The Early Days of Tablet Computing

on May 14, 2014

Much is being talked about and speculated regarding the tablet market. Analysts are adjusting forecasts downwards and pundits are claiming the tablet’s run is over. While we are certainly at an inflection point for tablet computing, the run is far from over.

As many have pointed out, the tablet’s future hinges on software developers. The software community can advance computing in unique ways if only their focus would shift from the smartphone to the tablet. It’s a tough ask in a time where the smartphone is king and will be for the foreseeable future. While I fully recognize and affirm the importance of the smartphone and the central role it plays in bringing many consumers into the computing for the first time, what sticks out to me is a burning question of capabilities. Is the smartphone going to fulfill all the desired capabilities of the billions who know only the smartphone form factor as their central computer or will this next generation demand more than the smartphone can offer?

1978

The way I articulate what I think needs to happen is to reference a particular historical event. In 1978, a very important piece of software came to market. It was called VisiCalc. This one piece of software instantly changed the the future for computing. It was with this piece of software many first realized the PC was no longer a toy or a hobbyist gadget but a tool that would change the workplace forever. From toy to tool with one piece of software.

The tablet needs its 1978 moment. I know many would argue the tablet, and in particular the iPad, has had this moment. But until the masses recognize and software developers embrace the tablet role as a tool then we still have work to do.

What intrigues me as I think about this analogy is the tablet may not have one killer app, or just one 1978 moment — it may have many. The tablet form factor is unique in that it allows its form to embrace a multiplicity of use cases. While one can argue the PC could as well, I’d argue that, from a general purpose viewpoint, the tablet can cover more use cases than the PC. This is the root of my optimism for the category. While it may not be just one piece of software that drives the masses to embrace tablet computing, we need the software community to embrace a vision for the future of computing with a touch computing environment on glass slate.

Early Days

I can’t help but conclude the “sky is falling” theme on the tablet form factor is premature. We are still in the very early stages of this category. As I pointed out in this article on the iPad’s curse, consumers are still figuring out what this form factor means to them on the computing front.

Developers will hopefully embrace the tablet’s capabilities as a tool to produce rather than a form to consume. It is equally, and importantly, both. The masses have seen the consumption value of tablets. Now they need to see their potential as a tool. Once this happens, many things will change.

This is perhaps why Apple is rumored to be adding multitasking to the next version of the iOS for the iPad. This is why Samsung is focused on bringing capabilities to their Android tablets that focus on the tool aspects over the fun aspects of tablets.

Regardless of what other analysts say, I still believe this is a growth category. Watch for carriers to begin to bundle tablets in the subsidy or installment plans they offer to customers. Watch retailers get more aggressive on bundles as well. Watch the tablet market segment heavily to focus on verticals like kids, education, automotive, etc. There are many trigger points which can continue to elevate the tablet market. You just have to know what to look for. While there is no disputing the centrality of the smartphone for the masses, there is a case to be made that devices that extend the capabilities of computing still have a large role to play. Software is the key in taking the tablet from toy to tool. It will happen. It is a matter of when — not if.