FRAMINGHAM, 22 FEBRUARY 2011 - Tablet computing is a decade-old technology, but one that lay buried since users rejected Microsoft's "heavy OS" approach a while back. A year ago, Apple's iPad resurrected the tablet computing concept, delivering a lightweight sheet of computational glass with a pleasant, responsive user interface and a blizzard of applications. Users love it, and now a barrage of wannabe tablets are flooding the marketplace. All do reasonably well at the four applications users access most: Web, email, books, and media. And the half million or so apps in the collective app stores of Apple, Android, and BlackBerry would seem to fill every conceivable mobile need.
But users, particularly business users, want more. They want to throw away their laptop computers, or at least drag them out less often. InfoWorld.com's Galen Gruman has proclaimed that these devices will become the main computing device for most workers, and recently one mobile device management company declared the laptop is dead, based on the meteoric increase in tablet offerings. The statement may be premature, given that Google's Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") OS has yet to appear commercially, and planned tablets from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and RIM depend on proprietary, unproven operating systems. Still, it's clear that huddled users are yearning to be laptop-free.
[ Find out how vendors' furious tablet jockeying is really a battle for the future of computing in Galen Gruman's "What the 'tablet wars' are really all about." | Discover InfoWorld's picks for the best iPad office apps. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with Mobilize newsletter. ]
Unfortunately, a laptop is still de rigueur if you want to do anything that involves moving files around. That's because file management remains a serious soft spot in today's tablet products. Syncing files between a user's desktop and a tablet's file system can be a tedious exercise. It's worse when the tablet lacks even the idea of a file system, which is the case with the iPad (which instead treats files as a component of each application's work space). The default way on the iPad for moving files in and out is a Rube Goldberg nightmare, involving iTunes, cables, and many, many clicks -- or routing everything as email attachments.
By contrast, Android apps can share files with each other; the OS gives apps the ability to traverse the entire underlying device file system, although its default behavior is to keep files private. This approach is much more amenable to cloud storage interaction.
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