A Touch-Literate World: The Global Tablet Craze

The data we're seeing around tablet adoption is incredible. And contrary to the belief of many, the tablet craze is not just happening in the U.S. but also around the world. This reality has many implications

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I haven’t been shy about expressing my belief that tablets represent the reinvention of the personal computer. The data we’re seeing around tablet adoption is incredible. And contrary to the belief of many, the tablet craze is not just happening in the U.S. but also around the world. This reality has many implications.

Much of the tablet unit-shipment and forecast data we’re seeing come in from around the world indicates annual growth rates for tablets in Asia, in particular, at over 60% year over year. To contrast that with how other segments are doing in the Asia-Pacific region, growth for traditional computers is seeing 12% year-over-year growth annually.

Although many regions are seeing good notebook and desktop growth, it’s clear that tablets may be leapfrogging the traditional PC in many markets. Part of this has to do with tablet costs often being less than a traditional PC, but I believe it is for different reasons.

Many people in markets like Asia, India, Africa, etc., have never owned a notebook or desktop and often have very little access to them. Notebooks and desktops, because of their design in both hardware and software, carry with them a bit of a learning curve. Tablets, on the other hand, are truly personal computers, and they bring the added benefit of a nominal learning curve in order to begin using them effectively.

(MORE: Are You Multitasking or Are You Suffering from Digital-Device-Distraction Syndrome?)

Because of this, many consumers in key emerging markets are finding tablets to be a viable and nonthreatening option as their first primary computer.

Interestingly, many governments in the Asia-Pacific region are committing funds to bring more tablets into education institutions. South Korea, for example, has pledged to move to an all-tablet-based curriculum by 2015. This is just one of many similar stories providing stronger evidence that tablets are a global phenomenon.

In developed markets like the U.S. and Europe, consumers’ first computing experiences at work and school were with traditional PCs. I believe that for many in the Asia-Pacific region, along with many other emerging markets, the vast majority of computing experiences at work and school will be on tablets and not traditional PCs. This has implications for the global workforce.

Growing Up with Touch Computing

If we look at the tablet trend in both the U.S. and Europe as well as in Asia, it becomes clear that many will develop a high degree of familiarity and comfort around tablets. If tablets become the norm in education in places like South Korea, for example, then it makes sense that when these kids enter the workforce it will be with tablets and not traditional PCs. Of course, this depends on the job, since tablets cannot and will not replace all the tasks that traditional PCs excel at, but for most tasks they will suffice. And I would argue that the tablet is the best mobile form factor for computing.

With this remarkable global growth, it is becoming clear that in many markets around the world the tablet will represent the gateway to computing, much like notebooks did in the classroom for the past generation of young Americans.

Many enterprises in the last PC boom sought to bring new technology like desktops and notebooks into the fold because so many young workers entering their doors were familiar with them. In a lot of businesses today, the incorporation of advanced technology can be a draw when courting employees.

Globally, I have a hunch this will also be true for tablets. In many countries, tablets will represent a first computing experience, and it’ll only be natural that businesses using tablets for key roles will have greater appeal. Tablet literacy in this model will be more valuable than traditional-PC literacy. Perhaps more important, touch-computing literacy will be more useful than mouse-and-keyboard literacy.

The opportunities for education, business and consumers in general are endless with these touch-based computing screens. The incredible growth in emerging markets is taking many by surprise and represents a serious trend we’re watching closely.

As business looks to expand globally in emerging markets or to hire key talent from many of these key areas, there’s no doubt that a relevant tablet strategy will be important.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.