The Terrible Tablet Tantrum, Part 2


Yesterday, in The Terrible Tablet Tantrum, Part 1, I raged at the notion that tablets were dead and enumerated facts that refuted that erroneous contention. Today, I take a deep dive into the two philosophical questions that seem to be perplexing Tablet Naysayers the most:

— Is the Tablet good enough to replace the PC?
— Is the Smartphone good enough to replace the Tablet?

The Tablet Is a Lousy PC/Smartphone

Many of the Tablet Naysayers justify their disdain for the Tablet form factor by pointing out the Tablet makes for a lousy PC or, on the other hand, it makes for a poor Smartphone. Jared Sinclair, in his article entitled, “Giving Up On the iPad” sums this argument up nicely:

      The iPad can’t get better at these tasks without becoming either more like an iPhone or more like a Mac. For the iPad to become just as good as the iPhone, it would need to be smaller, equipped with a better camera, and sold with carrier subsidies and mobile data plans. But this would turn it into “just a big iPhone.” So this can’t be iPad’s future.

For the iPad to become just as good as the Mac, it would need to be larger, faster, equipped with expansion ports, and powered by software that supports legacy features like windowed applications and an exposed file system. But this would turn the iPad into a Macbook Pro with a touch screen and a detachable keyboard. This can’t be iPad’s future, either.

I can’t find a way out of an uncomfortable conclusion. In order for the iPad to fulfill its supposed Post-PC destiny, it has to either become more like an iPhone or more like a Mac. But it can’t do either without losing its raison d’être. ~ Jared Sinclair


The future of the iPad is not to be a better Mac. ~ Ben Thompson

Here’s the thing the Tablet Naysays don’t seem to grok. THE TABLET DOES NOT ASPIRE TO BE A NOTEBOOK PC. The iPad is not, nor does it want to be, a Notebook replacement. It has much higher standards than that.

Further, nobody (outside of the fine folks living in Redmond) buys a Tablet in order to use it as a Notebook replacement. If anything, people buy Tablets in order to AVOID using it as a Notebook PC.

Timothy Leary once said:

Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.

Similarly, Tablets that seek to be equal with PCs lack ambition. The Tablet is so much more than the PC — why would it try to emulate it?

With the right approach, an iPad can do anything. You just have to stop thinking like a desktop user. ~ Darren Davies (@darrendotcom)


      “A smartphone is a great device for what I call ‘guerrilla usage’ — many different impromptu activities you can quickly perform with one hand, while walking, when idle at a bus stop or waiting somewhere, etc. All activities that make a smartphone the best tool for its (relatively) small size and practicality (one example for all: taking photos). But when I’m out and about with just my iPhone, for example, and I have time to sit and relax in a café, I’d like to have a bigger device for longer sessions of whatever I feel like doing (browsing, email, reading, writing, etc.) and the iPhone is not enough — and a 5-inch smartphone wouldn’t be enough either, sorry.” ~

Riccardo Mori

Let’s get the discussion of screen sizes back in perspective. People DO NOT WANT smaller tablet screens. They TOLERATE smaller screens.

People want the largest damn screen they can have. But they don’t want a large screen at the price of pocketability (If Microsoft can make up words, then so can I), one hand use, weight and inconvenience. When pocketability is not at issue, people choose the larger screen most every time.


The truth about Tablets: We’re still figuring out how they fit. ~ Ryan Faas

People keep forgetting the modern Tablet is only four years old. It’s barely past the toddler stage. It has a lot of growing left to do and it has a lot left to show us.

That’s why I love what we do. Because we make these tools and they’re constantly surprising us in new ways what we can do with them. ~ Steve Jobs


The role of the Tablet is, in part, misunderstood because we metaphorically sandwich it between the Smartphone and the PC categories.


However the tablet category is not bound by either of those categories. The Smartphone, Tablet and PC are on a one dimensional computing axis. If you add another axis and label it “life activities”, the Tablet has far greater breadth and depth than either the Smartphone or the Notebook will ever have.

The whole idea of the Macintosh was a computer for people who want to use a computer rather than learn how to use a computer. ~ Steve Jobs

You have to learn how to use a Notebook. You have to learn how to use a smartphone. (If you don’t think that’s true, try handing a Smartphone to your grandmother.) I believe the ideal of a computer we don’t have to learn has (almost) been achieved in the iPad.

