Why I am Convinced Tablets are the Future

on July 16, 2012

During the course of many conversations I have been having lately with industry insiders there is still a drastic underestimation of the importance of tablets. There are some I talk to who get it but I still feel that largely the sentiment around tablets and the iPad in particular is that it is a toy and not a personal computer. So in this column I am hoping to articulate my view on this subject.

More Consumption and Light Production Than Heavy Lifting

I know thinking objectively from other peoples vantage points is a challenge for many people. I am close friends with many of these people. However considering many different views and specifically trying to get inside peoples heads and see things from their perspective is something I greatly enjoy. That probably explains why I love anthropology and ethnographic research. The key point is that just because one consumer can not replace their laptop with a tablet does not mean that another consumer can not. Consumer preferences and usage models are not universal.

My conviction, which stems from my observational research with consumers, which we conducted at Creative Strategies, is that a large amount of consumers do not do complex things with their computers. I recall some research we did four years ago trying to gauge the importance and perceived demand of increased CPU performance by mass market consumers. In this research consumers shared with us how they use their PCs. What we observed was that the majority of consumers we interviewed used less than five primary applications on a daily basis and none of those applications were CPU intensive.

To further highlight this observation I want to share a chart containing some research from Alpha Wise and Morgan Stanley. In a large survey with mainstream consumers, their research findings came back very similar to our observational research. Specifically that roughly 75% of the time consumers were not using their PCs to do things we would consider “heavy lifting.” Although I am not sure that term applies to the mass market consumer.

Now the question I have after looking at that chart is: Which of the above tasks can not be done on an iPad? The answer is none.

Now if you are like me and you have large numbers of friends, family, social acquaintances, people who come up to me when they see me using my iPad with a keyboard at Starbucks, etc., then you probably give advice on what types of technology to buy. So when I ask them what they use their computers for, the answer almost always comes back the same. Not much they say, I mainly browse the internet, check email, watch videos, and occasionally need to make a spreadsheet or use a word processor.

Interestingly the overwhelming majority of conversations I have had around this topic, the person asking me the question is already leaning toward an iPad because they recognize it can do most of what they need it to the large majority of the time. So the question generally centers around whether or not they need a new notebook or whether they should just get an iPad and keep using their old notebook.

The long and short of it is that unless the person asking the question is a power user, creative professional, etc., it is very hard to not recommend them getting an iPad and just keep using the notebook they have for the less than 15% of the time they may possibly need it. You can probably guess what my advice generally is and I know many happy consumers who have taken this path.

Things We Hold We Love

Now I want to make one last point. The fascinating thing about tablets besides the points I made above, is that we don’t just touch them when we use them, we hold them. I am convinced there is something psychological about this that makes the tablet more personal than a notebook. With a notebook we touch (the keyboard and mouse / trackpad) but we don’t hold it while using it. The notebook form factor is not conducive to this usage model because it must be sitting on a flat surface, like a desk, table, or lap to be used.

We also hold tablets much closer to our person while we use them the majority of the time. Whereas with notebooks, we keep them at arms length. This fundamental difference in closeness is another reason I believe there is a deeper psychological attachment and lure to tablets than with notebooks.

If I was to rank emotional attachment to devices of a personal nature I would say the smartphone comes first, then the tablet, then the notebook. Smartphones and tablets we touch to use and hold to use, while the notebook we just touch, and I use the word touch loosely with the notebook form factor because it is not a touch computer like the smartphone and tablet–and I am not convinced it ever will be.

The fundamental truth is that there is a distinctly different relationship consumers are beginning to form with tablets that they never developed with notebooks. We continually hear in consumer interviews how much people love their iPads and can not live without it. Had this attachment developed with notebooks they wouldn’t have delegated them to the back room. And think about the millions (and growing) of kids who are developing this relationship with tablets in their formative years. I am confident my kids will have no use for a notebook in the future. Desktop maybe, or perhaps central home server, but notebook– not so much.

Following my logic, it should not be tough to see why we are so bullish on tablets. There are the above reasons, along with many more than I have time to get into (but will in our upcoming tablet report, shameless plug), which are all transforming and reshaping this industry before our eyes. The challenge is not everyone sees it.