The Maine Antique Digest digital edition is shown being read on an Android tablet computer with a 7" diagonal- measure screen.
Computer Column #291
Tablet computers are coming into their own after a decade of false starts. They have a definite place in an antiquer’s computer world, with a few specific limitations.
An engineer once said my digital hearing aids probably had more raw computing power than NASA had when it landed men on the moon. That cannot be proved. “Raw computing power” is a combination of many complex factors.
Computers still do the same things they always did, such as adding up numbers stored in memory or sending pulses to output devices. The difference is speed and memory size. The electronic computers of the 1950’s did about 50,000 of these basic operations a second. Today’s desktop computers do a million of them.
Memory can always be traded for speed of operation. If solving an equation takes too long, all possible solutions to the equation can be pre-calculated and stored in memory. The computer can then solve the equation with a memory lookup. Memory capacity has increased even more than processor speed. In 1980, 11 years after the manned moon landing, IBM came out with the first disk memory that could store more than a gigabyte (a billion characters) of data. It was the size of a refrigerator and cost $81,000 and up. Today we have memory chips such as the 32 gigabyte micro SDHC flash memory card used in some cell phones and tablets, for example. These chips are 0.43" x 0.59" x 0.039" and cost about $25. We are not, therefore, talking about puny computers when we speak of smartphones and tablets.
Whatever you call them, tablet computers, tablets, tabs, or pads are very similar to an oversize smartphone, but they do not make phone calls. (That may be coming, though.) Others can match laptop power. Screen size runs from twice smartphone dimensions up to desktop computer screen sizes. There are so many competing types, brands, and models of tablets that only approximate price ranges will be indicated here.
The least-expensive tablets use the Google Android operating system. There are several 7" Android tablets for under $100. Such a tablet with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio provides an on-screen keyboard about 6.5" wide that is far easier to use than the tiny keyboard of a smartphone. The larger and better models can be over $600.
The on-line data connection is usually through Internet Wi-Fi, either from a home network or a hotspot at a business or public library. Cell phone 3G or 4G data connections are seldom possible. With a Wi-Fi connection, it is possible to send and receive e-mail, browse the Web, and post to social media. Both the mail software and the Internet browser are much simplified from those available with a computer.
Music can generally be downloaded and played while off line. Electronic books of several brands can be stored and read at leisure. Some Android tablets have cameras, but all can store downloaded pictures to be viewed later. Cameras may be front or rear facing. The former captures the user; the latter can record general scenes.
The main limitation of Android tablets is the available software. Android devices do not run standard Windows software such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, or Adobe Photoshop, but it is possible to do limited editing of the Microsoft files. Android tablets run the same programs or apps as smartphones or upgraded versions of them. There are hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from. There may be pale imitations of Windows programs among them.
If you choose to start out with one of the less-expensive Android tablets, you may find the choice of apps limited. Google Play (https://play.google.com) is the basic source of Android apps. Google does not allow apps to be downloaded to devices whose software it has not approved. This is a source of disappointment for owners of low-cost tablets. The manufacturers of these tablets recommend other sources for apps, but the choice is smaller and the quality lower. Some of the best and most popular apps are not available. Google maintains a list of supported devices (http://support.google.com/googleplay/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1727131) that can be checked before buying a tablet.
There are many apps that handle sales slips for restaurants. None were found that could be easily adapted for producing sales slips for antiques show dealers. There are several that provide a credit card merchant account and card scanners that plug into a tablet. All the customer comments should be read before choosing an app. User satisfaction varies greatly.
The first commercially successful tablet of the modern era was the Apple iPad. It has progressed through several models. The iPad is probably the most popular tablet computer. Current models run from about $300 to $700 with Wi-Fi connectivity. Models with cell phone data connectivity cost more and require contracts with a cellular carrier such as AT&T or Verizon.
The apps for iPads seem more polished than Android apps. There are many excellent ones available. For example, there are several point-of-sale apps that would serve an antiques show dealer as well as credit card apps. Explore available apps by going to iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes). If you do not already use iTunes for music downloads, register and install the software, and then proceed to the iTunes App Store. I found Apple apps harder to preview than Android apps. Descriptions are shorter and user reviews are scarce.
Apps are available to create and do limited editing of Microsoft Word and Excel files. These can be exchanged with a desktop computer as e-mail attachments.
Windows tablets are the newest on the market and include the first computer designed and sold by Microsoft. A number of top computer manufacturers also produce Windows tablets.
There are two distinct types of Windows tablets. One variety runs the standard Windows 8 Pro operating system. This tablet is basically indistinguishable from a laptop or desktop computer and would serve quite well in that capacity. The costs run from about $500 to $1300. The more expensive units have larger screens.
The other type runs Windows 8 RT, a version for smaller, lighter computers. The operating system is similar to (but not compatible with) that used by Apple iPads. RT tablets cannot run standard Windows software, though a junior version of Microsoft Office has been adapted to it. Prices run about $500 to $700. About 35,000 apps are presently available, and the number is growing rapidly.
The Windows tablet is the only tablet that can run currently popular antiques dealer and mall manager software. We contacted three firms whose software has been reviewed here regularly over the years. Anteq (www.anteq.com) said, “The software was designed before Windows 8 and will have limited functionality without the keyboard. The software will not work on a Windows 8 RT, only on the Pro.” Jason Lorde of the Antique & Art Information Network (www.aain.com) said that their products have been running on touchscreen tablets since Windows 7, and run well with the Windows 8 RT OS as well. Brian Hiatt of Collectorpro Software (www.collectorpro.com) said that their software runs fine on a Windows 8 laptop. They are getting ready to test it on a Hewlett Packard Windows 8 Pro tablet. It is not designed to run on Windows RT.
Google is said to be working on a tablet based on its Chrome operating system. Camera maker Vivitar is getting into the tablet field. Lenovo is making a 27" tablet for the coffee table. So stay tuned.