The older people all want to know how it does what it does, but the younger people just want to know what it can do. ~ Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs made that statement in the eighties. I think it no longer holds. With today’s modern tablets, children of all ages no longer ask what it does, they simply ask what it can do.


Normally we do not so much look at things as overlook them. ~ Alan Watts

What a crock this whole “The Tablet Is A Lousy Notebook” argument is. Have you seen the iPad’s satisfaction numbers? They’re consistently in the nineties. People wouldn’t feel that way about a device that left them wanting. It is only geeks like us that find the Tablet wanting because what we really want is something other than the tablet. (This geek tragedy of asking the tablet to be what it is not and never was intended to be is embodied in Microsoft’s latest Surface efforts.)

The Tablet Is Altogether Unnecessary

Of late there has been a huge groundswell for the idea that the Tablets are unnecessary, were always unnecessary and will soon be absorbed by the PC from the above and disrupted by the Smartphone from below. Here are some quotes culled from yesterday’s article that support this contention.

The (Smartphone and the Tablet) are nearly identical in their technical specifications. They’re constructed from similar materials. They have the same operating system, chips, and sensors. It seems they differ only in size. ~ Jared Sinclair

While good at some of the things and pretty to look at, iPad (and other tablets) aren’t particularly useful. ~ Javed Anwer

Young people are growing up on the mobile phone as their primary computing device, which has fundamentally changed the way they use and think about the internet. Tablets are simply unnecessary for them… ~ Dustin Curtis

Young people don’t use tablets because they don’t see them as necessary ~ Owen Williams

Contention: people are discovering that tablets are not really a thing, and that in general, the gap between phone and PC barely exists. ~ Peter Bright (@DrPizza)

As battery life gets better and screen sizes grow, it’s likely tablets and smartphones will eventually just converge into one device that can be simply slipped into a pocket, instead of two devices that overlap each other in many areas. ~ Owen Williams

I don’t think tablets will ever disappear, but for mass-market use, they’re going to keep getting squeezed from both sides: larger-screened phones and smaller, lighter laptops. The percentage of people whose primary computing device is a tablet may have already peaked

Over the next few years, I suspect an increasing number of people will choose not to replace old tablets, instead just choosing to use their phones for everything… ~ Marco Arment

I think the future of the iPad is for it to disappear, absorbed at the low end by iPhones with large displays and at the high end by Macs running a more iOS-like flavor of OS X. Perhaps it won’t disappear completely. After all, for certain niche uses – especially those listed above – the iPad is great because it’s neither a phone nor a PC. But these are still niche uses and can’t possibly sustain the long, bountiful future that many hope the iPad has. ~ Jared Sinclair


To understand why the Tablet is not going to go away, let’s first look at how it arrived.

The modern PC arrived in the late 1970’s. It wasn’t as powerful or as versatile as the Mini-computers that preceded it, but it was much cheaper, could sit on your desk, and could be used by an individual. Thus the term “personal” entered the lexicon of computers, which gave us the Personal Computer (PC) we now know, love and love to hate.

The modern Notebook arrived approximately 20 years later in the late nineties. It too wasn’t as powerful or as versatile as the desktop PC that had preceded it, but its one great strength was transportability — you could pick it up, take it with you and use it at work or at home or on your way to and from work and home. It disrupted the PC, just as much as the PC had disrupted the Mini-computer before it.

In 2007, the iPhone arrived. Most people view it as a mobile phone replacement, but it’s really a pocket sized PC. It was clearly inferior to the Notebook computer in many ways but it wasn’t just transportable — it was pocketable as well. Pocketable made it mobile. Cellular antennas made it always connected to the internet. This changed everything.

In 2010, Steve Jobs famously introduced the iPad tablet and asked whether there was room for a new category of device between the Smartphone and the Notebook. The answer, obviously, was yes, but it is important to understand why so many people originally answered that question with a resounding, “NO!”

Study the past, if you would divine the future. ~ Confucius

The Tablet As A Separate Category From The Notebook

The benefit of an iPad was its simplicity. The touch user interface made computing accessible to the nine month old, the ninety nine year old and every age in between.

