhelms many users. Calls to the IT department are downright nerve-wracking for many.

The tablet isn't viewed that way based on countless conversations I've had with many regular consumers. They aren't viewed as computers at all, even though tablets today can do many of the same things. Tablets are things they simply pick up and do stuff, without worry.

I see this mental distinction exposed in interesting ways by regular folk. When asked if they use the computer much at home, a common (and telling) response is often "no, just the iPad". More and more you can substitute Kindle Fire (or other tablet) in place of iPad in that statement, but the meaning is the same. Tablets are not viewed as even fitting in the same category as a computer, hence "just" the tablet.

That's a good thing for these people, because it's due to the lack of intimidation felt by using the tablet. They aren't viewed as computers or complicated, they are just tablets. Many tablet owners end up discovering through experience that the tablet can do a lot of the things those complicated computers can do, but without the fear.

This fear of computers will enter into the consumer reception of Windows 8 tablets due to appear later this year. Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 8 and the Metro interface to make them less intimidating. Metro apps will be bought on the tablet right from the app store, just like the competition.

Even with all the right moves being done for these new tablets-to-be, the Windows sticker may adversely affect the way the average person views them. Windows is one of the factors of intimidation that people have with computers, and Microsoft needs to deal with that. If prospective buyers view Windows tablets as computers, they will have to overcome the intimidation factor to consider them at all.

Power users are looking forward to Windows 8 tablets because they are computers, but that will be the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of prospective buyers will want to just pick them up and do stuff, and not computer stuff. If Microsoft and partners decide to market Windows 8 tablets as real computers, that will be a tragic mistake.

I can find no better example of the intimidation factor than my elderly mother. She has actively shunned computers and gadgets her entire life, as they scare her. When the iPad was first introduced, I handed one to her without saying a word (image above). She immediately began touching the screen, and with no prompting was looking at photos of her grandchildren in a few minutes. It was the very first time she had touched a computer of any kind, and only because it felt right.

Related: Seven ‘must have’ productivity apps for the iPad | Apple’s next-gen iPad: New battlefields emerge | Microsoft’s business pitch for Windows 8 depends on tablets | Apple’s New iPad In The Enterprise: Laptop Replacement Gets Closer | The new iPad’s great but what’s wrong with a good, inexpensive Android tablet? | CNET: New iPad hands on | CNET: All CNET iPad coverage (roundup) |iPad HD will surpass laptops on key features

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Huh

    "The average person uses a computer mostly at work, and finds them to be somewhat intimidating."

    What is this 1995?

    The average person has been using computers for more than a decade and most aren't really intimidated by them. My mother is 77 and she uses a laptop all the time and loves it!

    Anyway, the lure of tablets is portability.
    • You are wrong, JK is right.

      Your mother maybe. But I am seeing people who had no reason to use a computer, using and wanting to use an iPad.

      I knew a 90 year old that played WOW up until the day she died. But those kinds of people are few and far between.

      The iPad is opening up computing to people who would never have considered it before now.

      It's not really about computing it's about what people used to buy computers for. Communication.
      • Or he's right, and JK is wrong?

        as he's basing this off of his mother, not Peter Perry's mother.
        William Farrel
      • iPad and computing. Yeah, right!

        An iPad or any Android tablet use apps for computing. iPads and other tablets don't really do any computing. When you can use a tablet to write, debug and execute a 100,000 line program that actually does something other than play a game, then maybe I'll be a believer.
      • What you describe

        is not computing....
    • 1981

      I know a lot of people who don't use computers, never have and see no reason why they should get one - and that goes doubly for "fads" like mobile phones and tablets.

      They aren't interested in technology, they don't need or use a computer at work and they don't have a need for one at home either.

      They have their newspapers, television and books, what more do they need?
      • Yes, these people still exist but they are becoming rare

        Very few people do not have e-mail these days. Here's the point though, many, many computer owners use their computers for only a handful of things:

        1) e-mail
        2) browsing the web
        3) viewing photographs
        4) listening to music
        5) watching videos

        Having these capabilities used to mean owning a personal computer. Well, not any more. Apple may have started it all with the iPod Touch and then followed on with the iPhone and finally the iPad but the number of players in the tablet space is growing by the day.

        Consumer's see their tablets - not as computer (which they are) but as appliances, like their iPod or their cell phone. It might as well be a toaster.

        People like those who read this column will say, "$500 for a iPad! I can do so much more with a $500 laptop" but consumers will say, "Gee, for the same price as a laptop, I can get an iPad which does everything I need it to do!

