I have a confession to make.

The Surface is here, the iPad is everywhere, Jeff Bezos is promoting Kindle Fires again and tablets of all kinds are guaranteed to fly off the shelves on Black Friday and beyond.

But I still don’t want one.

Am I nuts?

I’ve heard the arguments for a couple years now. Tablets are more interactive then smart phones, more portable than laptops. They are sleek, sexy devices that are a pleasure to use, do away with that primitive mouse and satisfy a mass-market need for something that sits between the communications capable smartphone and the work horse computer — but can make the best of both.

Photo via Bigstock

I get it. I do. But even after my husband upgraded to the new iPad, and I made him promise to share it with me if I wanted it, I’ve barely touched it.

“You must be so good at this keyboard, being a writer and all,” a friend told me as his fingers flicked across his iPad screen. Yeah, probably. I mean, I can use my iPhone keyboard without looking. But I was too embarrassed to admit that I really have no idea.

Am I missing something? Or are these hottest of hot tech devices really, truly not for me?

I went to the Microsoft and Apple stores at University Village this week to hear the official take on why I should take the tablet plunge.

Since I already use mostly Apple products, I figured Microsoft would be the better place to get a first, fresh perspective. I made for the Surfaces on a table nearest the door. Within seconds, an employee asked if I needed help.

I explained my predicament. I don’t own a tablet. I haven’t wanted a tablet. I have a laptop I adore and a smartphone that’s practically a fifth limb. But every day I see more people get these things and fall in love. Am I missing out?

The subtext, I think, was clear: Sell me on this. Please. My geek ego will thank you.

He started by laying out the differences. Between the Surface and, in Microsoft’s case, the Windows Phone, it’s size. The Surface has a bigger screen, obviously, and more storage. There’s also a USB port and a micro HDMI slot, plus Microsoft Office 2013, preinstalled. Good news for us writers, he noted, having no idea I’d abandoned desktop word processors years ago.

Between the Surface and a PC, the difference is portability, and, if you want it, separability. You know how in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise can split into a battle bridge and saucer section? (You do, right? All of you? Good.) That’s what I thought of when I saw him snap the tablet off its attachable keyboard– which doubles as a cover— and back on again.

The Surface can’t run legacy apps — like Photoshop — that aren’t available on the Windows Store. That’s another difference. Apart from that, thanks to its ports, that optional keyboard and the fact that you can load a traditional desktop along the beautiful tiled Windows 8 interface, it can pretty much play the part of laptop PC.

I’d been thinking of the tablet as a “third” device. But as another Microsoft Store employee put it, you can think of the Surface, compared to a laptop, as being “like a sandwich without the crust.” It can easily replace my laptop.

Put another way, if I like my crusted laptop sandwich just fine — and I think do — I might already have what I need.

Would Apple make me think different? I have the iPhone 5 and am surrounded by Apple geeks, so I didn’t need the iPad grand tour when I went across the street. Still, I snagged an associate, who snagged another associate, and I relayed my tablet woes.

Since I knew the specs, she conducted the interview. What do I do? I write. Do I move around a lot? A funny question in the age of mobile, but yeah. Sure. What computer do I use? An 11 inch MacBook Air.

Oh, she said. Well that’s pretty light already.

She went on to talk about how the iPad is even more portable, and of course gorgeous and fun to use. As I listened, I got the sense her pitch would be a lot stronger if I used a heavy, bulky machine, or even — shudder — a desktop.

So let’s review. My laptop is portable. My phone is slim and fit. I work light with words, not heavy with code or music or gargantuan files. I browse the Web just fine on my big screen and my little one.

I’ve heard tablet fans say that their devices are perfect for those moments when they want to do something on a bigger screen, but they don’t want to open their laptops. If I had to diagnose myself, I’d say I just I don’t think I’d have those moments. The Air is quick to grab and power up, when I have someplace to sit with it. When I don’t, the iPhone works great.

If I’m nuts, I guess it’s because for someone who lined up in the wee hours for an iPhone — twice —I’m being uncharacteristically practical.

