With PC sales dwindling, it’s time for tablet manufacturers to make a few strategic shifts
I finished a gargantuan consulting project today – 20,072 words total. It’s a great feeling to be finished, but I’m still shaking my head in disbelief at how awkward Microsoft Word feels in situations like writing these kinds of reports.
Finalizing the project, and adjusting all the weird formatting quirks and then readjusting all the even weirder formatting quirks that fixing the original formatting quirks introduced was literally infuriating. In total, I estimate that I spent approximately 10% of the 80 hours I worked on this thing literally wrestling with Microsoft Word.
So, when I hear news like the Gartner forecast reporting that PC sales declined another 9% in the third quarter of this year, I find myself nodding my head in agreement. Of course the PC market is in decline. People are tired of wrestling with Windows. They’re tired of the complexities of desktop and laptop computing.
If the above is true, then Microsoft needs to make some dramatic adjustments to its Office suite as it begins the slow process of moving this software to tablet systems. Based on a Steve Ballmer interview earlier this week where he explained that the company was hard at work on a touch-first user interface for Office, it sounds like the company is doing just that.
This got me thinking: If we begin to accept that tablets are replacing desktops and laptops right now, then there are certain features we should begin to expect from these new, all-powerful devices.
Since Apple is up next—with an October 22 announcement event—I’m going to focus on them first. Here are the four features that every iPad—and ultimately, every tablet—should incorporate or add on to the fifth edition of the iPad:
1. A keyboard
At this point, Apple is either just being obstinate about the whole keyboard thing, or has a keyboard solution planned. The truth is that lots of people use the Mac laptop keyboard, and it’s great. But lots of people do not, or use a third-party stand along with the keyboard.
Thus far, only Microsoft has been courageous enough to build an own-brand keyboard. I thought they were smart for doing so then. They still are. I’d be shocked if Apple doesn’t introduce an iPad-specific keyboard at some point, even if it is a repurposed Mac version.
2. A way to turn an iPad into a full-fledged computer
This is a corollary to the above idea. The closer iPad power gets to laptop and desktop power—something some people thing is already happening—the more it makes sense to just attach a mouse and keyboard to the thing and call it what it is.
I work in my home office, so my commute is a breeze and my tech transport is non-existent. But when I did work in an office, I fantasized about being able to just carry my iPad with me, and plug it in and get to work. The fact that this isn’t a real possibility now becomes more and more surprising every half year. Yes, keyboards exist for tablets, and some of them are great. But versatile, high-performance computing (of the human variety) is not yet viable on this platform. So why doesn’t Apple (or someone else) just suck it up and enable mouse support?
At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is yet another feature Windows tablets have. For what it’s worth, Technologizer-turned-Time Magazine editor Harry McCracken tried the full conversion almost two years ago, and not much has changed since.
I told this idea to a friend, and he literally scoffed at me. For many people, the notion that a tablet could completely replace a full-fledged laptop or computer is preposterous. Earlier this week, Deutsche Bank Equity Research analyst Chris Whitmore backed me up here, with a report indicating that the much-expected 64-bit architecture would enable “a greater array of enterprise app development and facilitate greater enterprise penetration over time.”
(It’s worth noting that Whitmore also said that back to school demand for the iPad was “tepid at best”.)
3. Kid mode
Ultimately, this is an OS-oriented request. Every other morning, I go through the same routine with my 17 month-old daughter. We start playing with a tablet app (her current favorite is Little Red Wagon), and about 90 seconds in, she hits the home button. Game over, and her hands go up. Which is pretty cute, and also a good excuse to stop playing. But still.
There is technically an answer to this, but using iOS’ Guide Access isn’t exactly the fastest means of disabling things.
My simple solution is to just integrate this into the new Fingerprint Security system. Or add this functionality to the side switch.
4. More powerful front-facing camera than rear-facing camera
At some point, Apple is going to figure out that many of us use our front-facing cameras way more than we use our rear-facing cameras. Again, for many of us, tablets are more like computers. I’m surprised more tablet manufacturers haven’t accounted for this.
The added advantage of a more powerful front vs. rear camera is that maybe we’ll see a few less iPad selfies as a result.
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This week’s winner: FUZ Designs
This Draper, Utah-based design shop recently floated a Kickstarter project named the EverDock, which is a slick-looking, no slip universal dock for all both Lightning, 30-pin, and micro-USB devices. Even better, you can dock and charge your tablet and your phone at the same time.
Not surprisingly, given the promise, the EverDock project went 700% past its Kickstarter goal of $50,000, raising $355,547—with 5 days left.
This week’s losers: HP, Dell
In the third quarter of 2013, both manufacturers found themselves looking up at…Lenovo, which was the number one PC manufacturer for this period. As noted above, PC sales in general were sluggish for the period—even for Lenovo—and both HP and Dell are probably relived they experienced some growth, even if it was just over 1%.
This said, if two years ago, you had told anyone at HP that their company would trail Lenovo in PC sales in 2013, they would have walked away laughing.
Unfortunately, for HP employees, this week was a double-loss here. Not only did the manufacturer cede ground to Lenovo, but very soon, its employees are going to be losing their work-at-home privileges.