Die! Tablet Die!

March 16, 2011 at 17:12 | Posted in Life, Tech, thoughts | Comments Off on Die! Tablet Die!
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Ok, From the title you can probably guess that I have a few issues with Tablets. More correctly with Tablet computing appliances. To be honest I can not say that I hate all Tablets or even most of them. So, Why the strong title?

What I object to is where “Tablets” are leading the general population. Instead of helping to empower people these devices will lead them further down the non-repairable, non-servicable, non-upgradable, non-hackable road. Further many of these Tablets come with restrictive operating systems and severe lockdowns that make it difficult if not impossible for the user or anyone (in some cases) to change the operating system to one of their choosing.

Lets look at some of these things and the possible motivation behind them.

Non-servicable/non-upgradeable

Now by non-serviceable I’m reffering to non-serviceable by anyone outside the manufacturers magic circle. Although I suspect that the the larger part of servicing these devices will be simple the act of replacing them.

Non-upgradable is fairly self evident but I’ll define it just to be clear. Here I’m rfering to the users ability to buy a larger hard drive, or more memory, or an expansion card to add desired functionality.

Desktop computers and to a lesser degree laptop computer allowed the end user to upgrade his machine with components of their choosing with little or no special tools. Standard interfaces such as ATA, PCI , PCIe, SATA made it possible for a user to go out and get a 80GiB replacement for the 40GiB hard drive in their maching easily. In most cases the act of replacing the drive was fairly trivial. The same could be said for many parts of the computer.

The vast majority of Tablets that I have seen are sealed boxes. No way to even get at the bits let alone upgrade/replace/repair them. This means that to upgrade most people will end up buying another model (pretty good deal for the manufcturer, eh) not so great for the consumer, the environment, the sweatshop labour that makes most of these devices, etc.

Non-Hackable:

I’m not refering to malicious hacking here. I am refering to the consumers God given right to peer under the hood of something they have purchased, something that they own and should have full control over (I’ll save the rant about the insanity of “Software liencsing” for another day). As the owner of the device you should be able to replace the software in it if you don’t like the software that came with it shouldn’t you? You should be able to write your own software for the device or hire someone to write it for you without having to sign huge contracts with the people that made the device. Shouldn’t you? You should be able to run any software you like from any source without the manufacturer of the device have to approve it. Right? It’s your device right? You own it.

Sadly, with most Tablets, not so much. Not only do most of these Tablets lack the required connectability to easily change to operating system, most are actually hostile to the process. This forces the consumer to buy app from the app store ($ for the manufacturer). Be tracked when using the device ($ for the manufacturer and their advertising partners). Be limited in what they can watch, listen too, read, etc (again more $ for the manufacturer as anyone wanting to get their content to all those consumers must make deals with the manufacturer).

All of this is partly due to the fact that computers have been moving away from hobby/speciality and into everyday appliance for some time. However it is more strongly driver by profit seeking corporations that would rather see a world burried in e-waste then fail to make double digit gains over last quarter.

These companies tout reasons like “Usability”,and “Secuirty” for the direction of the design. Those reasons are clearly false. Security does not come from dis-enpowering people and hiding how things are done. In a truely secure system you’d be able to show everyone exactly how the system worked and still be confident that it would remain secure. Usability doesn’t spring from digital locks and the removal of compatibility and interoperatability. If I can’t use it to do what I want how can it possibly be more “useable” then something that I can make do whatever I want?

I’ll be the first to admit that these device have nice eye candy, spinny, flashy, user interfaces. I’ll also be the first to tell you that when somethng starts to go wrong  those same soft and fuzzy interfaces fall flat on their faces and are next to useless for diagnosing and correcting even simple problems with the software let alone the hardware.

For some reason (marketing) these devices are like crack to many end consumers who see them as a cool replacement for their laptop. The truth is that these device will make a very poor replacement for a proper computer. I suspect that many people are going to wake up some time in 2012 with a very bad “Tablet Hangover”. And will wonder where their laptop has gotten off to. The problem is that if Tablet sales canabalize laptop sales too much the manufacturers will make an even bigger shift in that directin and we all may be wondering where the laptops/desktops have gone in a few years. Sadly our rights, freedoms, and the freedom of choice that we currently enjoy hardware wise may well have gone too.

So, until I see a tablet with a user replaceable hard drive, user upgradeable memory, many standards compliant ports (3 usb ports count as 1 type of port), and the ability to easily change the operating system or other softtware without restriction or legal complication I will continue to say:

“Die! Tablet, Die!”

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