Technology companies that underestimate the significance of the touch-tablet revolution will suffer greatly.
If you are a frequent reader of TabTimes or my column here then you most likely understand tablets and what they represent to the rest of the industry.
Here’s the problem: Other than Apple, I simply don't think other companies get it.
I sense a recurring theme in my discussions about tablets with most hardware vendors in the industry. That theme almost always comes back to tablets not being computers.
Unfortunately that thinking is wrong. Tablets represent a very important evolution of computing away from mouse and keyboard towards a touch computing paradigm.
You are going to inevitably see notebook form-factor hardware ship with Windows 8 that includes a touch screen and converts to a tablet. These devices will be interesting but where they may fail is in trying to turn a laptop into a tablet.
Why? because the notebook form factor is not a tablet, it’s a notebook.
Blowing the portable computing paradigm wide open
Tablets are succeeding because they are truly mobile computing devices that can be used while on the go. This is why we are seeing tablets show up in places like hospitals, court rooms, factories, construction zones, restaurants, POS retail, etc. The form and function of the more slate driven design of a tablet like the iPad lends itself to truly mobile computing.
The notebook is a great computer but I would argue that it is more portable than mobile. Meaning I use the device the same way no matter where I am. I put it on a desk or my lap and sit stationary to use it.
I do not get up to walk around, take it to the beach, the park, and use it while I am moving. The form factor requires it rest on something and be used with two hands to type and navigate the mouse.
Tablets blow this paradigm wide open because of the form factor and the nature of touch computing operating systems and applications that are enabling a new way of working, producing, creating, and more.
Changing how we work
Before the tablet, digital work was largely done on a desktop or notebook using a keyboard and mouse for input and navigation. This paradigm of computing has existed for the better part of three decades. Software was created to unleash the power of the computer around the mouse and keyboard as input interfaces.
Tablets have turned this model on its head. Now with touch-based operating systems and software a new computing paradigm has emerged and it’s changing how work gets done.
As an example, look at the iPhoto app for iPad. This powerful software lets photo editors, with the swipe of a finger, accomplish something that would have otherwise taken a number of clicks and precision mouse work.
Precision photo editing, with touch and software designed with touch in mind, now becomes something the most novice of consumers can achieve.
Rethinking how we work
The task now in front of developers and companies that make software for workers is to envision a future where touch based computers become a critical part of the work place.
To accomplish this vision it will take more than simply re-purposing existing software but re-inventing it with touch computing in mind. What will inevitably happen is that jobs or tasks which were extremely complex or time consuming will be much easier and faster with touch.
Not every task may be better or easier with touch but many will. The key for software creators is to determine which complex or monotonous tasks will be made simpler and more time efficient with touch computing.
Can any tablet challenge the iPad?
For the foreseeable future the answer is no. The iPad is the best general purpose tablet on the market due to the Apple ecosystem and the company’s unparalleled focus on hardware software and services around iOS.
That being said there will be some interesting more vertical players to emerge. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is one example. This device is focused more around integrating a pen as an accessory for markup, input, etc. Since Apple seems uninterested in serving this category, the likes of Samsung, LG and HTC seem likely candidates to differentiate their products from the iPad in this way.
I think it’s great there are alternatives like this, and smart for the vendors to innovate rather than simply try and copy Apple, because going head-to-head with the iPad is proving to be a no win strategy. Perhaps that will change over time, but that’s today’s market reality, and surely one of the reasons Microsoft chose to go in a very different direction than the iPad with Windows 8’s Metro interface.
Today the tablet industry is dominated by the iPad, but there is a lot of game left to be played. The companies best positioned to benefit are those who innovate and truly understand how tablets represent a new computing paradigm.