        It is that perception that Microsoft must over come if it is to keep the average consumer from replacing their Windows notebook with an iPad or Android tablet.
        M Wagner
      • mwagner: You paint some rosy scenarios, but, reality is much more than

        what you propose.

        Look, the iPad and other tablets do have their place in the computing world, and that computing world is for the more limited needs, such as you described, but, once a person needs more than the media and social functions that those tablets meet, therein enters the more powerful computing formats that laptops and desktops and netbooks and ultrabooks. Those more powerful formats are not going away, and if anything, the tablets are evolving towards becoming the laptops of the future, with the same basic capabilities as the tablets of today, but with power and features comparable to the laptops of today, with the only thing that would be different being the tiny screens.

        But, the one area that you're absolutely wrong about, is the willingness of people to lay down $500 to $1000 for, basically, a toy that can do e-mail, web, photograph viewing, music, and videos. The price range that people would want with such toy-like devices, is more in the range of $100-$300, and that is where the tablets are heading. The only exception to that price range would be the tablets which will come complete with full laptop capabilities. Otherwise, you need to rethink the need for $500+ tablets.
      • @mwagner

        1) e-mail - they have never had e-mail and the post man comes every day.
        2) browsing the web - they have never seen the web, so they don't miss it. They have a library if they want to read more and they have TV and radio to inform themselves of what is going on, if they are interested.
        3) viewing photographs - they have cupboards full of photoalbums of their family going back generations.
        4) Music - they have the radio, their LP collection and TV...
        5) Videos - they have a TV, which they put on in the evening for a couple of hours, if at all.

        Other than that, they are at work, out in the garden, walking in the countryside or amusing themselves with one of their hobbies.

        As I said, they don't have any of these things, so they don't miss them and they see no reason why they would want these things.

        For us, it is very important to check in on tech blogs and news sites regularly, we communicate with social networks etc. but for a lot of people, those are time wasting activities, when we could be out doing "real" things instead.

        These people will see a $500 iPad and go "I could feed myself for several months on $500." "My lawnmower didn't cost $500" "$500 for that? Why would I want one?" "I could keep my car running for another year on that."
      • @adornoe: Some day you will learn to use tablets too

        It is amazing to read such statement from someone who claims to have decades of computing experience.

        The tablet is just like any other computer, an tool. It is an computer, in different form factor. Some tasks are more difficult to do on a tablet, but some tasks are way, way easier to do on a tablet (form factor) than on any other computer (form factor). It is that simple.

        I can understand your rage against tablets. By far the most successful tablet is the iPad, an product of a company you dislike.
        If Microsoft was making these and they were running Windows, no doubt you would be telling us over and over again that tablets are great, they are the future etc religious junk.

        As for the "will not go away": remember the IBM PC? IBM designed it so that it will be an smart terminal to their mainframes. At that time, any sane IT person would tell you "Computing on the IBM PC? You must be joking! Computing is done on the mainframe. There is no other way!!!". Now, have the mainframes gone away? No. They have however been reduced to run the tasks that absolutely require such kind of computer setup. So will happen to the form factors you describe.

        This story reminded me of an situation I had years ago. Should have been 1985, I think. In our University we had various personal computer classes (Apple ][, IBM PC, etc) and they had always specially designed person from the 'computing center' (staff, responsible for the IBM mainframes there) to oversee the classes. One day I was sitting on one of the IBM PCs and typing the code for some program. Since it was late and only me and that mainframe staff person were there, they decided to ask me questions about these strange PC computers. After various topics, we came to discuss what I was doing right now and what happens when I press a key.
        After I explained, that the text editor works in such a way, that when I press a key, the code for the key goes in the CPU memory, processed by the text editor, then is copied to the video memory so that I can see it.. I noticed that the person is staring at me. Then they said "wait, are you saying that when you type a key, it does straight to the MAIN memory of the COMPUTER?!?!" I said yes, the computer is here, in this box, it is only servicing my keyboard and my display -- it has nothing else to do until I command it something else, like compile or execute my program.
        "Oh, so this is not a toy, it is real computer" -- was all they could say.
    • Much more than just portability... it's ergonomics

      For most purposes, the touchscreen is the best interface there is for almost all types of creative endeavors. Art, music, photography, games, etc. are much more intuitive on a touchscreen. If you don't believe this, all you have to do is give a keyboard/mouse computer to someone who has never used one before and then give them a touchscreen device. Guess what? I have my doubts that any novice would pick the keyboard over the touch. Keyboards are based on centuries-old technology which had it's start in the era of mechanics. Touch is based on what we're born with, an important part of our five senses! We just naturally touch.

      But (here's the big but) when you're typing a novel, nothing beats a good keyboard... providing you know how to type well.
      • It all depends on the person.