[pullquote]The computer geek defines “everything” as “everything a computer can do”. The Normal defines “everything” as “everything I can do.”[/pullquote]

The PC appeared to be able to do everything an iPad could do and more but only if you use a very stilted definition of what “everything” is. The computer geek defines “everything” as “everything a computer can do”. The Normal defines “everything” as “everything I can do.” The Notebook did more computer tasks than did the Tablet and it did them better. However, the Tablet did more life tasks than the Notebook could ever dream of doing.

The things we humans wish to do are so much more varied: sing, play, dance, even, I suppose, make spreadsheets. It is a spectrum, of which traditional “compute” activities are only a small part. ~ Ben Thompson

When the PC was the one and only computer we had, it was a generalist. It literally defined what could and could not be done on a computer.

When the iPad arrived, the PC became a specialist. The PC is really, really good at spreadsheets and tasks that require more processing power and tasks that require multiple or larger screens. The iPad — with its simpler and more approachable user interface — became the new general computer. It couldn’t do the edge cases nearly as well as the PC or the Smartphone, but it could do a whole lot of things that were never, ever, envisioned by the Notebook and it did them with a much shallower learning curve.

The Tablet Is The New General Purpose Computer. ~ Matthew Panzarino (@panzer)

The Tablet As A Separate Category From The Smartphone

We can take the very same analysis we just used to explain why there was room for a Tablet category beneath the PC to explain why there is room for a Tablet category above the Smartphone.

The benefit of the Tablet is still its simplicity. The larger screen real estate makes most computer tasks far easier to perform on a Tablet than on a Smartphone. That is the main reason why older people quickly gravitate to the Tablet while the young — who are more nimble and more willing to tolerate the inconvenience of a smaller screen (and who have less money) — gravitate to the smartphone. (But don’t be fooled into assuming the young prefer the Smartphone over the tablet. As soon as they enter the workforce, their tablet use begins to increase.)

At first blush, a Smartphone appears to be able to do everything a Tablet can do and more but at the cost of additional complexity. This is a totally acceptable tradeoff to make when we need to have our computer (Smartphone) with us at all times. Conversely, it is a totally UNACCEPTABLE tradeoff to make when no tradeoff is required, i.e., when we’re at home or when we otherwise have access to both our Smartphone AND our Tablet.

[pullquote] We choose efficiency when we must. We choose effectiveness when we can.[/pullquote]

Let me put this another way: Smartphones excel at mobility and efficiency. Tablets excel at effectiveness. We choose efficiency when we must. We choose effectiveness when we can.


The tablet Naysayers are simply wrong. The facts are against them and the analysis is against them too. Remember when the Tablet was born, both the Smartphone and the Notebook already existed. Why the Naysayers now contend no one really wants to use a tablet when consumers just spent the last four years throwing their dollars at Tablets is beyond me. What do the Naysayers think — the people who bought tablets were too stupid to realize they could have purchased Smartphones or PCs instead?

I return to my mother. She first looked at the iPad as cool, but foreign. Now you can barely pry it out of her hands. It is her computer. ~ MG Siegler

People adore their tablets. If you think the tablet is going away, it is because you think too highly of thinking and you don’t think enough about the awesome power unleashed by feelings.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

27 thoughts on “The Terrible Tablet Tantrum, Part 2”

  1. My Life Activity is “make and sell great computer games.” I can envision a future in which “make game” is torn apart and rescued from “program computer,” perhaps with a system that transcends programming and file management, and some kind of easy to use performance capture app.

    Pushbutton controllers are for nerdzo cheeto munchers who want to play Call of Fantasy XXVII again. I wanted to make games that were human. Not “casual” – just human.

    However, what still stands is that you can’t make and sell an iPad game without a Mac, great games that aren’t F2P city builders and pushblock puzzlers are struggling on the App Store, and developers who want to make something subversive, or developers who hold conventions and attend jams, or developers who are a marginalized voice write and publish games online for PC.

    I use the iPad to mitigate the risk of anterior neck carriage and muscular atrophy of sitting at a desk to compute, so that I can read more games criticism magazines and academic/editorial articles than i did when i had only the Mac. It is a fantastic indirect help. But is “indirect” the foundation of a revolution?

    1. “what still stands is that you can’t make and sell an iPad game without a Mac”

      That’s relevant to one-tenth of ont-tenth of one percent of the world. No one else cares or even knows that’s an issue.

