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People on some forums claim that tablet computers and the interaction modes introduced with them are better than desktop and laptop PCs for various reasons. Some people have even been spotted trading in a desktop PC for an iPad.[1] I disagree. As of mid-2016, it's still premature to have a tablet as your only computing device. There are two issues here: the tablet form factor, and mobile operating systems.

Input devices

Text input

PCs come with a keyboard; most tablets don't. The fact that fingers can feel the keys' edges makes a PC far more practical for touch typing than a tablet. If you type a lot on your tablet, you'll need to start carrying an external keyboard, at which point you might as well be carrying a small laptop. Tablet advocates claim that tablets are better because you can leave the keyboard at home if you're sure you won't be doing a lot of typing.

Another inconvenience of touch keyboards is that the keyboard activity included with popular mobile operating systems tends to put characters often used in comment section markup, such as <, =, and >, two taps away from letters, so that the user has to repeatedly switch among three pages of keys. Android users may consider Hacker's Keyboard by Klaus Weidner.[2]

Pointing input

A PC comes with a mouse, which has fifteen or more "mickeys" (movement quanta) per millimeter (400 or more per inch). The vast majority of tablets since 2010 have capacitive touch screens, which can sense the positions of two or more fingers on the screen but are noticeably less precise than a mouse or even the resistive touch screen in a Nintendo DS. A capacitive touch screen is designed for a finger, not a stylus, and targets typically need to be at least 6 mm (1/4 inch) wide for the user to reliably hit them. Precision drawing needs a lot of zooming in and out unless the tablet is large enough for an app to present both zoomed and unzoomed views or the user is on a device with an active stylus, such as the S Pen on a Galaxy Note or the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro.

UI conventions

User interface conventions of tablet operating systems developed from those of smartphones. But what is ideal for a 4 inch screen isn't necessarily ideal for a screen twice as big in both directions.


Because the first iPhone and the HTC Dream had a screen smaller than 4 inches diagonal, space was at a premium. Actions that aren't on the toolbar had to be hidden behind an overflow menu, and the menu itself had to be short enough to fit on the screen. These conventions were kept in tablets for two reasons: familiarity and ease of finding the most common actions.

However, this also encouraged developers to either entirely leave out features or hide them behind non-obvious gestures. Tablet advocates claim that the omitted actions are unnecessary actions that the majority of people won't use, that a perfect interface has nothing left to take away. But unlike on desktop machines, which have Edit > Undo or Ctrl+Z, there's no easily visible undo button in most tablet applications. iOS has an undo gesture involve shaking the entire device, which is difficult for a user to discover. Once the user has discovered it, it's fine on an iPhone but more difficult on the heavier iPad and is more likely to cause the device to slip from the user's fingers. Android applications tend not to have much of an undo feature at all. This lack of undo, combined with imprecision of touch, encourages accidental sharing of the wrong thing.[3]

Even on the web, where all user agents are supposed to be equal, tablets were second-class citizens prior to the rise of responsive and "mobile first" design in the mid-2010s. Many responsive sites limited the actions that a mobile user could take in order to accommodate the smaller screen size of smartphones. Facebook once blocked entry of nicknames or creation of a Facebook Page or ad on a device that isn't a desktop computer. When Wikimedia sites first rolled out the mobile frontend, it accepted anonymous contributions only from PC users: "You must be logged in to edit pages on mobile."


Multitasking on tablets running mobile operating systems is crippled and will remain so until devices begin to ship with the forthcoming Android Nougat, expected in September 2016.[4]

Doorway amnesia is short-term memory loss due to the change in context after passing through a doorway.[5][6] Switching from one maximized window to another isn't the most efficient way to do things, and it imposes an additional cognitive load on users.[7] But some users have yet to learn this.[8] So do the developers of popular tablet operating systems, which have imposed a window management policy of all maximized all the time, even when a 7" to 10" display is big enough to fit several phone applications.

For years, applications for Android were allowed to assume that the screen size never changes after installation.[9] Google's Compatibility Definition Document, the standard that Android devices must meet in order to get Google Play Store and the other Google apps, stated as of mid-2014: "Devices MUST NOT change their reported screen size at any time."[10] Even Google's Pixel C detachable was limited by Android's full-screen display model.[11]

Among Android tablet makers, Samsung was among the first to recognize this problem, adding an API for applications to opt-in to "multi-window mode", Samsung's tiling window manager seen on recent Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab products. Some Android application developers have figured out how to hack together floating apps on other devices. This functionality is expected to expand to other devices once Nougat is released.[12] Canonical has learned this lesson as well; its Ubuntu Touch for tablets incorporates Side Stage, a tiling window manager that allows an application with a phone-style layout to take up part of a tablet's screen.

