An Homage To The Tablet

on January 10, 2013

Tablet PC shipments are expected to reach more than 240 million units worldwide in 2013, easily exceeding the 207 million notebook PCs that are projected to ship, according to NPD


The only thing greater than the resistance to tablet adoption has been how quickly tablets have overcome that resistance.


The modern tablet was reinvented in April 2010 with the introduction of the iPad. It’s now two years and 8 months old. No personal computing technology has been adopted faster than the tablet. And that’s saying something. The tablet is being adopted at almost twice the rate that the smartphone was.


The key to understanding why the tablet has taken off is touch. Prior to the iPad, tablets used desktop interfaces. The genius of the iPad was that it used the finger – not the mouse or a stylus – as the primary user input.


Despite the unprecedented success of the tablet, many people think that the tablet is flawed – that the tablet would be perfect if only it were…a notebook.

It is my belief that the tablet and the notebook are inherently separate computing tools because their primary user inputs are incompatible. The tablet and the notebook use two disparate user inputs that cannot be successfully integrated into a single user interface.

This is highly controversial. If I’m right, then hybrids will always be niche products, struggling to serve two masters. But I could be wrong. Times change and technology changes. Perhaps a unified user input is possible. But it’s certainly not available in today’s market place.


That which we touch, we love. The tablet is a personal, intimate device. It’s revolutionizing every aspect of our computing lives, but I think the tablet is going to have a particularly strong impact in education. We’re about to move from a computer for each classroom to a computer for each student. And that’s going to change everything.

Today we can’t imagine leaving our homes without our phones. Tomorrow, we’ll feel the same way about our tablets. I can, in fact, imagine a day where we wear our phones on our wrists, like watches, and our tablets take care of most of our other computing needs. But that’s a discussion for another day.


Many artificial barriers have been constructed in an attempt to understand and/or dismiss the importance of the tablet. For example, arguing whether the tablet is a content consumption or a content creation device is about as helpful as debating how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. It’s a false dichotomy. There is no mythical line of demarcation between content creation and content consumption. The question should be, which tool is right for the job. And when you put the question that way, silly distinctions like content creation and content consumption simply fall away.

Similarly, questions of “productivity” suffer from two flawed ways of thinking. The first is to assume that the term “productivity” should be defined by comparing the tablet to the PC. You don’t compare a tool to a tool, you compare the tool to the job it is being asked to do. A screwdriver makes for a lousy hammer, but it’s pretty useful when you want to use a screw instead of a nail. Similarly, a tablet makes for a lousy notebook computer – but tablets aren’t trying to be notebook computers.

A second flaw is the myopic manner in which we define “productivity”. Most people define productive as “the things I do” and unproductive as “the things that other people do”. Don’t make the mistake of defining the productivity of others using your standards. Tens of millions of people are being productive on their tablets, even if their definition of productivity dramatically differs from your own.


Even though every flat computing device bigger than a phone is being defined as a tablet, there are very big differences between tablets that run big phone apps and tablets that run apps optimized for larger screens. Anyone who has used an iPad can vouch for this. The difference between an iPad specific app and a double sized iPhone App is night and day.

Further, most everyone is lumping all 7 inch tablets together. The truth is that there is a big difference in screen size between most 7.0 inch tablets and Apple’s 7.9 inch iPad Mini. (I’m sure that Apple would love to say that the iPad Mini was an 8 inch tablet in order to highlight the difference.) Most 7 inch tablets run big phone apps. The iPad Mini runs tablet apps. That’s a big differentiator that’s going unnoticed by pundits but seems to be taken into account by tablet buyers.


We live in a world of multiple screens: phone, tablet, notebook, desktop, TV. We start a task on one screen and finish it on another. We consume content on one screen while simultaneously initiating queries on another screen. The television is the screen in our living room. The phone is the screen that fits in our skinny jeans. The notebook and the desktop are the screen that we use when we have to engage in multiple screen, processor intensive or pixel specific tasks.

The tablet? The tablet is the default screen – the screen that we turn to when we have a choice between it and a phone or a notebook. And that makes the tablet the future of computing.