I’ve been reading about the myriad iPad-type devices which are beginning to hit the market. Reading about the wide variety of features they include, I began to wonder what features were most important. To figure this out, I first needed to examine what I would like to do with the device.

First, I don’t like tools that make me wonder whether they’re going to work when I need them. I would want to be able to use it a lot without thinking about whether the battery would go dead. I’d want it to work everywhere I might take it. I want to be able to pull it out of a bag or pick it up off a table, turn it on, and start using it immediately.

I’d also want it to be able to perform a number of different functions. I don’t like spending money on single purpose devices. Doing that multiplies the number of devices you need. I’d rather have one device that performs a huge number of tasks acceptably well than two or more devices that perform those tasks better.

So, what are these tasks? In my mind, a device like this should let you connect to vast amounts of information. It should let you create documents. It should let you transfer files. It should entertain you or help you to fill free time while in waiting rooms. It should play music and video. It should let you read books. Ideally, it should let you get access to your own files from anywhere. It should be secure. It should help you stay better connected to the most important people in your life.

Here is my list of features that any pad device should include to truly win my heart:

1. Must have 10 hour battery life. I don’t care if it’s removable. By the time the battery fails, I’ll probably want a newer tablet, anyway.
2. Must have a high-resolution, LED back-lit, capacitive touch screen. Sorry, but 800×480 will NOT cut it. Better screens may add a bit to the price, but your eyes are not replaceable. It should be at least 9".
3. Must be customizable with easy-to-purchase, native applications. This is what made Apple’s iPhone and iPad so popular. It’s not better hardware. It’s just really easy to make it do exactly what you want. Requiring web applications will be a negative point. You simply aren’t always connected to the web.
4. Must have a front-facing video camera and an Internet video chat application. I see pad devices replacing cordless phones in the living room. Those previous efforts at video phones always required you to sit in a certain spot in the room to accommodate a stationary camera. Talking to a face on a tablet you hold wherever you are sitting seems far more natural to me. This will also make them the perfect travel companion for people leaving their families at home. You pass the pad around the room to talk to each individual, like people do with a cordless phone.
5. Must synchronize with default Windows applications. Apple dropped the ball on this one. It’s arbitrary that iTunes supports Windows Mail, but doesn’t support Windows Calendar. Not all of us want to buy Outlook at home just to be able to sync to a calendar. It would also be a plus if it includes its own desktop application, like Palm did with their hand held PDAs. If it syncs with Windows Media Center for music and video, even better.
6. It should play video, music, and allow reading most formats of books. If it includes a way to browse several of the best online sources for all of these types of media and purchase directly from the device, it would be even better.
7.  It should include a really fast browser. Support for all Internet standards should be included. It should also support Flash, whether it is a true standard or not. Sure, when Flash is no longer needed, remove it.
8. It should be instant-on and very responsive. Nobody likes waiting for something to "boot up" just to check email or browse the web.
9. A full set of sensors should be included, including proximity, ambient light, inertial, rotational, positional (GPS, compass), etc.
10. It should be slim and light. We’re not looking to lug a brick around. That’s where most netbooks have failed. They are thick and bulky, particularly if you add an extra-life battery.
11. It should have a lot of storage space. When we are talking about carrying movies, music, books, and our documents around, we need the space to hold it all. It should also allow for expansion of that space via SD card slots or similar.
12. It should use a standard mini-USB cable for charging and transferring data. It’s ridiculous to use proprietary ports. It’s even more ridiculous to change the form factor on every update so that it requires a new docking cradle. Apple just doesn’t get this.
13. Create a thin protective screen cover which can be attached easily without adding bulk to the device. Palm did very well in this respect. Nobody wants to struggle to remove their pad device from a sleeve, when all we really need is a thin, hard cover which attaches to an edge of the device and folds across the screen. It should then fold behind the device while you’re using it. It could even be designed to prop the device up, if needed.

You can see the Apple iPad meets a lot of these criteria, but it’s also obvious that Apple dropped the ball on some of them. For example, they left out Flash support and a video chat camera. But even with these shortcomings, Apple set a standard by which other pad devices will be judged. They also forced a lot of us to think about what we would really want in this type of device, myself included. So ask yourself…

What features would be on your "must-have" list?


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