Microsoft went in both directions on this in 2012 with the release of Windows 8. On the one hand, Microsoft's first post-iPad attempt at a tablet operating system was Windows RT, a reduced functionality version of Windows 8 that ran Universal Windows Platform apps from the Windows Store, and these could be "snapped" to the side of the screen from day one. On the other hand, Windows 8's Start screen was a mess, imitating the opaque, full-screen form of a tablet OS's launcher even on desktop PCs and hiding functionality in hot corners and edges. Compared to the Start menus of Windows XP and Windows 7 that took up only a panel at the lower left and preserved the rest of the screen, the one in Windows 8 completely covered the desktop, increasing the "cognitive burden" according to one usability expert[13] and the potential for amnesia.[1] A lot of people ended up irritated enough to install Classic Shell, a third-party application that restores a Windows 7-style Start menu. Microsoft appears to have learned its lesson as of Windows 10, whose Start menu has returned to the size of that of Windows 7. The Windows 10 Start menu combines the traditional system management functions with a smaller set of Windows 8-style "live tiles" for launching applications.

Availability of applications and cultural works

A lot of applications just aren't available for a tablet for various reasons. Apple's App Store Review Guidelines ban entire categories of application from the App Store.

Apple sees the difference between an iPad and a Mac as like the difference between a car and a truck. Some users can get by with just a car and won't need a truck for the near future. The problem comes when the user has been getting by with a car for a while, but his needs change. He realizes he needs a truck but doesn't have the money to buy a truck just for one use. So instead, he decides to entirely forgo all hobbies that require a truck. (One leak in this analogy is the ability to rent a truck.)

Mobile web browsers support HTML5 but not Adobe Flash Player. At first, they could not display messages from sponsors in a way acceptable to site operators. For years, Vimeo would block playback of videos on devices without Flash Player (that is, phones and tablets) unless the uploader signed up for Vimeo Plus service to make mobile encodes.[14][15][16] YouTube couldn't ensure ad display, resulting in "The content owner has not made this video available on mobile" error messages on videos from certain partners and videos with a Content ID claim. The Escapist also put its non-Flash viewer behind its "Publisher's Club" paywall,[2], ostensibly because HTML5 playback technology of the time could not enforce advertisement display. But by 2015 or so, HTML5 Media Source Extensions had advanced to the point where many video providers felt comfortable treating iOS and Android as "monetized platforms" the way Flash was.[3]


  1. Acting Like A Print-cess. Not Always Right, 2013-04. Accessed 2013-06-09.
  2. thanks tenebrousedge
  3. David Wong. "6 New Kinds of Anxiety the Internet Gave Us". Cracked, 2013-04-23. Accessed 2013-04-24.
  4. Thomas McMullan. "Android N release date and news: Reports claim Google wants to change navigation (again)". Alphr, 2016-06-27. Accessed 2016-06-27.
  5. Eddie Rodriguez. "5 Seemingly Random Factors That Control Your Memory". Cracked, 2012-04-10. Accessed 2013-04-10.
  6. JadeCampbell et al. "22 Scientific Explanations That Can Make Life Less Annoying". Cracked, 2015-12-14. Accessed 2015-12-14.
  7. thanks dgatwood
  8. "Never A Dual Moment". Not Always Working, 2013-02. Accessed 2013-03-08.
  9. Slashdot comment by Andy Dodd, citing a comment by Dianne Hackborn
  10. Android Compatibility Definition Document Accessed 2014-05-25.
  11. David Ruddock. "Editorial: I Used The Pixel C, And It Seems Like A Pretty Bad Idea". Android Police, 2015-09-30. Accessed 2015-10-01.
  12. "Multi-Window Support". Android Developers. Accessed 2016-06-27.
  13. Avram Piltch. "Usability Expert: Windows 8 on PCs is Confusing, a Cognitive Burden". Laptop, 2012-08-17. Accessed 2013-08-20.
  14. Andrea Allen. "Your videos are going mobile!" Vimeo Staff Blog, 2010-01-11. Accessed 2013-05-19.
  15. From Help with Vimeo Mobile: "Sorry, but there are no current plans to extend this capability to basic members."
  16. Videos not working on mobile