Beepers, pocket organizers, PDAs, WebTVs, Email stations, handheld PCs…
I’ve seen a lot of these gadgets come and go. Mostly, they suffered from very limited utility, poor interfaces, and lousy proprietary software. And they were easily rendered irrelevant by cheaper, better PCs and the wide and growing pool of available software.
I find that my tablet falls into that category. It’s theoretically more powerful than the desktop that I used a few years ago, but in reality can’t do a fraction of what that desktop did. It’s crippled by an awful UI and a comically limited OS only capable of running little toy apps but not real software. Android’s more open than Apple, but it’s still more like a limited capability game console than a PC.
There are a few needs that a gadget like that could conceivably fill quite well, though, if they get the form factor and UI right. MP3 player replacement, Ebook reader, text messaging device, and phone. Unfortunately smartphones and tablets aren’t really that good at those things. A flat slab of plastic with some glass on it is nowhere near as easy to use as a phone-like phone. A glossy color screen is notably inferior to an e-ink reader for ebooks. I don’t really like text-messaging on my flip-phone, but it’s easier and more convenient than it is on a smartphone.
I expect sooner or later we’ll see a really good mobile device, probably within my lifetime. I envision a PC core box that you carry around in your pocket, which can be interfaced wirelessly through whatever peripherals happen to be around (speakers, phone, keyboard, mouse, hard drives, joysticks, monitors, TVs, or e-ink screens, etc.) But I’m not holding my breath. Or ditching my PC.
In the meantime, I expect that PC prices will continue to undercut the high-end tablets and smartphones, while PC software continues to improve but apps for the mobile devices stagnate at the limits of their utility and interface.