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A Wish List For Tablets In 2013 453

timothy writes "For the last few years, I've been using Android tablets for various of the reasons that most casual tablet owners do: as a handy playback device for movies and music, a surprisingly decent interface for reading books, a good-enough camera for many purposes, and a communications terminal for instant messaging and video chat. I started out with a Motorola Xoom, which I still use around the house or as a music player in the car, but only started actually carrying a tablet very often when I got a Nexus 7. And while I have some high praise for the Nexus 7, its limitations are frustrating, too. I'll be more excited about a tablet when I can find one with (simultaneously) more of the features I want in one. So here's my wish list (not exhaustive) for the ideal tablet of the future, consisting only of features that are either currently available in some relevant form (such as in existing tablets), or should be in the foreseeable near future; I'll be on the lookout at CES for whatever choices come closest to this dream." Read below to see what's on Timothy's wish list.
Here's my current mild-fantasy feature list; if you know of better ways to meet these desires, or even more compelling features you'd like to see, I'd like to hear them.

Integrated GPS navigation with built-in maps, not relying on an (always brittle, often expensive) ongoing data connection, or relying on a 3rd-party app. Even cheap standalone GPS units come loaded with maps, which means putting those maps on is possible, and (except from the standpoint of the companies who sell you data by the byte) it would be a good idea. Google's maps app provides a passable workaround, in the form of cached data, so you can load up the maps you need for a given route while you're sitting at a cheap and fast broadband connection, but in practice I'd found it iffy; sometimes the navigation refuses to recognize the maps I've loaded.

So long as you've got a data plan you don't mind dipping into, and are within cellular coverage range, that's fine, but large stretches of the Western U.S. in particular could leave you reliant on paper maps or a really good memory. If Garmin and company can put 6 million points of interest on pocket-sized GPS devices, and has been doing so for the last decade, shouldn't tablet makers do the same? (Not that freshly updated maps with handy chunks of crowd-sourced data are a bad thing; they just shouldn't be the only option. Graceful failure is reason enough to include a basic map set by default.)

(Two related pipe-dreams: 1) Future integration, too, with Gallileo and Beidou — the EU and Chinese equivalents to the U.S. made GPS constellation, and 2) integration with Open Street Maps. Every tablet should be a mapping tool, not just a map reader.)

A full sized USB port. Two of them, even better, but I'd settle for one. USB keys are the easiest way to transmit a certain size of file, close range, in particular when that's already the medium the file occupies. Things like Dropbox help, but don't pass the Mom test (at least in my family), and require extra steps if the document / podcast / video clip is right there in your pocket, just in an unusable form. The other reason I want a full-size USB port is that as impressive it is to have a tiny computer and display in a pocketable device, there is not yet a more efficient way for a sitting person to enter text than a keyboard, and tiny tablet-focused portable keyboards are a weak tool of convenience rather than actually *good,* generally. For light travel, sure. But I'd like to pop to the coffee shop to work for a while with a 1-pound tablet and a real keyboard. Workaround: There are Bluetooth keyboards, but the only true way to get a full-size USB ports for most tablets is by picking up a dongle from Amazon or Deal Extreme, but that's both an extra part to break or lose, and a hassle that it would be nice to skip.

A better "swiping" keyboard. Since I can't always carry a Model M keyboard, I want a keyboard as good as the Swype version that came with my aging but once high-end Samsung phone (Galaxy S). I've tried some Swype versions intended for tablets, but they made the mistake of making the control surface bigger (I suspect to "take advantage of all that space") rather than kept it sensibly small and fast. Being able to zip my finger around quickly is exactly why the one on the phone has totally changed my view of touch keyboards. The swiping keyboard that came with the newest versions of Android is a mixed bag: it's welcome, but at least in my experience so far suffers worse accuracy than does Swype. (On the other hand, the actual included vocabulary seems broader; I've had to customize the dictionary much less often.)

Daylight readable screen of some kind. Pixel Qi is the obvious one right now, but there's also one from Mirasol that I've seen demoed, but which seems unlikely (sorry) to see the light of day. Except for the impressive use of the same technology in the OLPC project's XO kid-centric laptops, Pixel Qi's screens have been mostly going into military and industrial displays, though, rather than into consumer tablets. There's a market waiting for daylight readable color screens!

