A new semester just started for me, and I found myself square in the middle of a brand new class. It doesn’t matter how stealthy you try to be in a class of 100: when there are 99 people sitting there with pen and paper, and you sit there with two tablets, you’re going to stick out. It didn’t take long before the tech questions started flying, and some of them both amazed me and provided excellent insight into why tablets are still considered toys: people have no clue what you can do with them.

Tech isn’t the center of everyone’s life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, it amazes me at times exactly how big the gap is between people who are true tech users and people who aren’t. I was asked if the iPad had Office, and by reading between the line, deduced that the person in question also had no clue that you could connect an external hardware keyboard to the iPad. I also observed someone else who actually had an iPad, and a Bluetooth keyboard, but was typing long lecture notes in the built-in note program.

Situations like that catch me a bit off guard. When I’m asked about Office on iOS or Android, I immediately start considering the differences between the ridiculous number of third party office apps ad the actual full blown Microsoft/Open Office, with half a thought in the direction of OnLive and Splashtop as two ways of getting the full Office experience on a tablet. In reality though, that’s not what many people ask about. What they actually want to know is whether you can peck away at a keyboard and create text that you can then save, and preferably also transfer to your computer.

With such a simple criteria in mind, you start seeing existing products and OSes in a new light. A Transformer Pad TF300 with a keyboard dock is suddenly a relatively cheap, light computer, fully capable of doing what you need (create text documents), run for 18 hours straight, turn on instantly, have no fan noise, and at the same time be a “toy” while in tablet mode. Still, to many people who would have loved it if they had tried it, they’re simple not aware of any alternatives to a laptop.

I fully believe that paper is just a pointless relic of the past at this point, but to get to where society agrees with me, things have to change at a much more fundamental level. People need to get used to the idea of tablets as different types of computers, not as flat Angry Birds-capable Facebook portals. Right now, a lot of people see tablets as toys, and that has to change, or we’ll be stuck with paper until there are no more trees.