Even before the iPhone, one thing's been clear: mobile devices have a single thing on the screen at a time.
You can toggle between apps, or see a popup list of running apps. But you can look at only one program. For many people, that's a feature, not a bug. The tablet may be the one place in their lives that isn't cluttered.
Apple even added a full-screen mode for programs on Macs in the OS X Lion and Mountain Lion operating systems. Microsoft is also headed that way. The native apps in its upcoming Windows 8 OS default to full-screen on both tablets and PCs.
Samsung blew that away today (Aug. 15) when it debuted its new Galaxy Note 10.1, which goes on sale nationwide tomorrow, starting at $499. While the abilities to write, sketch and point-click with the pen are the first features that people may notice, the ability to show multiple programs could be the most radical.
Several apps installed on the new device can appear side-by-side, in equally sized windows. (Curently they are the S Note drawing and sketching app, and the built-in web browser, image gallery, email and video player apps, along with the Polaris Office suite.) Samsung also retains the feature from previous tablets of including mini-versions of apps that pop up in their own windows. And it's added the ability to play a video in its own window on top of all that. You can pinch-and-zoom to change the size of the video window and drag it anywhere.
People with ADD may be either horrified or gratified at the opportunities for distraction. But people who really want a tablet to take the place of a laptop might be excited.
Of course, you're not forced to go window-crazy. The Galaxy Note 10.1 defaults to a standard tabletlike interface. You can click one app and look at just that. But you have the option to add more complexity if you want.
Samsung showed off some options, such as dragging and dropping an image into a slideshow presentation or a word-processing document. And it could be handy, for example, to work on a document while keeping a watch for an important email in the next window.
Now we are talking about a PC — and a work PC, at that.
A lot of people were thrilled with the iPad because it wasn't like a PC. The interface is simple (some might say limited) and oriented toward doing one thing at a time. In essence, it's a leisure device. The multiple windows capability on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 only really makes sense if you think of it as a business device.
A lot of people are bringing iPads to work. Are they ready to take tablets all the way and make them into thin PCs?