The Tablet Story Is Getting Stronger

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David McNew / Reuters

New Surface tablet computers with keyboards are displayed at its unveiling by Microsoft in Los Angeles, California, June 18, 2012.

2012 has been an interesting year for tablets. We’ve seen forecasts changed and adjusted to demonstrate increasing and rapid market demand. We’ve engaged in the debate both publicly and privately about whether tablets are PCs or should be called PCs. And now we’re seeing new entrants, with new ideas and even new business models for tablets.

My firm, Creative Strategies, has remained and continues to remain bullish on tablets as we adapt and use some of the most aggressive forecasts in our trend analysis reports. We’ve been adamant in our stance since the iPad was released that this form factor is a big deal and one of the most important new categories the industry has seen in some time. We strongly believe that the tablet is the basis for the reinvention of the personal computer.

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New Entrants and New Business Models

Over the past few months, it’s been encouraging for us industry watchers to see that both Microsoft and now Samsung have joined the party, each boldly claiming that tablets are incredibly versatile computing products. Microsoft with Surface and now Samsung with the Galaxy Note 10.1 are joining Apple in sending the message that tablets can and should be used for more than just consuming media.

Why is that important? Because much of the initial conversation about tablets was similar to much of the conversation around the first desktop computers. Many in the industry believed tablets would never become more than entertainment products and some went so far as to call them a fad. But consumers have spoken, and the market is adopting tablets faster than any other piece of personal electronics in the history of the industry.

It is essential, for this form factor to reach its full potential, that hardware and software companies take leadership positions and begin to create products that realize their vision for this category. I want to emphasize that some companies may launch products that will have little to no success. But because this market is still in its infancy, some experimentation is essential for the market to grow. It’s better for companies to innovate than to launch “me too” tablets just to make a buck — even if the product fails.

I’m encouraged by the work Samsung is doing with the Note 10.1, searching for ways that a pen computing solution can be used in conjunction with touch computing. I believe there are parts of the market that will find the use of a smart and intelligent pen solution useful and necessary. Time will tell if the Note 10.1 finds market success, but even if it doesn’t, I believe innovation in pen computing will be important for the tablet category.

(MORE: The Future of Smart Health)

I’m also encouraged by what Microsoft is doing with Surface, specifically with a keyboard accessory specially designed to work with a tablet. We can debate all day whether or not Surface will be successful, or if the Windows 8 philosophy is right or wrong, but we’d be missing the point that these types of products are necessary for the evolution of the tablet category in general. We learn from products’ successes and failures. The most important thing is that companies innovate, try new things and try to be leaders, not followers.

Amazon and Google are also doing interesting things by pushing the envelop with hardware costs as well as media and commerce services tied to tablets. Both of these companies are emphasizing media and entertainment over productivity with their 7-inch form factor tablets. There’s a role for pure media tablets alongside or in conjunction with other personal computing products, and I’m glad both companies are exploring what touch computing brings to the 7-inch screen.

What Does This Mean for the Traditional PC?

By traditional PC, I mean the clamshell notebook form factor. My personal opinion is that it won’t go away entirely, but that its role will change. Prior to tablets, this was the primary computing screen consumers used to compute. Smartphones and now tablets have given consumers more control over which screen to use for a given task. Therefore my premise isn’t that tablets make the PC obsolete, but that they take time away from it.

Consumers will choose to travel, check email, browse the web, etc., on the most convenient screen to hand. Sometimes that’ll be a smartphone, sometimes a tablet and sometimes the traditional PC. Each screen will fill a role and be employed for specific tasks. We’re right at the beginning of the shift from one personal computer to many personal computers, all of which make up a “personal computing ecosystem.”

We’re living in interesting times, working through a technology shift that will shape the future of personal computing more than most realize. The devices we use and depend on today will evolve and become more intelligent, more connected and more personal in the near future.

The next 25 years will be one of the most innovative periods for personal computers. I firmly believe that we’ll see more innovation around personal computing and computing at large over the next few decades than we ever saw in the previous two.

MORE: Are Notebooks Becoming Relics?

33 comments
rich_bown
rich_bown

"the market is adopting tablets faster than any other piece of personal electronics in the history of the industry"

Faster than smartphone adoption? Don't think so!

rich_bown
rich_bown

"the market is adopting tablets faster than any other piece of personal electronics in the history of the industry"

Faster than smartphone adoption? Don't think so.

cooldoods
cooldoods

Actually the tablet format has been considered a good choice for mobile work before the iPad even came out. The only problem then was battery life and design issues related to heat dissipation. Furthermore, Microsoft didn't want to come out with an ARM-compatible Windows. Still, some companies in certain industries made use of tablet PCs as part of their operations.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Anti tablet computer elitists; What a lot of them have floated to the top in this discussion.

