As the crop of sleek new tablets unveiled at CES this month showed, 2012 is shaping up to be the "Year of the Tablet". But this won't be the last one.
Those of us with longer memories (and more gray hairs) remember the "Year of the PC" and the "Year of the LAN". Each took about a decade for the promises and reality to come close to matching each other.
Herewith, some of the challenges to users that threaten to make this the "Decade of the Tablet."
Surprisingly poor web-browsing experience
Last year, Blaze, a company that specializes in Web site performance optimization, conducted a study of the browsing experience for mobile device users. Blaze focused on the top 500 Web sites in the US as measured by Alexa, Amazon.com's "Web Information Company".
Blaze found that 42% of the sites it examined delivered mobile versions optimized for Apple iOS smartphones, while 38% delivered versions optimized for Google Android smartphones. However, 84% of those sites optimized for Android smartphones delivered the same mobile site experience to users of Android tablets.
Since tablets have larger screens and more features than Android smartphones, this makes for a sub-optimal browsing experience. In contrast, Blaze found that 92 percent of the sites it examined recognized when iPad users were accessing them and delivered either full "desktop" sites or sites specifically optimized for iPads.
As long as corporate web site owners and designers continue to act as if one size fits all, tablet users, especially those not using iPads, can expect poor or frustratingly inconsistent browsing experiences through 2012.
Those businesses that devote resources to optimizing their sites for tablet (and smartphone) users now will gain significant competitive advantage as the year advances.
Have you tried navigating your own company's Web site with a smartphone or tablet? Could be an illuminating experience…
There's no app – or way too many apps – for that
How many competing, overlapping and insufficiently differentiated apps and app stores does it take to drive tablet users crazy? We should soon find out. Apple, of course, has a voluminous App Store, but it's only for users of iOS devices. And not every available iOS app is available at that App Store, thanks in part to Apple's terms, which some developers find restrictive.
Meanwhile, Google's Android Market is growing and gaining better search and browse features, but is still inconsistent. Try exploring it via the market.android.com Web site and the "Market" app on your smartphone or tablet to see what I mean.
To confuse things further, companies such as Nukona are selling solutions designed to help enterprises build and operate their own online app stores. While these offer greater security and control than public app stores, for business tablet users they also create additional resources to access and explore when seeking that perfect app.
Of course, new solutions will appear designed to make finding that app easier. Two of these, Chomp for iOS and Appolicious for iOS and Android, are gaining popularity already. But as subscribers to multiple providers of digital entertainment content already know, it may be just as difficult to select from among those new solutions as it is to find the app you want or need today.
It's going to get better, but it's likely to get worse first.
App price creep
There are already more apps at higher prices than there were a few months ago. Tablet and smartphone apps are unlikely to reach prices as high as those paid for traditional PC apps, and there will always be free and "freemium" apps. But some price creep seems likely as well.
More and better/worse malware
We're already seeing more malware targeting smartphones and tablets, a trend likely to continue as these devices gain greater acceptance in corporate environments.
All but the largest app developers have limited resources, which prevent them from developing apps for all popular platforms. As smartphones and tablets proliferate, some developers will be forced to choose which platforms to support when. This could mean that the app you want or need may not be available for the platform you prefer, immediately or at all.