Why tablets will work this time around

Nick Holland
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I’ve read a lot about people complaining that “tablets aren’t new” or “why do I need a tablet when I have a perfectly good laptop?”

While these assessments are true, they are also missing points which are now key to the tablet’s success.

Tablets Do Not Replace Laptops

First things first: the tablet is NOT a replacement for a laptop or even netbook. Despite the fact ASUS expects its netbook shipments to drop 10-20 per cent with the introduction of its Eee Pad tablet range, that’s because those 10-20 per cent now don’t have to compromise as the tablet form factor suits their needs better. The lack of keyboard means you’ll never be churning out novels on it, but it’s good enough to fire out an email, after all, we’re used to the small keyboards on our phones for text messaging and email (if you’re a Blackberry user) anyway. Therefore tablets are merely an extension of the market. But, why didn’t they work before?

Performance Per Watt

The answer is that it’s now far easier to pack more power into a smaller space than it ever was; smartphones are already a demonstration of that, however tablets are also the bridging gap between pocket computer and full laptop. Kudos goes clearly to Apple to recognize this fact, as its recent iPad has sold hand-over-fist. While clearly the popular iPhone has helped set the stage, the bigger form factor is easier to hold and share between family and friends like a notebook, unlike the iPhone which is a strictly personal device.

Simple & Effective

Previous tablets also tried to do too much – they were visions of all-in-one devices when in actual fact they would’ve benefited from being more restrained – or streamlined - so OSes like Apple’s OSX, Google Android or eventually Microsoft’s Windows 7 Phone Series will work better in conjunction with the still limited Atom or ARM hardware. I believe those tablets due with Intel Atom hardware and full Microsoft OS’ will not be as popular compared to the simpler and cheaper ARM ones.

Weight vs Matierial

There’s also the weight issue of course: tablets have to be held, not sat on your lap, which puts a strain on your wrist, but unless users put up with plastic (unlikely for a fashion or hardwearing device) or manufacturers find a way to heavily reduce the cost of specialist light metal alloys like Magnesium-Aluminum or Titanium, it’s a tradeoff we will have to continue to accept. Personally, I can live with higher quality Aluminum.

User Interface Is Essential

Most importantly though, until now the USER INTERFACE has suffered – pens gets lost and soft touch screens are never accurate enough, nor do they feel as good to use as a tempered glass surface. The larger the interface the greater benefit for a social product too, but then we get into the weight issue again, so large and small models within the market should sell proportionately well: look at the smaller Kindle vs larger iPad for example.

We Finally Don’t Have To Use Windows!

Where Linux was a failure on netbooks and laptops are constrained to Microsoft; because tablets don’t have a mouse and keyboard, they now have the freedom to express themselves through touch interfaces. Users don’t expect Microsoft Windows compatibility, but that has to be substituted with an obvious and ready developer base with applications to make the new investment worthwhile. Both Apple and Android have the marketplace and developers behind them, it’s just up to the hardware manufacturers to put together a fashionable and affordable product to run it on.

New Markets, Not Existing Ones

This opens up new markets for those who dislike or cannot yet learn “full” OSes in laptops such as young children or the older generation, as the learning curve is lower. In addition, despite the fact it’s acceptable to have a notebook in the classroom or lecture, yet, where the teaching involves formulas like in Math and Science, it impossible to use a conventional keyboard for note taking so the tablet wins every time. Even character based East-Asian languages are easier to input on a tablet than via a standard keyboard.

The Right Formula?

Ultimately the sale of first generation devices will run on the hype of the “shiny new thing” – just like ASUS did with its revolutionary Eee PC back in 2007. People love new gadgets and love being seen with stylish devices, writers like myself love to comment on the potential of new markets and new products and ultimately businesses like to experiment and compete to find the right formula.

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