      1. Nobody cares about making games?

        Right. No one cares to draw a picture, or record a song, or write a story, or edit a movie, or make anything ever. It’s just a non-issue since only a tenth of of a percent of the world are cartoonists or musicians or novelists. No one knows it’s an issue. No one cares. No one cares about anything. Nothing matters. We should stop developing Procreate and GarageBand and Pages and iMovie, too. One percent of the world ate a gyro today, we should just close down all the gyro shops. After all, it’s a niche market. Pack it up, everyone.

        Codea and Hopscotch are insufficient because the game is trapped in them.

        If the iPad is supposed to be a computing revolution that is built on accessibility, shouldn’t an end result be that people who couldn’t work a PC to produce a game because it was too complex one day can? Just like it empowered and expanded the number of people who transcend the PC’s computery noise to edit movies and play music and write about the world around them? Shouldn’t the iPad, and not the supposedly overburdened, lifeless, stunted, useless, stodgy desktop computer that has held humanity back for three long heart-wrenching decades, be the force behind he expansion of the demographic of people who exercise their voice through the interactive arts, the medium unique to a device with computer?

        Such joie de vivre.

        1. “Nobody cares about making games? No one cares to draw a picture, or record a song, or write a story, or edit a movie, or make anything ever.” – Kyle

          Not what I said, Kyle and you know it. I said almost no one (but you) cares that they “can’t make and sell an iPad game without a Mac”

          If you’re gong to respond to my comments, Kyle, please have the courtesy to respond to what I said in my comments.

          1. As I said originally, with the exception of a couple of programmers, this is a complete non-issue. If this is the kind of thing that causes you frustration, then get used to being frustrated.

          2. If the iPad does not usurp what we use to make games or what we use to play games, then one might as well just develop on a PC, for a PC, and avoid frustration by cutting out iPad entirely. So nothing changes.

          3. The iPad and the PC have different roles to play. They don’t have to be all things to all people.

      2. While this is one niche activity requiring (realistically) a PC, it is far from the only one. There are a myriad of activities that require keyboards. Pretty much any text entry beyond twitter sized bites.

        The question of “can a tablet replace a PC?” largely boils down to “Can you happily do without a physical keyboard?”

        I suspect that for a sizable number of people, that answer is no. Especially in a work setting.

        1. “The question of “can a tablet replace a PC?””

          That is the wrong question. The proper question is “Can a tablet serve my needs?”

          1. Well, well, we totally agree! It’s okay with you if it doesn’t. Right?

          2. It’s my whole point. The right tool for the right job. People who say the tablet is a lousy PC don’t understand that the tablet doesn’t want to be, nor should it be a PC. We have PCs for that.

          3. Which is why I so object to tablets being counted as PC’s. That, and the fundamental differences between them.

          4. If it is the wrong question, why did you pose it? I am only answering it, because you posed on you lead in to the article:

            ” Is the Tablet good enough to replace the PC?” – John Kirk

          5. “you posed on you lead in to the article”

            Go back and read the article. I posed it as one of two questions that the TABLET NAYSAYERS were asking, not as a question that I was asking. When you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers.

  2. “Make it as simple as possible, but not too simple” -Albert Einstein

    There’s no question that tablets are needed and that they better society with their presence. They “raise the floor”. Still, the “complexity” we so abhor is dealt with by training and education. Every tool has it’s place. We don’t berate medicine as “too complex” do we? Do we really want it simpler? Yes, a physician or researcher could make informed suggestions on making it better, but the “complexity” is inherent and is actually required.

    Are tablets going to go away? Of course not. Convergence is already happening though, both from the bottom (phones) and from above (notebooks). And that all well and good. Is the Surface Pro 3 a tablet? No. It’s a full fledged PC with all the essential features expected of a PC, that’s been influenced by tablets in it’s form factor. That influence adds value (in function) by making better pen functions more accessible. Is it more complex? Yes. Would I give one to my grandmother? No. I do want one for myself.

    When I’m at home, there are tablets scattered throughout the house. They’ve replaced coffee table magazines and books. When I need to do something, I use my desktop. I’m actually far more comfortable on it, even though it’s more complex. Touch, for me, is not all it’s cracked up to be. I never leave the house without a laptop, even on the rare occasion I bring a tablet. (Yes, I have issues, but these are personal things).

