Hype alert: There is no such thing as a super-size tablet

April 18, 2013

Ever since the introduction of Apple’s iPad, tablet shipments and projections have gone into overdrive, with figures suggesting that as many as 1 in 10 of the world’s population will own a tablet device by 2016.

But in those three years, other emerging form factors have also come to the fore, like the All-in-One (AIO) PC.

It’s not a big tablet; it’s an all-in-one PC

Designed as a more stylish and space-saving alternative to your desktop, the AIO PC integrates the CPU and GPU into one unit and supports multi-touch control. It’s essentially desktop 2.0.

Most of these models have run either Windows 7 or Windows 8, and they too have come from big brands like Dell, HP and Lenovo. It could be argued that Apple made such a trend mainstream with the iMac.

The trouble is that the marketing teams at some of these vendors clearly thought jamming ‘AIO PC’ on the end of a product name wasn’t sexy enough. So they tried adding tablet instead.

On discovering that Dell had announced the 18-inch XPS 18 tablet, Creative Strategies principal analyst Ben Bajarin questioned if AIO PCs were changing the definition of tablets.

“What is a tablet? Sorry to get philosophical but I think this is an interesting question–especially of late,” wrote Bajarin on the Techpinions blog.

“Pure slate tablets are the hot ticket and I believe will continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, there is one category of Windows 8 devices that has had my interest peaked for a while. That is portable, large screen, touch based, all-in-one PCs.

“I firmly believe that the XPS 18 will challenge many people’s pre-conceptions of not just what an all-in-one computer is but also what a tablet is and means to them.”

In truth, Dell has somewhat muddied the waters with the XPS 18. The device has the screen size of a small desktop but the weight (5lbs vs. 2lbs) and price ($899) not dissimilar to many Windows 8 tablets, Microsoft’s 10-inch Surface Pro being one example.

A key advantage of devices like the XPS 18 is that it can be used as a communal device for friends and family drawing and playing games together. It might also prove useful for business pros to use to collaborate on documents together or view a presentation. 

This is not some new phenomenon. The premium but pricey 40-inch Surface Table (co-developed by Samsung and Microsoft) and countless ultra-short-throw projectors with interactive whiteboards do much the same thing. The same applies to touchscreen-enabled digital signage displays.

Researchers should re-define what a tablet is

There is a reason I am skeptical devices like the XPS should be labelled tablets.

In recent times, I’ve seen a 20-inch 4K display from Panasonic, Sony’s 20-inch Vaio Tap, the Asus Transformer AIO and a “Smart business tablet monitor” from ViewSonic at a number of trade shows.

Each device has been pitched as a ‘tablet’ and this is something I find hard to accept, considering size is so crucial to what is and what isn't a tablet. 

“It’s definitely all marketing, trying the ride on the current hype of tablets,” says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi of these larger tablets.

“I do not consider these devices as tablets as they are too large and will not be used in the same way as a tablet. They are more desktop replacement than tablets. The fact that you can have them flat on a table does not mean they are different in the way they are shared devices and used for a mix of consumption and creation.”

Vishal Jain, an analyst at 451 Research, agrees that the con is on.

“I think "AIO PC's” or "convertibles" are leveraging the Windows 8 OS to renew life into their dying notebook business,” said Jain.

“This category also seems to be including the Ultrabook segment. I see it as a marketing tactic because managing the complex transition of the screen between PC and tablet isn't convenient enough and goes against the usability principles that the tablet is based on.”

All of this ultimately leads to a bigger debate on the definition of tablets, something these research firms will have to tackle sooner rather than later (Gartner’s current definition, as just one example, could easily apply to much larger tablets and the increasingly popular phablets).

“In this cloud-based world, the question becomes, what is 'mobile' computing? If it’s just a name we give to screens that are small enough to carry around, it’s not a terribly useful distinction,” says Christopher Mims over at Quartz.

The lack of a concise definition may have little consequence to the end user – after all, most people realize that a 20-inch screen isn’t going into their laptop bag anytime soon, but this blurring of the lines between PCs and tablets can cause problems.

This trend is no bad thing for the vendors trying to sell you any kind of product but, surrounded by all these brands, operating systems and form factors, many of which could be considered tablets, do you really know what’s best for you or your co-workers?


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