Bill Gates was talking about convergence decades ago.

The current crop of tablets, ultrabooks and convertibles represents the current expression of that concept.

Basically it is the reality of computer interaction devices becoming pervasive in our society.

Will they all do everything, of course not, but they are becoming central to our way of life.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that the upcoming Microsoft Surface is perhaps the single most recognizable expression of Gatesian "convergence" to date.

Guest
Guest

I don't really think I've ever read an article on tablets that actually says anything; its always just a randomized collection of the following copy/pasted buzzwords: evolving, evolution, innovation, smart, revolution, connected, media, social, content, consumption, personal, consumer, traditional, and shift. They stick these into a few paragraphs that mention current products and there you go. 

"The [insert product or marketing buzzword] has evolved and will continue to evolve into the next decade as consumers continue to consume content via social media which be revolutionized by a shift away from the traditional standard that is evolving into more personal and connected forms of [insert product or marketing buzzword]." There, can I get paid to do this?

benbajarin
benbajarin

Its sort of hard to do a full analysis of a segment in less than 1000 words.    If you would like I can point you to my firms research around tablets with a lot more in depth analysis on the segment.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

I, too go along with the more recent posters who take exception to the term "computing" in relation to tablets. 

It's a computer only in name.  It does computing only by the stritctest definition of the word.  But to call it a replacement for computers or even a productivity tool is almost entirely inaccurate.  It does not matter how powerful they become, either.  They are inherently limited by their form factor as tablets.  While the computer industry seems to be buying into the tablet fad, tablets can't replace computers.  In order to do that, they all have to be turned back into very awkward laptops at best.

And that's what's happening now.  The Surface is a prime example of a tablet turned into a laptop.  Touch screen computers are sold, but almost no one uses the touch interface because of the way people use computers (at a desk with the screen far enough away to actually read, making the screen hard to reach).

Tablets certainly have their place if all one does is consume.  That's what they're designed for, and for light consumption at that.  They can be useful for art and graphics (basic stuff, mostly) and even as a student's best friend for note-taking and book-reading, reducing the 30 pound textbook load they often lug around.  But outside of these kinds of niche specialty uses (mostly as an exotic peripheral rather than a workstation), and light consumption, tablets are pretty awkward.  So much so that they actually impair productivity in what are considered traditional computing applications.

I have used tablets in the past, and once the new tablet smell wore off, I was in the market for a decent laptop to better do what needed to be done.  When soemone gets a device that doesn't do what they want as well as what they had before, there's a long period when they try to get it to do so.  Usually by buying things that turn it into an approximation of what they used to use.  By the time it sinks in that all that accommodation to overcome an inherently awkward to use device is just more trouble than it's worth, they've spent more than they would have had they just bought a decent mid-to-high range laptop in the first place.  That's something more and more of my clients have discovered over the last year. A majority of my clients who actually do productive computer work who

got tablets did so mostly because of the hype and have since turned them into

exotic paper weights or given them to others and returned to laptops and desktops.

In order to understand why this fad continues, one need only look at the bottom line.  Tablets are cheaper to make than laptops and can sell for a much higher per unit margin.  A little investment into advertising and it boosts the bottom line for hardware manufacturers.  They'll try to keep the fad going until everyone who does real computing work has the same epiphany about their almost useless tablet, gets over their buyer's remorse and goes back to something that actually gets the job done better.  Then the the fad will fade like pet rocks, disco and polyester leisure suits.

A tablet can be useful as a smart peripheral, but it can't replace a real computer unless the user has extremely simple and limited uses for it.

benbajarin
benbajarin

Have you tried a tablet in conjunction with a keyboard?  I use my iPad with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover and find that it gets me pretty far in terms of computing.  

Our research as well as others have shown that the average consumer, can do 80% of what they do with their notebooks on a tablet.   With the benefit of a highly portable touch computing paradigm.  One that with the addition of a keyboard lets you lean back and lean forward to compute whenever the context demands it. 

Keep in mind I never stated it replaces the traditional computer, only that it takes time away from it.   A model I think is very interesting is one where a tablet comes or is paired as a solution to a desktop.  

We are finding an overwhelming number of consumers who bought iPads are moving to this model where they are using an old notebook or desktop and leaving it stationary then using the iPad when mobile.  