I drove away unmoved and oddly disappointed. I didn’t want a tablet, and dammit, I still don’t.

Big touch screens are fun. But not $500 fun. Not to me. Not yet.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/joelgrus Joel Grus

    I’m the same way. We have an iPad, but I’d always rather use either my phone or my laptop.

  • http://twitter.com/kavla Kav Latiolais

    I’m right there with you Monica. I have a first generation iPad that I use for sketching UI and designs from time to time but my laptop is far more frequently useful. Perhaps it is simply the fact that I feel guilty consuming content all the time and so am driven to create more, which tablets generally suck at? It may just be that I don’t browse the net and watch TV; the tablet’s home turf.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That might be one of the other things holding me back. Often when I read something, it moves me to create something. I have quick ways of doing that on a laptop, but haven’t been sure about the tablet. Plus, when I write, it’s all cut, copy, tab, tab, tab, write, edit, tab. If it’s not quick, I’m less productive.

  • Eugenio

    IMHO, if you do not find a use for a tablet, you shouldn’t get one. I’m an android sheep, have had the galaxy S II for about a year, and ever since, I use my laptop about 20% of what I usually did. Screen is a great size for browsing, small enough to fit in my pockets, and, with Jelly Bean, it is way smarter than what I need. The snap-on keyboard is the only thing that MIGHT make me think of changing my mind, other than that, anti-tablets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Christensen/676694755 Mike Christensen

    When the desktop computer first came out, people had the same complaints. “So.. you can like.. write things? Like a type writer, only 10x the cost.”. It wasn’t until someone came along with the first spreadsheet program where people caught on and knew they finally *needed* one of these devices. It was the killer app that proved the viability of the platform. Just like the search engine was the killer app for the Internet.

    I think tablets are too new to have a killer app yet. Right now, everyone just sees them as a PC or a cell phone, wrapped in a different form factor. They see the same use cases, like email and web browsing and writing GeekWire posts. I think the platform is promising, though I agree with you that there hasn’t been that “a-ha” killer app moment yet.. But it’s coming.. And that’s why technology is so fun, we get to see these things evolve from useless to bleeding edge to geek to mainstream.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      You’re probably right. Definitely agree there hasn’t been one killer app to come to the tablet yet that seems, definitively, to prove the tablet’s functional superiority to the computer or the already-touchscreen smartphone …

      • http://about.me/dillieo Dillie-O

        For me Feedly and the Kindle app are the “killer apps” that led me to a Google Nexus 7. I try to keep up as much as I can with my feeds, but having the laptop open on the couch or in bed was getting a little clunky and my phone was too small a space for any lengthy reading.

        I’d say I spend 95% of my tablet time just reading and it’s allowed me to do more than I have in the past. Having quick access to e-mail/web when I need it from the tablet is handy, and having a slightly larger and still unobstrusive screen to read the recipes from are added perks, but news/book reading has been the best for me.

        That might also be something to consider between the 7″ and 10″ form factors. Monica, would you consider a smaller factor for those type of needs? Or does your phone fit your needs for it?

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    At the end of the day, these are tools. You’re not nuts, you’re being practical and honest in your needs assessment. The world would be a better place if everyone were as honest: it would lead to less stuff being bought that only goes into landfills. It would also lead to more successful IT projects.

    For the record I don’t have a tablet yet either. I get by just fine on my MacBook Pro (and being a fast touch typist, I suspect I get by faster on this than I would a tablet).

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      True. They are tools. But as I implied in the column, it is amazing how much devices like these feel like lifestyles…

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        Sure, that has a lot to do with the trend that started a few years ago with mobile phones of seeing them as accessories that can be fashionable (and thus trendy, and you buy them for things other than practicality).

        Honestly, I think you and I are in very similar places: our existing laptop and phone combo works for us.

        Like I say, I think it’s good for everyone to keep the focus on the things utility as a tool first and foremost. The lifestyle/fashion aspect can come later.

  • Forrest Corbett

    There was a discussion about this on the STS list a while back. It was pointed out that tablets are primarily for content consumption. If you create, a tablet isn’t really for you.

