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5 important things tablets can’t do yet

Today in Tech

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BlackBerry PlayBook

Tablet computers have actually been on the market for some time. However, it wasn't until the iPad came out that the tablet format really took off. With the marketing arm of Apple behind it, along with the raging success of the iPhone, the iPad was a shoe-in for a mass-market mobile computing device. Despite all of the fanfare, when we come back to reality, the tablet computer still has a long way to go before it can replace the laptop or netbook for most people and here are 5 reasons why.

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Bluetooth keyboard

1. To type or not to type

Typing on any touchscreen device can be a tricky thing to get used to. On a smartphone it's probably easier than on a tablet, at least at first. This is because you're already used to letting your thumbs do the typing from using keypad mobile phones. But when it comes to a tablet, it's a whole new ballgame.

Some tablets (the 7" size is a great example) can still be used in this manner by placing the tablet in the portrait position. The keyboard usually fills the bottom of the display screen, and is still easily accessible by the thumbs of an average person.

On larger tablets, such as the iPad, it's a bit difficult to make your thumbs stretch across the width of the device, even in portrait mode. This is probably the motivation behind Apple's new split keyboard feature, which will be implemented in iOS 5.

Any size of tablet can also be used in the landscape position, which also gives you a much bigger keyboard. But is it really big enough? A lot of people find it uncomfortable to type on a tablet keyboard, simply because the keys are spaced together very tightly. If you're accustomed to the tactile input of a traditional keyboard when typing, you might have trouble keeping your fingers in position.

Any way you look at it, typing on a tablet is a far cry from typing on a desktop, laptop, or netbook. There are solutions out there on the market to solve these problems, like bluetooth keyboards, tablet keyboard docks, and even specialized cases with keyboards built in. But you will pay extra for all of these accessories. Out of the box, the tablet's keyboard and typing still leave much to be desired.

2. App compatibility
There has been a noticeable shift in the way software is distributed in the tablet world. With a Mac or PC you can purchase software offline and install it yourself, or you can sometimes download software after purchasing it online. Software companies catered to the majority of computer users by usually offering their product in versions that were compatible with Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS.

With the creation of the tablet came the mobile app and app store. While Apple probably has the biggest selection, there is stiff competition from Google and RIM as well. The thing that is different about tablet software, with the notable exception of Android apps, is that you can only get it through your manufacturer's marketplace. This can be synced through your PC software or done directly on the tablet via wifi or 3G, but the physical aspect of software is long gone.

While tablet software is priced dramatically lower than its PC counterparts, there is a catch. Tablets are so new and their operating systems are changing at such a rapid pace, that the software developers are struggling to keep up. Frequent OS updates mean frequent app updates, leaving some users in the lurch when their apps no longer work as expected.

Despite all the testing done by software developers and device manufacturers, many apps still have glitches on launch day. Perhaps they think it's okay since apps don't usually cost as much as traditional software. In reality, it's just another problem created by a new platform and quickly changing operating systems. Sure, app updates are usually free (so far), but who wants to go through the hassle of waiting for a "fix" to an app you just purchased?

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Printer

3. Printing is up in the air
With your desktop or laptop computer, you can quickly and easily set up a printer and print documents, whether it's through a cable connected printer or over your home wifi system. Even with the latest tablet changes, this can still be a major challenge. Here's why.

A tablet like the iPad isn't connected to anything, unless you're syncing or updating the OS. Of course, with the iOS 5 update on the way, you won't even need to connect for that.

Apple made a step forward by including print support in one of its latest updates, but of course, without a USB port, only wifi-capable printers are supported, and only select models of those. If you're printer is still attached to your computer via a USB cable, you won't get any help from the Apple update. So despite being billed as something akin to a netbook or laptop, the tablet still is at a disadvantage when it comes to taking your hard work to the physical medium of paper.

4. Business not as usual
Why we use tablet computers may be easy to understand, but how we use them is another thing altogether. If it's productivity you're looking for, there is no tablet designed just for you. With the purchase of a few apps you may be able to wing it for a while and do some types of work from your tablet. Based on its size and weight, it should be a road warrior's best friend, right?

Unfortunately, the apps that are available will only perform relatively basic tasks. Even Apple's iWorks offerings on the iPad have limited functionality compared to their full version Mac counterparts. Any tablet available is going to leave the business person shorthanded if they want it to replace the full suite of productivity applications on their usual on-the-road workhorse laptop or netbook.

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Adobe Flash

5. Limited multimedia
Well, at least you can surf the web and get your entertainment from a tablet, right? Not necessarily. The best selling tablet of them all, the iPad, doesn't have support for Adobe Flash. Instead, Apple is placing its future bet on HTML5 to solve the problem of streaming video and multimedia content.

Android has taken a definitive step to support flash in the latest versions of the OS, the truth is that it's far from the dependable experience that you've come to love from your Mac or PC system. Some websites may work, while others do not. Unfortunately, you're at the mercy of the marketplace and Adobe for an official update to make the functionality better. With each device having its own tweaks to the Android OS, this also presents a challenge for flash developers to make their apps work on more than just one device.

As for Apple, Steve Jobs has made the statement in the past that he has no intention of supporting Flash at any time in the future for mobile devices. His argument stems from the fact that Adobe Flash apps and web features take up more processing power and reduce battery life. While this is true, other tablet makers are moving forward and finding ways to work around these limitations to the best of their ability. Why can't Apple do the same?  In the end, the only one who really suffers in this battle is you, the consumer.

Post by Michael Arcand

[Image credit: The Gameway]

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