With the release of the iPad 2 earlier this month, all signs indicate the tablet is here to stay. Yet some disenchanted users (and their sore fingers) are ditching tablets for the no-nonsense notebook. Stephan Lange assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each and predicts which models will fare the best with consumers.
What makes a tablet so appealing to the average person? Our lives are much busier these days and we spend much more time away from our computers. The average user uses their computer mainly for checking emails, browsing the web and watching online videos – and now you can do all that on the go with your tablet.
Even though the tablet PC has been around since 2002, it was never really taken up by the consumer market due to the fact that it was still heavy in weight, didn’t offer anything new in regards to the operating system and required a pen for input. Tablets were always considered a niche product.
That all changed when Apple released the iPad in April 2010. The iPad runs the same operating system as the very popular iPhone and the iPod Touch, which makes it touch and user-friendly. Within 80 days, Apple had sold more than 3 million iPads to consumers.
Apple was the thought leader here and suddenly consumers had access to their music, videos, photos, emails, the World Wide Web and thousands of other applications. If you acquired an iPad, your digital life became portable.
But like every brand new product, the iPad had its drawbacks. Consumers were complaining that there was no camera on the device to take pictures, no USB port to plug in external storage and, like with so many other Apple products, no way to take the battery out.
Enter the competition
The CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2011 in Las Vegas was a catalyst for the launch a lot of new tablets from brands like Motorola, Acer, Asus, Blackberry and NotionInk, to name only a few. And they all will hit the market sometime this year.
The consumer will be flooded with choices and in the end it will come down to everyone’s personal preferences.
And that is where the benefits start for tablets.
They will come in with a range of operating systems. They will run on Windows 7, Android, Linux or QNX.
They will largely be the product of mobile phone manufacturers. The advantage here is that with a tablet running the same operating system as your mobile or your computer, it will be much easier for them to communicate with each other.
Google announced its new iteration of Android, called Honeycomb, which is specifically designed for tablets. Other manufacturers are doing the same and releasing their tablets with optimised operating systems.
So far, tablets have been known to run either the OS of their mobile counterparts (which usually have a much smaller resolution and screen size) or a system that is meant for a full-fletched computer (which isn’t optimised for touch at all).
This is set to change for good. There will now be an optimised OS running on the device – optimised for higher resolution, better layouts, multitasking and connectivity on the one hand, and user-optimised for touch and usability on the other.
The new tablets will feature new technologies that will extend battery life by turning the back light of the screen off when you read an e-book. They will allow you to plug in your USB stick to be able to look at your favourite photos or watch your recorded TV shows. And, if you get lost, they will have GPS capabilities so you can find your way easily.
Twilight of the notebooks?
With the inundation of tablets on the market, where does that leave the notebook?
I believe the market is big enough for all devices, but the tablets will take a big chunk off the sales figures for notebook manufacturers.
That said, this kind of competition will also change the market. Notebooks will on the one hand be forced to compete directly with tablets by offering a very lightweight alternative with full qwerty keyboards or go upmarket, developing high-end notebooks to give the consumer a full desktop replacement in a portable form.
So why would you choose a notebook over a tablet?
The major benefits of notebooks are that they have a full qwerty keyboard and multiple connectivity options (USBs, firewire, HDMI, VGA, etc.), which make them easy to use for office work like writing word documents, emails or PowerPoint presentations.
Notebooks also run a full Desktop operating system, which allows them to run all full applications like Office, Photoshop or even 3D rendering programs.
Non-touch is also a benefit. Believe it or not, there are still people out there that don’t like to use touch screens and prefer the use of a trackpad on a notebook. A notebook also protects itself as you can fold it together and the keyboard counterpart protects the screen from being damaged.
Predictions and developments
The future of the tablet is rosy: it found the space between your home computer and your mobile phone and it will stay there.
The future will be about connectivity – you will be able to get your newspaper delivered to your tablet, rather than to your front door, and you will be able to communicate with your fridge to check what you have to get on your way home to be able to cook that nice Beef Stroganoff of yours.
You will be able to turn the air-con on at home to have it just the right temperature when you arrive and while you sit on the bus you will be able to have a video call with your loved ones simply with a click of an icon.
Screens will become foldable so when you take the four-inch screen out of your pocket you can unfold it to a much larger device for your convenience.
Most conveniently, you will have a docking station at home and at work so once you are stationary for a while you can still have the ease of a mouse, a keyboard and a larger monitor.
The notebook is not dead, but it will have to accept a much smaller market share from now on. The tablets have landed and found a nice little space in the consumer’s heart where they will stay for a long time.
Stephan Lange is Hosting and Emerging Technologies Lead at Amnesia Razorfish, a digital agency in Sydney.
Image by LGEPR