    90% of why I use a computer I can’t do with any sort of ease on a tablet. If I want to type anything of length, I’m much faster with a keyboard than I could ever be on a tablet, so it saves me time to pull my laptop out. None of my dev tools run on tablets. None of my design tools run on tablets.

  • Beefcake

    I feel exactly that way. Sure, there’s a fun-factor; but I have a laptop for heavy-lifting and an iPhone for mobile / convenience. I’m not sure to what purpose an intermediate device would serve me. I’m a big reader but I still like books, even when I travel. So for the money right now, playing Angry Birds on a larger screen just isn’t worth the cash.

  • http://www.techmansworld.com/ Michael Hazell

    No, you’re not nuts.

  • guest

    The computer industry has always had a strong fashion element that isn’t necessarily tied to utility. Not saying that tablets aren’t useful, because for many they are. Just that it’s always wise to ignore the din of the crowd and realistically assess your own needs.

  • Michele Fore

    You’re not alone! I have no desire for one either. My friend has an iPad and I don’t like it for some reason. Not a fan of iTunes. I was a little excited when I heard about the surface until I read more about it. Still don’t want one yet. I love my Sony Vaio and my Razr HD. I’m holding out for something that actualy can replace my laptop at a price I like.

  • astridparamita

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course. I think it all depends on what you use the device for. I find tablets are better because it’s cheaper and lighter than a laptop. I can’t afford a 11′ MBA, so I write with (and carry around) an iPad + keyboard. $500 is still cheaper than $999. Then I could spend the extra $500 for a damn good desktop computer.

  • n8

    Since you already own two apple products and don’t want to own the latest new one, then I’d say you’re nuts. After I finished my masters degree, I found that I no longer used my laptop so I sold it. I have no need beyond personal enjoyment for a tablet or laptop, so when I use the criteria connect to that one requirement, a tablet makes sense. Games for the kids, better web browsing than my iphone 5 when on vacation or stuck on the couch watching a boring movie with the wife, sharing pictures around the table with friends (not online, with actual friends in my presence…crazy concept, I know), etc. But sense you already have a product that meets most of your portability needs, than I can see why you might question yourself about the need for a tablet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthonyrstevens Anthony Stevens

    I’ve been in the same boat since the iPad came out. I noticed that a lot of iPads at one of my former offices sat around and played music or gathered dust. Like Forrest, I’m more of a content creator, and have a fast laptop, so the need for an intermediate content consumption device didn’t seem to be there.

    BUT: I just recently got an iPad for work and notice that it’s actually really nice to do functional testing and use certain web applications (like Atlassian’s JIRA) on the tablet. The display beats the phone by a mile and seems *slightly* more fun than on the laptop. I could see myself doing email, CRM, project management, or research on a tablet at a coffee shop and having fun while doing so.

  • http://www.heybige.com/ HeyBigE

    I had been wanting an iPad since they first came out, and did so when the iPad 3 came out. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d use it for and actually didn’t use it much (at all) for the first 2-3-4 months, but then I started taking the bus while commuting and I love it for reading RSS feeds, social media, etc. And I find myself picking it up around the house to check something (yelp, espn, etc) instead of my phone..

  • BrentR

    The thing that really makes the difference in the tablet’s favor for me is the battery. And I guess the form factor. Since the life is so long it’s pretty much instant and always on. No need to even flip up the screen like on my ultrabook (which also boots crazy fast). To quickly look something up, etc., it’s just immediate, and immediately fulfilling. And it’s in a beautiful form factor (vs. a cramped smartphone or a hinged laptop). This is what makes the tablet so useful for me.

    If I’m going to write, I use my ultrabook. If I’m out and about it’s obviously my phone. But for reading, for quick info, for recipes, etc., the tablet shines.

  • Rick

    I have an old dislike for all portables, be it laptop, netbook or tablet. Ironic that I stumble across this “am I nuts?” article as I sit here waiting while the FedEx site says “out for delivery” regarding an iPad 3 refurbished. Jumping in today, hope the water’s fine…

  • eholland

    I think I have the opposite problem. I have an iPad, which I like for fun stuff, but I really am leaning towards getting a laptop. I need to be able to interface with my office network, and use MS Office, and have a keyboard that doesn’t cramp my hands. But everyone is talking about tablets. Any recommendations for a PC laptop?

