Recycled Computing

Improving Tablets: Why Not a Slider Keyboard?

- 2012.02.20

What is it with Apple? I'm not going to second guess them again.

This past winter I spent some time working the Christmas season for a big box store. Yes, we sold lots of iPads, but the biggest seller was tablets of all sorts. They were the item to buy this past Christmas.

This market would not be in existence if Apple had not released the iPad.

iPad with New York Times appSo how is my first generation iPad doing? Just fine, thank you. I still use it for cruising the Web, watching Netflix and videos I have in my iTunes Library, and playing Free Cell.

It has replaced my laptop when I go on a day trip, and when I go on vacation, it is the mobile device I bring. I haven't used it as much with my camera as I thought I would, but that's maybe because I just haven't been taking a lot of pictures lately.

Even though iPads are dominating the tablet market - and who are we mere mortals to question the gods - the drawbacks of the iPad are well known. And the competitors of the iPod have addressed some of these drawbacks, like USB support, connectivity without that darned dongle, and support for an SD Card for something other than photos.

But - and this is my but - I don't see another tablet manufacturer doing anything more than trying to make another iPad. Why not take a clean sheet of paper approach? When customers asked me to explain the difference between a tablet and an entry level computer, the first thing I mentioned was that a computer had a keyboard. Despite Apple's belief that the electronic keyboard would satisfy iPad users, I think that it shorts academic and business users.

You really need a keyboard to do any lengthy typing. Business users need to write memos and reports; students need to type essays and term papers. Yes, Apple did not really intend the iPad to take the place of a laptop, but remember, this is a blank piece of paper exercise. If you can provide a physical keyboard, your portable device is set to dominate the education and business markets.

lots of mobile phones have slider keyboardsHow to accomplish this? I hate my cellphone, but it has a sliding keyboard that is designed for texting. Why not use a slider to add a keyboard to a tablet? It's not ideal, and it's not in the Apple clean design handbook, but it could move tablets into markets that the iPad and its imitators are not in and retain that touch screen and size. When you are done typing, the keyboard slides back under the screen. No separate keyboard to put away or remember to take with you.

This industry has always been driven by Apple innovation, and rightly so. But the burden of innovation lies on others. So I urge the other tablet makers to stop making iPad clones, look forward, and make the next big thing. You have to swing for the fences.

Maybe my idea is silly or impractical. But why not dream of what could be? Of course, I'd also put in a USB port, an SD Card reader, and a replaceable battery. After all, it's my blue sky pipe dream. LEM

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