A Tale of Two Tablets (and a lesson learned)

an iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab

Having recently had the opportunity to work with both an iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, I have the following impressions (which are predicated upon the fact that I am a long time PC user.)


  • very easy to learn to use
  • easier screen turn on (thanks to physical home button)
  • slightly faster “on” from power off state
  • pretty simple and intuitive operation — launch app from home menu, use app, push single home button to return to app menu
  • pretty good for simple, input only text entry; painful for editing existing text
  • Overall, a very elegant casual consumption device.


  • harder to learn to use
  • slightly slower and slight less convenient screen turn on
  • longer initial startup from power off state
  • once acclimating, felt more sophisticated, akin to my desktop PC experience, especially with web browsing and office-like tasks
  • great for simple, input only text entry; painful for editing existing text
  • Overall, seems more powerful in the traditional computing sense.

Which did I like better? Honestly, I liked both, but for different reasons. It would be difficult to pick between the two. But here’s the ironic twist to this tale…

During the time I was tinkering with the tablets, I found myself pulled into a conversation with an extended family member who had just proudly purchased a brand new cell phone as a replacement for her old phone. She purchased a basic phone. Not a smart phone. No touch-screen capabilities. Not even a phone with a QWERTY keyboard.  Just a plain ol’ flip phone. How did I get involved?  Because she asked me for help figuring out how to use the built-in camera, which, on that model, is pretty much as simple as “push the camera button, aim, push different button (soft key) to capture photo, push different button (another soft key) to save.” Not rocket science, but it took a number of demonstrations for her to grasp the process.

I wondered if not having a smartphone with a larger display screen might have been an impediment. After all, larger screens often do make tasks with software interfaces easier, and the individual in question did already have desktop PC knowledge. So I pulled out one of the tablets and demonstrated how to use it, thinking perhaps having a larger screen and a device more akin to a PC would remove a lot of the confusion. The response? She wouldn’t even take it out of my hand. As soon as she saw me touching the tablet, I might as well have performed magic. She shook her head in amazement and walked away. Although I know she understands some traditional PC concepts, the tablet seemed to be too large of a departure to her.

I’m left pondering why this happened, since tablets are largely geared at casual use/users rather than power users. Being more akin to a power user than newcomer (having desktop, laptop, and netbook experience), though I didn’t have any previous tablet experience, I didn’t run screaming. Admittedly, my PC acumen is significantly greater than hers, but was Windows knowledge the issue? Why did she flee, shaking her head? What’s the core issue?

I think this is really about understanding general software principles — specifically, understanding them well enough to realize core software concepts can be extended to nearly any modern device. Tablets are unique in their homogenized input/output method, but touching the screen to operate software isn’t fundamentally different from controlling software with a keyboard and mouse, no matter what the screen size.

And so, though I think both tablets are sufficiently intuitive for my liking, my lesson learned is that if a user doesn’t grasp software operation on a desktop PC, they probably won’t be that much more successful with today’s tablets. I’m left shaking my head at the irony: to use an “easier” personal computing device, you first have to understand most of the principles for traditional PCs that drove me to write The Ultimate PC Primer in the first place.

One Response to A Tale of Two Tablets (and a lesson learned)

  1. Danny says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how the new “Kindle Fire” addresses this issue. Amazon is using Android under the covers (just like the Galaxy, albeit probably a slightly different release), but they’re supposedly developing their own primary user interface. Given the intentional simplicity designed into the previous Kindles, it’ll be interesting to see Amazon’s results with their new color tablet.

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