    Choice is good. Having these vast choices of devices is good. Informed choice carries the burden of getting informed. That’s a law of nature. Buyer beware.

    1. “the “complexity” we so abhor is dealt with by training and education”

      No, its not. Training and education is for specialists who want to learn more about the subtleties of a field. The product that the lawyer or the engineer or the retailer presents to the customer should involve as little training or education as possible. The seller should absorb the complexity so the buyer can enjoy the simplicity.

      “We don’t berate medicine as “too complex” do we?”

      Yes, we do. We want medicine, like all things that matter, to be reduced to a pill.

      simpler?”Convergence is already happening”

      No, it’s not. Seven years ago there was only the PC. Four years ago there was the Smartphone and the PC. Today there is the Smartphone, the Tablet and the PC.

      above (notebooks).”Choice is good”

      Bull. Good design removes the burden of choices from end users.

      1. “Training and education is for specialists who want to learn more about the subtleties of a field.”

        Training and education advance cultures and societies. Imagine if the US were devoid of it, culture would consist of Disney, The Kardashians, and Jersey Shore….oh dear, never mind. 🙂

        “Yes, we do. We want medicine, like all things that matter, to be reduced to a pill.” -Falkirk

        Well I don’t want a quack to treat a broken leg with a pill. It just doesn’t work that way.

        “Bull. Good design removes the burden of choices from end users.”-Falkirk

        See, when you frame it like that, it implies the necessity of a “winner” that everyone then HAS to use. Eye of the beholder…?
        So we should all speak Esperanto then? Who would decide that? More importantly, would you deprive me of the opportunity to have the burden of choice?

        1. “Training and education, including the arts and humanities, advance cultures and societies.”

          True, but it has nothing to do with what I said. I said that normal people don’t to have to endure “training and education” in order to use a computer. They just want to use it.

          “Well I don’t want a quack to treat a broken leg with a pill.”

          Not what I said.

          “when you frame it like that, it implies the necessity of a “winner” that everyone then HAS to use”

          No I didn’t and no it doesn’t. I’ll let Picasso respond on my behalf:

          If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme. ~ Pablo Picasso

      2. “The seller should absorb the complexity so the buyer can enjoy the simplicity.”

        A bit off topic but this right here is one of the key factors in how you sell anything.

  3. I think traditional PC can be supplanted for some, but not all. No one has a real handle on how it will shake out.

    I was a computer hobbyist since the early 1980’s (first computer was a Vic-20), and I have followed the rise of the Personal Computer. IMO the rise of PC’s for everyone wasn’t driven by Windows. It was driven by one Killer App: The internet. If you wanted into the internet, you needed a PC, and the market exploded.

    Now intenet access is ubiquitous, it’s on your game console/car/TV/phone/tablet/computer. The need to connect no longer requires a PC. So I do forsee some falloff in the PC, because the big driver is no longer limited to the PC, there is less need for a PC.

    OTOH any extensive text creation effort, needs a form factor suitable to that. A tablet is joy for consuming the internet, but I turned on my PC to type this post, for the exact same reason I used my tablet to consume my Net news. I am choosing the best interface for the task. A physical keyboard is quite simply a superior way, and thus more joyful, less frustrating way to enter larger amounts of text, than a touch screen interface.

    For those only interested in producing one sentence at a time. Phones/tablets may suffice as their only computer, but that isn’t everyone and it is hard to fathom, what the outcomes look like going forward. Full fledged PCs may fall back closer to pre internet ownership levels. But they aren’t going away.

    1. “I am choosing the best interface for the task.” ~ Defendor

      And we have a winner.

      Instead of writing the two articles on tablets, I should have just said that.

  4. What has lead to a all the hand wringing regarding tablets has been slowing sales of the device. It was a rocket ship since launch and recently growth has slowed dramatically. I would like to understand what is causing this. My guess is slowing sales has little to do with the form factor falling out of favour and more to do with long replacement rates of three and more years. A tablet is just a small screen; how often do you replace your TV (another, much larger screen)? Of interest, I paid more for my iPad than I paid for my TV and I use my IPad much, much more.

    1. Everyone wants to know why tablets have skipped a step in their former patten of growth. But rather than assume they’re finished as a form factor, it seems far more likely to me that after running so far, so fast, they’re simply catching their breath before renewing the race…

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