What the TechCrunch Tablet Should Really Look Like

Michael Arrington is understandably pretty excited about how the TechCrunch Tablet is shaping up so far, but to use it seems they’re going about it the wrong way.

For a device that’s supposed to do Firefox, Skype and not much more, an underpowered PC with a touchscreen isn’t going to accomplish much. For one thing, Firefox is a huge performance drain and a memory hog to boot that underpowered hardware (even on-par with an Eee) simply won’t support and for another, there’s no way to get PC hardware down to the sub-$200 price range.

What TechCrunch wants – whether they know it or not – is an oversized PDA, not an underpowered PC. And it’s not just a question of semantics, it’s a question of foundations and principles – and it makes a huge difference in terms of end-user experience and the bottom line.

For the functionality that TechCrunch is trying to pack into this opensource, mass-market web gadget, there’s nothing that wouldn’t work better, faster, and cheaper on specialized hardware rather than on generic PC components.

While the world is now in the midst of a touch-screen craze, it’s important to keep in mind when and where that works. For a web browser and a VoIP client, a touchscreen doesn’t provide much added value, but it does add quite a hefty amount to the bottom line. A couple of buttons at the top/side of the device that provide basic functionality (Go/Dial, Stop/End) would certainly suffice for most purposes. A thin slide-out keyboard is far-cheaper and more user-friendly than an onscreen keyboard, and would make things like entering site addresses and using email clients and Google Docs quite enjoyable.

A PDA-style ARM processor, running software compiled for the ARM platform could provide a more satisfactory end-user experience with regards to performance and can come in smaller form-factors and/or as embedded systems.

It’s important to bear in mind the difference between consumer electronics and a computer. Whereas Asus had to keep their Eee x86 so that it can run whatever a a PC user could demand from it, a web browsing tablet only needs to run what the manufacturer intends it to. In hardware design, there’s a constant compromise between flexibility and complexity which is directly tied to price, size, and ease-of-use.

A tablet designed to surf the web and run Skype doesn’t need to do anything else; but it shouldn’t do anything else if price and size are of any concern. It’s easy to get caught up imagining a device that can do anything and everything; but you can only go so far before things begin to spiral out of control.

One thought on “What the TechCrunch Tablet Should Really Look Like

  1. I disagree. Especially about the keyboard. A slide out keyboard is a pain and adds to form-factor as well as the bottom line, not to mention is introduces a huge number of mechanical parts that can fail or become damaged.

    If you think you can do it better you should.

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