About two months ago, I decided to find out what the tablet computing craze was all about. Mainly out of professional interest as a software developer, I bought an Android tablet: specifically, a 10″ Toshiba Thrive, which runs the Android operating system. The trouble is, as soon as I turned the device on, I was filled with a feeling of revulsion and loathing. That visceral hatred has faded only a little bit since.

The Fundamental Problem

Fundamentally, it’s not the Toshiba brand or the Android OS that I hate. It’s the entire concept of a computing tablet. What I expected when I shelled out 500 bucks for this device was a streamlined computer. What it really is, is an oversized phone. Literally the only things it is good for are checking e-mail and playing games.

I don’t recommend anyone buy a tablet unless all they care about is e-mail. Read on for a list of what I hate about tablets.

What is Wrong With Tablets, Android, and the Way the Industry is Headed

This new tablet sort of represents the sum of all my fears about where the computing industry is heading.

Advertising

There is not enough time, and my readers (or, more likely, “my reader”) do not have enough patience for me to write the blistering screed against advertising that the advertising industry deserves. Suffice it to say I really, really hate advertising and that is highly unlikely to change. Anyone who tries to advertise anything to me or my family needs to die in a fire.

Apparently, to Toshiba, is it not enough that I shelled out $500 for a high-end tablet. They want a steady secondary revenue stream from me. I bought the device to watch video and maybe do work. They sold me the device to open a 24×7 channel for advertisers. It starts with a big, obnoxious “shop” icon parked on the home screen and continues from there.

It’s not just Toshiba. Practically every free app attempts to “monetize” me by scrolling an animated banner ad. So to hell with free apps. Online advertising bothers me because I’m unaccustomed to it. On a real computer, I know how to block it.

Unremovable Crapware

The tablet came loaded with a mountain of crapware “helpfully” pre-installed. Actually, “crapware” is a charitable term, because I suspect this stuff is actually spyware.

I do not want an online backgammon game or a second e-mail app and I most certainly do not want Toshiba’s app store or Toshiba’s book store or Toshiba’s YouTube knock-off.

On a real computer I could just uninstall this garbage but on a tablet the only way to do that is to root the device. Now I know what they mean by “consumer electronics.” I will probably root this tablet sooner or later — if I accidentally brick it, I won’t lose anything of value. It’s almost a brick already.

Mobile Browsers SUCK

The Toshiba tablet comes with a version of Google Chrome pre-installed: again, spyware. Unlike the desktop world, there is no mobile browser that is not spyware, adware, or both.

Worse than that, there are no ad-blocking plug-ins available for mobile browsers. That would interfere with the manufacturers’ revenue streams.

Worse than that, mobile browsers don’t actually work right. Support for Flash, Javascript, and even CSS all seems to be flaky. Every time I try to watch streaming video on this device, it’s grainy and jerky. Frequently, streaming video crashes the browser. Combine that with the fact that most Web designers can’t design a mobile version of their sites (and they shouldn’t be trying anyway), and what you end up with is a Web browser that simply doesn’t meet the needs of today’s user.

Honeycomb SUCKS

The tablet came with Android 3.2.1, aka “Honeycomb” (the stupidity of supplanting version numbers, which have a natural order, with arbitrary English words, which don’t, is a separate rant). It turns out a lot of apps, most notably HBO Go, do not work on “Honeycomb.” Toshiba has been making noise about an upgrade path to Android 4.0 (aka “Ice Cream Sandwich” — who the hell thinks of these names?). But they’re stalling. In the meantime, I have a tablet that can run less software than a decent phone.

I actually blame app developers for this, in part. But the fact that my tablet had an obsolete OS when it came out of the factory does not help.

A Word About Battery Life

Battery life on the tablet is about six hours. Not six hours of watching video or six hours of surfing the Web: six hours of waiting on standby for me to check my e-mail. So this device is “mobile” as long as you can plug it in a couple of hours a day. This is probably better than a laptop, but the myth of ubiquitous mobile computing remains elusive.

Summary of Reasons Not to Buy a Tablet

A tablet is kind of like a computer but without the utility, privacy, or versatility. The only things it is good for are things that don’t require either a working Web browser or a real keyboard.

I ask myself whether I would have been happier with an iPad. The answer is almost certainly “no.” The iPad doesn’t support Flash at all, so forget about most Web video. I am pretty sure I would not have the OS obsolescence problem with an iPad, but on the other hand Apple keeps a complete stranglehold over the apps it allows users to run its (not “their”) devices.

What bothers me most about this is that PCs are probably going to become more like tablets, rather than the other way round. For more than a decade the industry has been looking for ways to milk a continuous and increasing stream of revenue out of their customers. Spyware, adware, and user lock-in are ways to do that. To make them work, vendors need to take control away from the users so they can’t bypass the revenue-generating ads.

A computer is a tool for extending the power of the human mind. A tablet is a device for watching the advertising the tablet maker wants to show and buying the digital media the tablet maker wants to sell, and making a tidy profit for the wireless carrier on an overpriced data plan. It’s a glorified television, permanently tuned to the Home Shopping Network.