        Different people are comfortable with different methods of communicating and creating. I'm a socially awkward introvert; I'd a hundred times rather type out a message on a keyboard than speak with someone on the phone, and don't even talk to me about webcams. I also prefer text over images for many purposes because I like a lot of information density, where I am given to understand many people have difficulty with this. The pinpoint precision of a mouse pointer is very comfortable to me.

        The lack of comfortable typing capacity aside, touch computing is also relatively imprecise and requires lower information density (too many things too close together on the screen and you'll constantly be activating the wrong item.) To me this equals a lot of wasted screen space, too much time spent scrolling, and an environment generally better suited to pictures than text. Or possibly voice input for some applications, which is something else I don't care for--I treasure my peace and quiet! Some types of touch displays, I'm told, won't even allow for the use of a stylus, which might make them a little more usable for me. So it's really not something I'm that interested in; the one tablet I've had a chance to play with (a very nice Samsung model) was more an exercise in frustration than an enjoyable experience.
      • Typing?

        You can type on a tablet, as well.

        ASUS, the maker of the ASUS Transformer tablets, even offers a docking station with regular keyboard for those users who prefer to use a regular keyboard over the screen version. Take the tablet on the go and leave the docking station home. When you feel like continuing that novel then dock it and type.
      • I argee

        A friend of mine just bought a Kindle Fire. His son, 2, watched Daddy for two days. By the third day, Dad was brave enough to let him hold it. At 2 years old, that boy can now navigate the icons, find and swipe through pictures, pick and play songs, and play *HIS* games...even the games, he's figured out!! With a diaper full of pee, he's showing me how to play Angry Birds. Then he switched over to the library, where he showed me his bookshelf.

        "Are you finished? Then turn if off and put it back on Daddy's desk."
      • Back to the Stone Ages again

        Re-read the article.
      • Even with touchscreens, tablets and smartphones are the least ergonomic

        of "computing" form-factors.

        Let's see: hold with one or both hands, then try to touch while holding with a hand that you have to manage to get free, and then, "typing" on miniscule keys or "make believe" screen "keyboards"? When it comes to ergonomics, NOTHING beats the desktops and laptops, especially the ones with real keyboards and large screens which don't require microscopes in order to read from them. Furthermore, desktop screens and laptop screens can be far more ergonomic than the tiny screens on mobile devices. All that's needed is for setting them on appropriate angles and distances from the user. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the argument of ergonomics is just being dreamed up by the anti-PC crowd, and it's not a real issue out there in the consumers' minds.
      • Worth2Cents: I'm not surprised about that 2-year old kid learning to use a

        Kindle so quickly.

        What many people don't realize is, that kids that age are learning faster than at any age in the rest of their lives, and, if you put a PC in front of them, they'll also learn that equipment fairly quickly. Kids are very observant, and they learn by watching and doing, just like older people, but, a lot faster. So, the case of the Kindle or the iPad that a "kid can learn quickly", is way overstated.
      • You see your last sentence ...

        it was the only thing that made any sense, because the fact a physical interface is better than a touchscreen for typing MIGHT imply that it is better for ALL 'creative endeavours'. How are you supposed to do pixel perfect art on a touchscreen? Games - are you serious? Only if you like Solitaire. I can't imagine playing Unreal Tournament on a touchscreen, Touch games are interesting diversions and nothing more - they are certainly incapable of supplanting a real computer or games console. I would hazard they are not intended to replace, but they are certainly not capable of it.
    • I agree with this article

      but can very clearly see why anyone who reads zdnet would not :P

      I have described this very thing in a slightly different manner before
      many people do not want a computer
      (and definitely do not want one in the home)
      but they do want FaceBook, and online shopping, and online TV, and maybe email or computer games.
      to those of us that have made computers part of our lives, we don't separate the idea of wanting these things from wanting a computer to do them.
      But those who have no desire to become computer savvy, may see no need for these things to be linked. I would be surprised if this is the future direction of "consumer computing" tablets and smart tv's etc. "Appliances" that allow "normal people" to get all the stuff (and soon more) that we have been taking for granted for ages.

      And yes, I will also support the view that many "normal people" (even those that work with/on computers every day) are constantly scared and/or confused by computers. ...How many zdnet readers have found themselves being "IT support" for a friend..?
    • Maybe not intimidated...

      Exasperated and irritated would probably be a better way to describe the average non-technical user's attitude towards computers. The complexity and quirkiness of a standard Windows-based interface just gets in the way of people doing what they want to do. Tablets strip away all that overhead and present users with a clean, intuitive interface. That, as much as portability, is the key to tablets' appeal.