There is a lot happening in this market and consumers are finding their needs met largely with computing by tablets.  For those who don't still choose notebooks and that is fine.  But my overall point is that with more screens comes more ways to compute.   How many or which combined solution a consumer chooses is up to them.  

It is ridiculous for any one person to assume that they way they compute is universal and the only way.    Many people in this world have very simple needs with computers and tablets are filling a void, both in price and simplicity.   That is why they are doing well.   

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Assuming the Apple IPad Mini is as real as the Microsoft Surface, I think this is going to be a very interesting Christmas Season.

You did notice these are perfectly timed for Christmas didn't you.

The Kindle Fire was the opening round last season.

This season the 2 big ones have at it.

My guess is they both win and in a strange way, so will we.

I do think that this (event) is going to impact all of us a lot more than most people understand.

AhmadZainiChia
AhmadZainiChia

I like your point about all our personal computing devices coming together to form our own 'Personal Computing Ecosystem'. I think that now more than ever, in choosing what products to buy, customers have to weigh how a product may fit in his/her 'Personal Computing Ecosystem'. 

As of right now, i think Apple has the best ecosystem and provides traditional pc's, tablets and smartphones which truly work beautifully together. Microsoft has a chance with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Google might need to be better pals with either of these two companies so that their Android Products can fit into Apple's or Microsoft's Portfolios better, or they may lose out in providing the best ecosystem for their customers.

Aaaaand i await the flames from android fanboys. :P

Alan
Alan

I have to echo the 'consumption, not production' comment. I really cannot imagine using my phone or tablet for anything beyond the most basic of emails or similar. For looking at and showing photos and video they're great, and better than nothing when you want to show someone a website for example. However they make no real sense when compared directly to even a simple laptop, providing the laptop is reasonably sturdy.

Personally I wish they'd put more effort into weather and shock-proofing laptops and working on battery power, rather than actually removing protective covers and keyboards, both of which I find rather more useful than the ability to smudge the screen with my finger.

Byst1nder
Byst1nder

The problem with Companies are they're trying to jump in the bandwagon where they are not competitive or having that edge.... Blackberry tried to jump in the bandwagon, when they were successful in  catering to businessesmen. Nokia was already successful on the budget phone but tried to focus its attention to smartphone.

Laptops are purely for business and office applications, companies should not divert where they are successful. They should instead focus on further innovating their products - particularly in terms of cost and technology. Don't go where people are already (fanatically) decided on a particular product, its difficult to remove them from what they want.... Focus on those who are still buying their products. Even apple is not 100% focused on their Iphone / Ipad products, as they are still making laptops or Mac Air...

MrMonkeyWrench
MrMonkeyWrench

Tablets are not built for "computing", they are designed for "consumption."

eccles11
eccles11

But it is not exclusively like that, believed I or not, sitting in a Starbucks I have successfully written, debugged and ran a python game from my hacked nook color.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

 According to the author, simply using a computer is "computing". Which is just... no....

benbajarin
benbajarin

Look up definition of computer in the dictionary.  If you are limiting computing to mean editing video, churning out a giant CAD drawing, programming a graphically intense game etc, then it is very narrow.  

Check email, browse web, two of the largest use cases and the majority tasks by average consumers.  

From our own internal research consumers can count on one hand the number of applications they use on a regular basis.  None of them are CPU intensive. 

benbajarin
benbajarin

I use my iPad for quite a bit more than consumption and so do a large amount of consumers we interview.   AND thanks to pocket computers (AKA) smart phones, anyone can look up words in a dictionary, but thats not the point. 

You in fact made my point about asking consumers if they are computing.   I feel the same way, they have no idea nor do they care.  This debate about whether tablets or smart phones compute is simply one of semantics and nothing more. 

The mass market consumers just want products that get jobs done.   For many these so called jobs are very simple which is why a product like a tablet is good enough for most tasks.  Hence the reason it is doing so well and stealing time away from traditional PCs.   

The bottom line is consumers will choose what products they want to buy to equal the computing solution that works best for them.    What works for me may not work for you, etc etc.  

The mistake many make is to assume computing is a one size fits all scenario.  It is not. 

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

Hence consumption.

I'd add that since no one carries a dictionary with them, or at least most people don't, living out of a dictionary is a poor choice. I can guarantee that if you walk up to those people as they're counting on one hand and tell them they're computing, you'd get a response of, "Computing what?" My point is, just because a dictionary supports your point doesn't mean popular use of the word does. At the end of the day, which one matters most?

benbajarin
benbajarin

I suggest re-examining your definition of computing.  In the way you are using the term it is relative.  