Hardware toggles for cameras and all wireless capabilities. That is, anything which could betray privacy should be labeled and defeatable. Among other good reasons for this, it might make some devices more acceptable in workplaces with restrictive policies on personal technology. At the last CES, I saw a few Chinese Android tablets that had what looked from their icons like external Wi-Fi toggle switches, but wasn't able to quite confirm that with the vendors. Not every camera-equipped, Wi-Fi-equipped laptop has a physical toggle for either or both of these, but some do, and I'd pay a few more dollars for the capability.

HDMI out: This is common enough on recent tablets, but mostly in the form of a tiny mini-HDMI port. There are a few exceptions, but I'd like to see more. Just as with USB, I'd rather a slightly chunkier case if it means not needing a fistful of finicky cables and adapters. Being able to plug a tablet conveniently into any HDMI-equipped display would be handy; it's more computer than most of us had at all just a few years ago.

Decent in-built stereo recorder: Many tablets (and practically all smartphones as well as many feature phones) include a voice memo feature; that's handy, but it's a shame to waste the capabilities of the rest of the device on just that. Surprisingly good stereo recorders — included ones marketed as "business recorders," but severely overqualified — start at less than $100, and typical tablets have far more horsepower, not to mention a more flexible control surface for apps to control audio recording. In the iWorld, there are dozens of stereo input devices, as well as DI boxes for electric instruments, but not even Apple's devices come with a Just-Hit-Record stereo recording mic, which is too bad. Can you recommend any Android tablets with good built-in stereo mics, or third-party add-ons?

Bright LED light built in: This one, at least, is now the rule to which there are exceptions, rather than the other way 'round. It shows that sometimes the features-list game goes the right direction.

Alternative OS support. This isn't something I expect tablet makers to trumpet; they generally want you to run their choice of OS (whether the underlying tablet is from Apple, Microsoft, or the vast Google/Android conspiracy). But they don't have to; they just have to not make it impossible for others to do the work for them. In the last few months alone we've seen Linux (both Ubuntu for ARM and KDE Plasma Active) ported to the Nexus 7, and the Cyanogenmod developers have for years been making many handset and tablet makers' upgrade abilities look just plain silly. It's not just for novelty, either: right now, I'd like to be able to offload footage from my video camera to a tablet for uploading, which would mean I could stop carrying a laptop around quite so often. If I risk bricking my tablet by installing one of those Linux varieties, that might just be a practical option.

For now, don't think I'm ungrateful: I'm pleased and constantly amazed by how much has already been squeezed into a computer that takes less space than a trade paperback, and it's true that space trade-offs make it hard to squeeze in all the full-size ports I'd prefer. But most of these are features that exist in some form, and don't require anything to spring from the forehead of the Media Lab. I hope that by this time next year it'll be a smaller list of features I'm still looking for.
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A Wish List For Tablets In 2013

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:03PM (#42436415)

    This is the most annoying feature missing on virtually all tablets...

    Tablets are marketed as the "use everywhere, especially in the living room" computer, but still there's no infrared sender in most of them. And if there is, they are lousy and don't reach over two meters (Yes, Sony, i'm talking to you!)

    integrate a good IR diode and make an app capable of Pronto definitions - instand perfect Remote, and even standalone a reason to buy a tablet...

  • by high_rolla ( 1068540 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:12PM (#42436499) Homepage

    I often like to think about these things in terms of activities or outcomes rather than features. The problem with thinking in terms of features is that you lock yourself into a specific implementation (which is often sub optimal).

    So instead of saying "I need HDMI" I would instead say "I need a dead simple way to have my screen show up on any external screen."
    Now HDMI may in fact be the answer but maybe there is a better way. For instance AppleTV works very nicely for me with all my devices to the TV. I'm not saying we should all install AppleTV's just observing that a wireless solution could be very convenient too. We should explore alternatives rather than just diving into the immediately obvious solution.

  • Bigger size... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by knisa ( 209732 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:12PM (#42436501)

    I'd like to see a decent tablet with around a 14" screen. Something that would make reviewing documentation (or sheet music) intended for Letter/A4 sized printouts possible without shrinking it to fit a diminutive screen.

  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:16PM (#42436535) Homepage Journal

    The reason you want a full sized USB jack demonstrats where the jump drive market is behind the times. I'd like to see guys like Kingston start putting micro-USB connectors on jump drives.

  • Re:One change (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:16PM (#42436549)

    My Acer Iconia Tab A700 almost fits this description.

    It doesn't have a full sized USB port, but it does come with a micro to full-sized USB adapter, which is a reasonable compromise as far as I'm concerned. The USB port supports every USB device I've tried, including keyboard and storage devices ranging from thumb drives up to a 1TB portable hard drive.

