Tablets have been with us now for years and 2012 was a breakout in terms of sales, but I don’t agree with others who say it was “The Year of the Tablet” for a very simple reason.
Up to this point it’s really been the year/s of the iPad, which has proven to be the single dominant tablet computing platform. Apple’s best-selling device has been invading the enterprise rapidly in large numbers as well as consumer's homes even more rapidly and in even larger numbers.
So will 2013 bring any true competitors to the iPad?
Granted other Android tablets have not done horribly. The Nexus 7 is easily one of the better tablets on the market, however its largest valid criticism is the lack of tablet optimized apps for Android and the Nexus 7 in particular.
Apple showed the value of true tablet apps running on the smaller iPad Mini form factor and thus put an even more glaring light on the Nexus 7's lack of true tablet applications. The Kindle Fire has also faired well but was designed with a more pure consumption / entertainment model than a true computing platform.
But if you look at the examples I just mentioned of other tablets that have sold in decent volume, other than the iPad, they are smaller and less expensive. When it comes to a tablet that is competing toe to toe with the iPad, there simply aren’t any - in my opinion.
So is 2013 the year the field of tablet competitors gets a lot more serious?
Perhaps a better way to frame the question would be to look at what platform has the best chance at a pure tablet solution. The challenge with Android as we have seen is the lack of compelling pure tablet optimized apps. The Nexus 7 suffices from a solution standpoint because it largely runs scaled up smartphone apps.
So the lack of applications is not as glaring as it is on 10" Android tablets. This is something Google and their tablet partners absolutely must address if Android is to have any shot competing in the pure tablet arena.
The other logical platform is Windows 8.
My concerns with Windows 8 as a pure tablet solution is that it is built primarily to be used in a wide screen 16:9 landscape orientation. This widescreen landscape orientation is not easily operated or used while holding as it often requires two hands to use.
Why Microsoft needs to reorient its tablet strategy
My own experience with Windows 8 tablet designs highlights this point as it requires you to set the device down on your lap or tabletop in order to use your hands to perform an operation. Yet a lot of the observations research we have done around tablets reveal that many consumers prefer the portrait orientation for many key functions from web browsing, specific apps, etc., and Windows 8 is simply not competitive in portrait mode usage models, which again is a key part of the pure tablet / slate form factor.
I am looking for Microsoft to address this in the next release so that their partners and software developers can begin taking advantage of the key use case for pure tablet / slate hardware which is portrait mode.
As I have written here before, Windows 8 lends itself uniquely to the hybrid form factor. However, the biggest challenge to that form factor is the pure tablet / slate experience for the many reasons I mentioned above. This is not to say that Windows 8 fails completely as a pure slate in portrait mode, only that it is not the best competitively.
For Windows 8 to have a chance to compete and help usher in the year of the tablet, it needs to perform, and be competitively in the pure tablet / slate form factor.
Will CES deliver?
I am raising this question on the eve of one of the biggest consumer electronics trade shows.
At this year’s CES I am confident we will see a lot of innovation around the traditional PC form factor and many new hybrid and convertible form factors.
Whether or not we see new hardware that can compete with the iPad is a different question. What I’m hoping is that at least some vendors at CES show us tablet solutions that can better compete against the iPad and make 2013 the first true Year of the Tablet with many different models offering distinctly different value propositions.