  • NGM123

    Me too, I thought I was the only one !! I love my laptop and I just don’t get the whole tablet thing. If they were super super cheap, maybe, but at the same price as a laptop, a dumbed down gimped laptop makes no sense to me.
    I was given an ipad to use at work, a week later it was in my bottom draw where it lived for months, stone motherless dead.

  • mazamorac

    I used to feel the same way until the Nexus 7 came out. The 7″ form factor is the sweet spot between laptop-or-10″-tablet-size and smartphone-sized. Though I am an Android user. If I were an iPhone user, I still wouldn’t like the iPad mini: I like the N7’s proportions, not the mini’s.

  • shawn

    I just got a nexus 7 for christmas and it’s nice but it doesn’t really do anything better than my netbook. i honestly think that the best combo would be a large android phone that is rooted so you can use the wifi hotspot feature without paying extra and something like an ultrabook.

  • Jonezen

    Hi Monica,
    Almost nine months have passed since you posted this. Technically speaking, that’s an eternity for gadget geeks. But in human terms, it’s just about the right amount of time for our gestational development. So, just checking in…have you held out? I have no problem with gadgets, other than people are now spending so much time on screen that I believe we are forgetting how to actually be with each other in real time. It is a form of conditioning, and the social-cultural pressures to conform are considerable, and the more time we spend with this new media, the more it is able to continue influencing our behaviors. That’s my rant. But honestly, I feel I have no need whatsoever for a tablet: I know it would feel like walking around with a tray that I’d have to always be worried about. If it could fold up and fit in my pocket as easily as a phone, then the extra real estate would be nice, but I prefer the give and take of a laptop’s keyboard to the inert response you receive from touching and swiping glass. Growing up, I was told to try not to get my fingerprints all over everything, especially windows and screens, so there’s some resistence there too, but ultimately, it’s the lack of desire to own another source of distraction that costs a pretty penny, can break with a little help from gravity, and will be considered obsolete in a year.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Thanks for checking in! I STILL DO NOT own a tablet. And I hardly ever use my husband’s. I don’t remember the last time I wanted to. Honestly my phone and my MacBook Air just have me covered in everything I need. I JUST came back online from a week off the grid, so I’ve got this on my mind, but: If anything, the tablety device that I would buy would be utterly disconnected to any live communication technology. It would be a reader that contained absolutely zero inboxes – no email, Facebook, Twitter, none of that. Something I could carry around and bug for information that would never bug me…

      • Jonezen

        Thanks for the update! Coming from a week of life off the grid, a device devoted to offline use could provide a mini get-away from, well, feeling obliged to read or respond to comments just like mine.

  • PI

    cant agree more

  • bb1040

    Monica ..I am a bit more old fashion, I still like my big desk top computer, and I still have not found a need for a cell phone. I built my computer from scratch and I like the three 24″ screens and the 5.5TB of storage space, the i7 -4Gz processor , 850W power supply, this was the first one I ever built with liquid cooling in it. I have a lap top but it just sits in the bedroom and rarely gets used and it is hooked up to my 47″ TV so I can use it when in bed with a wireless keyboard. I consider all the other gadgets as just expensive toys that I really have no use for…

  • http://www.lrobison.com Anaxamenes

    Two years after writing this article, it finds it way onto my desktop. I too am looking into a tablet and trying to figure out why I need one. I have a great Macbook Pro which I adore for taking with me and an older desktop PC which I work on a bigger screen at home and used for gaming. I’m ready to upgrade my iphone 4 to a 6, and that seems to be to be the most logical. There are a few tablets that are making their way to art creation, but still nowhere near as responsive as a Wacom tablet. I just can’t justify owning one when I can’t for the life of me articulate what I would really use it for.

    Thanks for letting me know I’m not crazy. My mother is going through the same thing. I’m her tech support and we talk about what her needs are and she just sees everyone else with them and think she’s missing something.

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