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Why tablet innovation is far from over

by Ben Bajarin

February 16 2014

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His column in TabTimes is published every other Sunday.


The advantages of full-sized tablets are only just starting to be realized.

As I survey the tablet market it's clear that a lot has happened in the past three years, but it's also clear that the tablet is still very much early in its evolution with plenty of changes still to come.

In talking with consumers and enterprise customers alike there still seems to be some nuance around the tablet. People are just starting to get their heads around what the piece of glass that is bigger than their phone yet smaller and more portable than their laptop means to them.

My own tablet set up is an iPad Air with the Zagg iPad Air Folio case. I take this out into the world to meetings, or to pop into a Starbucks to get some work done in between meetings and I constantly get the exact same question: What kind of a computer is that?

People see this device and realize that it is in fact a computer. This fundamental point is where the paradigm shift to tablet computing is about to happen.

The amazing thing about a tablet, that sets it apart from every device I have and use it that has more computing capabilities than my phone and is more portable/mobile than my notebook.

I can sit reclined on my couch or bed and learn, work, or play. I can take it to the office and work. I can use it as portable TV or DVD player.  I can use it to make home movies. I can use it to make music. I can take it to the lake and capture video of my family water skiing and edit and create the video right there on the lake.

I can keep going with these scenarios but you get the picture.

This is why, I believe it has the most potential of any form factor out there with regard to the future of computing.

Points are made that most people just need their smartphone. And that once bigger screen phones are more popular in work or consumer environments that they will simply choose to use a bigger phone (or a so-called phablet) and a traditional PC over the tablet.

I don't doubt that there will be a certain percentage of the market that chooses this solution. However, I feel more people will choose the phone (of any size) and a larger tablet solution. If there is any device that may be threatened when 5" and larger phones become the norm, it is smaller tablets not bigger ones.

The best way to think about it is that bigger smartphones will challenge small tablets the same way tablets challenge the PC. Larger tablets, however, are poised to become the dominant computing form factor.

All of this is because of both its unique form and the developer ecosystem behind it.

(Tablets 2.0, is the theme of this year's Tablet Strategy conference in New York, May 6. Tablet productivity, BYOD and deployment strategies will be among the hot topics discussed)

Why it feels like 1978 again

In 1978 something important happened. In those days personal computers were in their infancy. Most viewed the desktop personal computer as a hobbyist toy. But then that year a piece of software called VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, was released and overnight the business/productivity value was grasped and the rest was history.

Where we are with tablets feels very much like 1978 for personal computers. We have a few showcase apps, mostly from Apple with iWork and the iLife suite of applications for iPad. We also have a number of great apps from third party developers on music creation, or art, and any number of genres. But the list of showcase apps to drive home the value of the tablet as a personal computer are still the minority.

Whenever people ask me how I get away using my iPad as my main PC I always show them the above list of applications. I show them how I can capture video and make a movie right on the spot. I show them how I can write my columns and even post to my blog. I show them how I can use it to create spreadsheets, and presentations all with as much ease as if I was on my notebook.

(Read other Tablet Opinions & Analyses)

Look what I did

Every time after I give these demonstrations to someone they always respond with a kind of profound tone in their voice "I didn't know you could do all that with an iPad."

This is the point. As consumers catch on that these devices are more capable than their smartphones and more portable that their PCs the floodgates will open. Developers will similarly begin re-imagining entire categories of new applications and new software to drive this unique form factor forward as a computing platform. 

Hardware manufacturerers will continue to increase the tablets capacities from its optics, biometrics, sensors, chipsets, and displays.

And while I fully expect Apple to continue to improve lhe iPad, I am just as sure others are ready to step up to the plate with innovative advances. We're already seeing bigger tablet form factors from Samsung with its Pro series and more innovation is coming.

We really are just getting started with tablets. 

(For other columns like these and the best tablet insights, tips and apps, sign up for the free TabTimes Weekly Best newsletter)

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His column in TabTimes is published every other Sunday.
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