    It has a micro SD card slot.

    It has (micro) HDMI out.

    Has built-in GPS, though no offline maps. That would be nice, I agree.

    I don't know why this thing hasn't sold better - it's a fine tablet whose only major flaw seems to be "not a NEXUS".

  • 7 inch tablets... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Goth Biker Babe ( 311502 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:43PM (#42436805) Homepage Journal

    The larger tablets have been too big for me. I waited until the 7/8 inch ones came out. I played with a Google Nexus 7 for a while but decided for my use cases the iPad Mini would be more suitable. Using your wish-list...

    1) Tomtom app for iPad - Doesn't need a network connection.

    2) Open Streetmap clients are out there. An update tool is just software.

    3) Why the hell do you want a full size USB. They're *HUGE*. The iPad Mini is only about 5 mm thick in total. It has lightning which is a USB host. I would like Apple to support more devices on it. SD card and USB storage devices have limited support.

    4) I love the thumb keyboard you get by 'splitting' the keyboard. On the Mini it works really well with everything easily accessible. I would imaging its a bit big on a full sized iPad. I have a bluetooth apple keyboard for various uses and with the iPad it works really well. Its a bit bigger than you want to carry around normally but quite light. (http://www.cyberspice.org.uk/blog/2012/12/29/apple-bluetooth-keyboard-and-ipad/)

    5) Since I live in Northern Europe. I've not really had a chance to use it outside in daylight :-D

    6) "Hardware" toggles aren't really physical switches in the connection. They're still just switches that toggle GPIOs. Easily over-ridden in software if you want to. Having the slide switch on the iPad more configurable would be nice.

    7) HDMI connector? Wires, how retro! Again the lightning connector supports this functionality via an adapter. Like the USB connector an HDMI connector is quite large and not everyone will want one. The current use of adapters on both IOS and Android tablets is a better solution. However I use Airplay via an AppleTV to watch movies and play games on my TV. Works nicely with Netflix, iTunes, and BBC iPlayer.

    8) Stereo record is another function that not everyone needs so why build it in if you don't need it. Android tablets with a USB host should be able to support it via a dongle.

    9) The bright LED is something missing from the iPad Mini. The iPhone has it but not the iPad Mini.

    10) To be honest I'm not worried about supporting multiple OSes. If I wanted that I would have a laptop (which I do). The iPad is something I can carry in my handbag and pull out when I need a web browser, e-mail, to SSH in to something or what ever...

    A lot of the wish list is possible now with at least one of the available tablet types. The requirement for things like full sized sockets and the like kind of defeats the whole purpose of the small, light, thin, tablet and is missing the point.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:52PM (#42436883) Journal

    It sounds like you're after the swiss army knife of tablets and no one tablet is *ever* going to meet all those features, because the combination you've chosen won't appeal to the mainstream.

    There are lots of products available on the market that do not "appeal to the mainstream".

    I can buy a 14-hole chromatic harmonica. A pair of ostrich-skin boots. A copy of Nabokov's lectures on literature. A recumbent bicycle.

    Not all cars are dark-blue Camrys. There are tiny little Smart cars and behemoth Nissan Armadas. In yellow.

    There's no reason every single product in the consumer electronics category has to appeal to every single consumer. We don't have to allow the tech industry to be lazy and greedy. They need us more than we need them.

  • by tuppe666 ( 904118 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:53PM (#42436891)

    Apple didn't forget it, it's just they have painted themselves into a corner. With no new magic products of any significance to pick up....

    ...seriously are you kidding me, Steve Jobs was simply wrong. Apple launched the iPad mini Late though incompetence or profit chasing [I think both]with a overpriced/underspecced product its a saturated and proven small tablet market of great innovative products [I own the Nexus 7] it was the first time I have seem news sites compare an Apple product. Apple is now just another electronics company and this product refresh was its turning point.

  • Re:One change (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @07:35PM (#42437245)
    As much as they're derided here on Slashdot, every Windows tablet comes with at least one full size USB port, some form of video out (either full hdmi, mini display port, or micro hdmi), and only one model doesn't come with an SD card slot. These tablets are coming from Asus, Samsung, Sony, Lenovo, Dell, Acer, HP, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and Microsoft.

    Here's a pretty comprehensive list of the current offerings with sortable specs: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=DA410C7F7E038D!9136&app=Excel [live.com]

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.