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.
(MORE: Margins and More: Who Can Actually Make Money from 7-inch Tablets?)
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.