The Tablet is the Ultimate Mobile Personal Computer

by Ben Bajarin   |   February 3rd, 2012

Our firm has been doing an extensive amount of tablet analysis over the past year. The more I study the role of the tablet in the industry and in the lives of consumers the more fascinated I become with this form factor. To clarify, we believe and classify the tablet as a PC. We simply view it as a form factor within the PC landscape.

One theme of late that has some of my mind share is around tablets going where traditional PCs can not. I am not just speaking of overall market share, although that factors into my thinking, but rather I am thinking about location. Now to be clear, I am not saying PCs (clamshell notebook PCs specifically) literally can not go to the locations I will talk about. Rather, what I want to point out is that the traditional PC/Notebook PC is the wrong form factor for a growing number of use cases and market pain points.

Prior to tablets, I believe the technology industry at large looked at nearly every consumer use case, as well as every vertical market, as an opportunity for the sale of a traditional PC/Notebook PC. What this led to was the adoption of the traditional PC into scenarios, where although sufficient, was the wrong form factor for the job. If you follow much of what I write you will notice that I am fond of Clayton Christensen’s philosophy in The Innovators Dilemma that consumers “hire” products to get jobs done. Prior to tablets the market “hired” the PC to do jobs that we are now finding tablets are better suited to do.

Last week I looked at the adoption of the iPad by a growing number of enterprises for specific mobile workforces like field force and sales force automation. In many business related scenarios we are seeing the iPad step in and take the place of notebook PCs primarily because it is better suited for the specific task at hand. Enterprises are finding that for their most mobile workers the iPad is a better tool for the job than a clamshell notebook.

Late last year I wrote in my TabTimes column about how small businesses are using iPads for things like point of sale retail and even mounting an iPad for interactive product/ media placement. I even talked about some examples where restaurant owners were going digital and integrating iPads for the uses of taking orders, showing pictures of menu items to customers, and adding other relevant information for customers to make dining decisions. In both those later use cases the job could have never been solved by a traditional clamshell PC because who wants to hang that device to the wall at retail or walk around a restaurant holding a clamshell notebook? This is at its core what I mean when I say that tablets will go where PCs can not. This is what I mean when I say that the tablet is the ultimate mobile PC.

Further to this point, I highlighted yesterday in an article how the iPad makes the perfect learning companion. I have been very vocal about how touch computing removes barriers to computing presented by mouse and keyboards and therefore are better tools for learning for all ages but kids specifically. We have been using PCs in the classroom because they were the only tools available. Now there is a better tool, the iPad, and it will find itself fitting into educational environments better than the PC ever could.

The list goes on from legal firms, to financial management firms, to hospitals and doctors, pilots and airlines, public safety, and more, who are all finding that the iPad is better suited than a clamshell PC for their specific computing needs. Consumers are waking up to this reality as well.

Although, the notebook PC is portable you don’t typically see consumers move around, walk around, or stand up and use their notebook. This is because the form factor lends itself to a desk or a lap where the screen sits at arm’s length away. Tablets are very different. Consumers are comfortable using them while standing, walking, sitting on the couch, laying in bed, in the bathroom, by the pool, at the beach, in the kitchen, etc. The tablet is not designed to be viewed at arm’s length and because of that our relationship with this form factor changes. We can use it in different ways and more importantly take it places we would not or could not take our clamshell PCs.

I would argue the tablet form factor lends itself to more mobile computing use cases than a clamshell notebook. Because when consumers use a clamshell notebook they are not truly mobile–they are stationary. Whereas one can actually use a tablet and truly be mobile. I know I am tweaking slightly the classically held definition of mobile computing. However, due to the nature of tablets impact on the market I believe the traditionally held definition of mobile computing needs to be challenged.

The PC, tablet, smart phone, and perhaps something new down the line, are all tools to get jobs done. Each one has its place and each will remain relevant in some way shape or form. However, when it comes to mobility the tablet is mobile computing in its purest form.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Rich

    I suspect Steve Jobs had this concept in mind when he created the iPad.

  • Greg

    Great read. Bottom line for me as a user is that the “Notebook” was still always a “Laptop” until the “Tablet.”

  • Simon

    Is there a tablet that has the capacity to run Dragon voice recognition with Word, or other word processing software? This would allow us to use tablets in a way that would significantly reduce our costs, but Dragon uses too much capacity for the tablets we’ve seen

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    I agree, Ben. As a very-recent entrant to the tablet user world (albeit a cheap one with a low-cost Android slate), I’m seeing massive utility in places I would never carry even the thinnest, lightest of clamshell notebooks. I still struggle with the utility balance between screen size and pocket size (so I have an 8″ that splits the difference and kinda does neither), but that’s a balance I hope to see resolved some day with flexible screens. Meantime we have yet to scratch the surface of where these tools will apply and serve well.