Resolved: Tablets are Hardware, Not Software

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Hello out there in Techland–my name is Harry McCracken, and I’m new in these parts. I blog about the Web, mobile gear, consumer electronics, and PCs and Macs at a site called Technologizer, which I started in 2008. And starting today, I’m writing a weekly column–also named Technologizer–and contributing to Techland. It’s great to be here.

My first column is about the products I like to think of as iPadversaries: tablet computers which are anywhere from slightly to incredibly iPad-esque. There are dozens of them on the way, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab (shown above). But the more of them I see, the more convinced I am that there’s nothing particularly interesting–or challenging from a design standpoint–about a bunch of sophisticated computing hardware crammed into a slab with a touchscreen. About eighty percent of what makes the iPad special is Apple’s iOS and related services such as iTunes and the App Store. And we still haven’t seen a major non-Apple tablet that runs an interface designed from the ground up for fingers.

Yes, Samsung has tabletized some of the core software on the Galaxy Tab, such as e-mail and the calendar, but the moment you download third-party apps from the Android Market, you’re running a smartphone program on a 7-inch screen–which is a kludge and feels like it. (It pretty much shows what an unsatisfying device the iPad would be if nobody except Apple wrote applications designed for a big device with a roomy screen.)

In both a technical and spiritual sense, the Galaxy Tab is more jumbo-sized smartphone than tablet. And I suspect that Windows 7-based tablets will feel like the keyboardless laptops that they really are.

Non-Apple tablet OSes are on the way: the Android update known as Gingerbread, for instance, and the flavor of Palm’s WebOS that will power HP’s first WebOS tablet.  We don’t yet know how impressive they’ll be, but this I’m already sure about: The race to rival the iPad won’t really begin until big companies other than Apple make tablets that run tablet software.