Raptorhead
Raptorhead

The only revolution in tablets is the business model.  Companies are making bank selling people hardware that was obsolete 10 years ago.  The only people that buy them are folks that don't know any better. 

There isn't a single thing tablets do better than desktops.  They aren't portable enough to be useful.  They aren't powerful enough to be useful.   You have less control over your hardware and software.  Sure, trust a multi-national corporation with all your data in "the cloud".  That's a great idea!

The author is just another industry shill.  Of course he thinks tablets are going to take over.  He wishes!

Anton P. Nym
Anton P. Nym

I was one of the first in Canada to buy a Samsung Q1 UMPC (nee Origami PC), a 7" tablet running WinXP Tablet Edition.  I found that portable enough and powerful enough to be useful for consumption and creation.  I liked it so much that when I bought a replacement I bought another 7" tablet from Viliv, which alas I lost to an accident and miss terribly.

Needless to say I disagree with just about everything in your post.

 -- Steve

Yacko
Yacko

"There isn't a single thing tablets do better than desktops."

They don't have to. You think the scam is that people are having less powerful devices foisted on them, when the opposite is true. Most consumers were oversold overpowered devices whose potential they barely tapped. The average user doesn't do much, doesn't aspire to do much and will likely never do much with a computer.

Shocking? No obsessively geotagging photos, no Van Gogh with a Wacom, no 3D rendering of the Roman Colosseum, no spreadsheet database of their comic book collection, no nothing that takes more than 5 minute attention span. And it always has been that way. The scam is that people have paid far more money in the past for rapidly aging and depreciating devices whose features they largely didn't need or for that matter, understand.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

You stayed out of tossing the rumored IPad Mini in the mix, but at this point the likelihood seems near certainty.

And if so, it is going to provide the most stimulus of all to a whole new outlook for personal computers.

Pricing in the two to three hundred dollar range for a highly portable device with decent graphics and general purpose applications and cloud and internet access is probably going to result in a lot more computer users within a year or two.

E media will begin seriously displacing paper books and printed media.

And computer communication and interaction will become the norm.

Neil Bledsoe
Neil Bledsoe

Totally agree, Sam. I've got my smart phone as my portable communication device amp; media consumption device. I've got my netbook as a quick, lightweight way to check email, compose documents, etc. It's got a keyboard, and I can plug in a mouse. Tablets are in some awkward area between - what does it do that existing devices can't do (or in many cases, already do better)? This article seems like a fluff piece to drum up support from naive investors.

Commentary Fortytwo
Commentary Fortytwo

And once again the media shills for Amazon while ignoring the superior technology of the Nook Tablet. 

jeanocelot
jeanocelot

About the only thing a laptop can't do well is to be used while standing up - or sitting down with a lot of folks walking bumping around (like on a metro train) or in otherwise very tight seats.  Other than that, a laptop is perfect for plopping down on a desk or on the groin when lying down - and for toting it around in a laptop carryable backpack.

The Microsoft Surface is basically a device that can be a small laptop for when using the keyboard is needed, while being a tablet when that is all that is needed.  I predict it will be a hit.

Viral Survivor
Viral Survivor

This is it. This is The ONE. The device to end all devices. 

Put this article in a time capsule. Dig it up next year and compare it to the next fad tech.

MP3 players were outselling once. They are gone. Wii. Xbox. Furbee. Tickle-me-Elmo.

He never mentions putting a keyboard on a pad makes it a laptop... with a small screen, no hard drive, no media drive and only apps but no desktop interface.

Robotics is the next tech revolution. We'll have an array of devices as now. Use phone to control it all.

Bill Manning
Bill Manning

I agree with Sam below. I work for myself full time online. I have 35 websites and do lots more for income online. I need the power and versatility of a laptop. But even when I don't I still prefer the laptop. Simply put the design is perfect, a screen you can adjust with a good keyboard plus all the extras if you want them. So,,,, why use something almost as big with far fewer options?

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

They're still not something I can plop on my lap and use comfortably. They keyboards take up half the screen and continue to be very awkward to use. I want to like them, especially the Surface Pro, but the majority of the products on the market are made in such a way that limited user freedom is an integral part of the design, and ease of use still falls behind my netbook. I know consumers have spoken, but I still scratch my head and wonder, "Why?".

JeffHenster
JeffHenster

 Me, too. What would I want one for? I notice now people hauling around a keyboard with it. Why not just use a netbook? There also seems to be a diminishing return on how small a screen can be and still be usable.