Tablets have become much more of a sensation than anyone could predict. As many tech sites were buzzing about the new Apple slate (thinking back to the original iPad seems like ancient history now), many of us in the tech world were wondering how useful a bigger iPod Touch would become for the general public. Now we can all look back and laugh at our doubts considering the iPad has not only become a sensation but has also inspired major changes to MacOS, inspired many competing devices, and also changed the tech industry as a whole including forcing Microsoft to put their resources into a tablet-centric Windows 8.
Of course the tech bloggers were excited about tablets, it was a new device and many of them love Apple products. There’s nothing wrong with that, but most tech bloggers feed the frenzy around new-device-shiny-ism, for better or worse. The fact is, these same people normally own a desktop (or All-in-One or iMac), 2 or 3 laptops, an ultraportable, a netbook, 1-3 smartphones, and now normally more than one tablet. Some bloggers are better than others, but still the general public should take their opinions with a grain of salt.
The reality is that many of us more rational folk were asking good questions about the real value of such a device. Even bloggers who got an iPad were questioning their decision. But while we nay-sayers were backing up and questioning many bought them and most absolutely enjoyed them. So what happened? What made the iPad a legitimate computing device for people to use in addition to an iPod and an iPhone? Well the reason is actually quite simple. The advance of the notebook actually pointed to the tablet as the next stage of evolution.
What the Heck is a “Post-PC”
Steve Jobs calls his device the beginning of a Post-PC era. That would place all tablets squarely in the category of Post-PC. Post-PC can be an appropriate term because for all intents and purposes, tablets are not really computers in the traditional sense. Multi-tasking is more of a chore than a capability, document editing and creation is possible but limited to e-mailing, short web blogs, and small edits to existing documents (nobody is creating the next great novel on a tablet). Photo and video editing is almost non-existent. What I tell clients in my real job is that tablets are more of a “content-consumption” device more than a “content creation” device.
But the fact is that these things are possible to a limited extent and in a format that is much more portable than even the mobile computing devices of the Pre-“Post-PC” generation (eg. Laptops). Bloggers who love tablets will call them “3rd devices” to distinguish them as a third computer outside a desktop or laptop. Some have said they love it as a 3rd device and some have said they can’t get outside of the limitations of a tablet. Both points are valid but both are missing the basic fact that your average consumer is not using it like a blogger would. In fact iPads have the same limitations that notebooks had during their infancy.
I Remember Back in the Ol’ Days…
Remember when laptops were 10 pounds, had lower than 1.5ghz processors (and only one of them!), and were lucky to last more than 2 hours without plugging it in? I do, and I’m not that old either. If you don’t remember, these laptops were very limited in performance. Running more than one application would kill your productivity. Editing pictures? Isn’t that what the drug store is for? Movie editing? Fogettaboutit. Those who paid the high premiums for laptops would use them for little more than checking e-mail, communicating with and showing products to clients, and some basic level internet access.
Notebooks have received some legendary advancements in the last 5 years mostly due to the influence of Intel and AMD and the cutthroat world of hardware development. With the laptops that are out today, you can run 8 programs at once, edit a whole picture album in Photoshop, create HD home movies, and even play video games for around $500-$700. With Intel WiDi or some monitors, you can even run all your notebook programs in full 1080p on a huge monitor while on your couch with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Finally, you can do all that anywhere you want with the help of 802.11n networking and 3G/4G mobile broadband. With all that at your fingertips, there’s no wonder that notebooks are selling much better than desktops, now and for the last few years.
When comparing today’s notebooks with tablets, you can see that tablets are to notebooks as notebooks used to be to desktops. Tablets are not very efficient at multi-tasking, are good for e-mail and some basic productivity, but also are more advanced in the ability to be multimedia machines as well. The biggest benefit of a tablet is the portability it offers over a notebook. A 5 lb. notebook is a lot harder to carry around and lasts less on battery than a 1 lb. tablet. Over the next several years, tablets are only going to get better and better. Against the judgment of many, tablets are not going away.
The “Post-Desktop” Era
Last year industry analysts were busy interpreting the success of the iPad and how tablets had started to cannibalize netbooks and even desktop and notebook computer sales. The most interesting estimates, to me, were those saying that tablets would overtake desktop sales. Some said by 2015, some said by 2013, and there were others still as well. It was interesting to note that desktops were estimated to decline quickly and tablets would take up the slack, but at the same time, notebooks would remain constant. To me, that proves the trend I’ve been seeing at my retail sales job: that people are letting their notebooks replace their aging desktops and buying a tablet as their new portable computer.
I don’t think that PCs are going away at all. Windows and MacOS based computers will still continue to be a necessity for a while to come because of creative needs and productivity. This isn’t an age of “3rd devices” but instead we are moving into a different set of 2 devices. Because of that, it is exciting to see the interoperability that Windows 8 will bring between tablets and notebooks and the productivity that Windows 8 will bring to tablets. With iOS 5 and MacOS Lion, Apple is bringing much of the same to their computing and tablet platforms.
Over the next several years we will see a flurry of upgrades to tablets and smartphones as notebooks continue to see minor enhancements. Tablets will begin to gain the same sort of productivity and multitasking power as notebook computers do. Smartphones will gain the kind of limited productivity and multitasking that tablets have today. Then, once again, we will see that tablets will replace notebooks and smartphones replace tablets. But it seems to be that the magic number for the foreseeable future will always be two.