So. My mom got a tablet.
According to my parents, who went to Costco not once, but twice on Black Friday to snag a tablet, both the Samsung Galaxy devices that were on sale went out of stock. But it turned out all right—they just went back on Saturday morning to buy their shiny new tablet.
In early October, the Pew Research Center reported that 22 percent of adults in the U.S. owned a tablet. They also claimed that nearly a quarter of those who didn’t have a tablet planned on getting one in the next six months.
Apparently my mom was one of them.
With the recent release of the Microsoft Surface and iPad mini, and the tablet’s growing popularity in general, it’s no wonder that the oversized PDAs (remember them?) are flying off the shelves. According to advertisements, tablets are for everyone—readers, business people, organizers and even dancers. But it raises the question of who will actually get the most utility from the device.
Even from current owners, there are mixed results. I’ve had my iPad for almost six months, and I use it regularly at school, tapping away at the screen as I take notes during class. However, I barely touch it at home; instead, I opt for my more powerful laptop.
Jeff Giorgi, an informatics major at the University of Washington and a friend of mine, uses his Samsung Galaxy Note lightly.
“It’s a planner,” Giorgi said about how he uses his device. “That’s about it.”
His tone regarding tablets it almost dismissive. But it’s not that the devices aren’t great or ripe with potential – Giorgi just thinks they don’t suit his needs.
“I think tablets, primarily, are toys,” he said. “They are not as useful as advertised, and certainly not as useful as a computer.”
Though the tablet had been an investment on which Giorgi was meant to test the acquired skills from his major, most of his use has been delegated to more trivial matters. He discovered his laptop software far outclassed that of his tablet. Anything he wanted to do was “all easier on the computer.” Instead, his tablet sits next to him on the desk as he works on his laptop.
It’s a stark difference from how Tina Seo, a Japanese and economics major, uses her iPad.
Seo has only had her iPad for one month, but to her, it feels like it’s been forever. She got it because it was much easier to carry around one slim device than the three encyclopedia-sized books she had been assigned.
In her short time with the device, she has become deft with it; during class, it’s the first thing out of her backpack. She flips back her cover in a practiced gesture, unlocking it before I even notice what is going on.
Seo doesn’t have a laptop, so for her, having a portable tool eased a burden. “I use it for translating. Most of my assignments and translation work are online anyway.” Since she didn’t need her device to store files, the tablet was fine by itself.
But the uses of a tablet go beyond the academic: people have also used them in the field—more specifically, on the football field at halftime.
Dan McDonald, 31, is the graduate assistant director of the University of Washington’s marching band. He and his colleagues started using tablets on the field this year to communicate and be more organized during practice. McDonald uses the tablet as he walks among the band members. He takes attendance. He checks drill formations or follows along with the music’s score.
This method is new this year; it’s an idea the UW band adopted from other bands around the country. McDonald remembered a clinic he attended two years ago that demonstrated tablet use for band directors, and rattled off a number of apps that he and his fellow directors use regularly.
But outside his work, McDonald doesn’t reach for his tablet as much. Since he has a smartphone and laptop, the portability that a tablet provides isn’t a necessary trait.
“Of my three main devices, I probably use it the least for personal use,” McDonald said, his fingers tapping a quick rhythm on the table as he thought. “I do prefer to read articles and studies on the tablet, just because it’s the right size and feel.”
But he was hard-pressed to think of anything he could do on his tablet that he couldn’t on his other devices.
Overall, the tablet hasn’t proven a necessity. It’s certainly not on the level of a computer as far as power is concerned, and the wide usage of smart phones by the general public render them less useful than their smaller counterparts.
But for some, the investment could still be good. Those looking for an alternative to a laptop can easily turn to a tablet. Though one may not need an electronic diary, a portable library, a digital sketchbook or a business tool, a tablet, which can provide all those things, may be nice to have if it’s within your budget.
For now, my parents aren’t sure how they’ll use the new tablet. While I was home for Thanksgiving weekend, I loaded it with books and set bookmarks for easy web browsing, tasks my parents would have a hard time figuring out, not being of the so-called “internet generation.” With the device in front of her, my mom clapped with delight and marveled at its aesthetics. As far as how much she’ll actually use it? Well, we’ll see.
A tablet is what you make it. Will you be part of the 25 percent?