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Deciding on a tablet by comparing specs? You've missed the point

Erica Sadun, @ericasadun
March 3, 2011
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Last night, I was browsing through story after story on the interwebs that hoped to help people decide on a tablet purchase by comparing the Motorola Xoom specifications with the iPad 2. From multitasking to chip speed to RAM, analysists attempted to find consumers the best possible value for the money.

And they completely missed the point.

When it comes to tablets, it's not about the specs. It's about user experience. It's about the way we use the device and how the device fits itself to the way we want to use it.

Why has the iPad been killing the netbook this past year? Compared to netbooks, the iPad offers the same feature set for the same users, with a far better engineered device. Anyone who has used a netbook for light surfing, for e-mail, and for enjoying media and then tried out the iPad gets it.

The iPad provides a lighter, slimmer, easier-to-use interface that accomplishes the same tasks without the awkward netbook geometries and keyboard that come between a user and what he or she is trying to do. You don't have to touchpad your way to an on-screen item. You just touch it.

And then there's the Xoom. The Xoom isn't a netbook, or a netbook wanna-be. It's a computer. A big old honking computer. With a touch screen. It's what you get when you let engineers build something without designers and artists cracking the whip and instilling fear into them.

Sure, the Xoom does better multitasking. Sure, it has lots of nifty bells and whistles, chips and ports. But chips and ports are not why people buy iPads.

People buy iPads because a 2-year-old human or a dimwitted cat can figure out how to use one. People buy iPads because an iPad does everything the user wants it to do and more than the user expects. It does so beautifully, revolutionarily, and, dare I say it, magically.

Picking the iPad is not about the Apple logo on the back -- or at least not directly. It isn't about some sort of Pavlovian response or cult mentality or drinking the Kool-Aid. Buying an iPad is about solid design and user experience, and the overall quality of the purchase. It's about what the iPad does; not just what it could do, which is not really of interest to most people in the end.

If you have the money and want to buy a tablet computer instead of a iPad, sure, go ahead and pick up the Xoom. It's your money, and your choice.

Then just wait until this fall when Lion goes tablet and knocks the Xoom out of the water. Because I think it probably will. Educated guess, but I'm willing to stake some money on Apple bringing out a Lion-based touch computer. One that will make the Xoom look paleolithic.

Apple gets touch. Apple's engineers and designers understand touch. They design touch. Touch is not just about sticking a capacitive screen on a computer. It's about designing a different way for users to interact from the ground up.

Specs support that design. They don't define it.

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