You Can Never Have Enough Tablets

Ben Bajarin / February 23rd, 2012

One of the things my firm focuses on is spotting trends within the technology industry. As a part of our constant search for trends we employ a concept we call “live the future now.” What this means, is that we as trend analysts, ourselves being early adopters, attempt to look for and implement things into our own work, play, family, life, etc, that we believe consumers may use technology for in the future. We also hunt out and study other people or groups of people, mostly early adopters, who are also using technology today the way we believe the masses will in the future.

So this column is going to be more about the future than the present.
Because I live and breathe this industry I also acquire quite a lot of technological gadgets as a part of this process. For the past six month’s I have been utilizing in different capacities no less than five and upwards of eight tablets at any given time all throughout my house. Not all my tablets are running the same core OS as some are iPads, some run Android and one runs Web OS. This helps me evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a range of tablet operating systems and device features. Regardless of the OS I basically keep a tablet in every room of my house, except the bathroom, at all times. In basically every room where we spend significant time you will find a tablet of some shape or form. Living with a tablet in every room of my house is a fascinating experience. It is also a very convenient experience.

In the future I believe having access to these “smart connected screens” in every room will be a staple of most consumers’ homes in the developed world. What this enables is a situation where consumers don’t need to carry their tablets with them from room to room. They simply move to each room and as necessary, at their convenience, pick up the closest tablet and begin using it.

In my own experience doing this, I found that quite often I simply wanted to look something up on the Internet. What I looked for was the most convenient screen to access the Internet with. My notebook is rarely near me on the couch or bed and my smart phone suffices but the screen is a little to small for the job most times. This is where tablets come in. They are more mobile than notebooks and sport bigger screens than smart phones. And when you have one in every room you don’t have to think about bringing your tablet with you or where you left it last. Having a tablet in every room ready to be picked up and utilized was not only extremely convenient it was also extremely useful.

Now in this reality we must recognize that we may potentially shift from tablets being mainly personal computing devices to perhaps more communal computing devices–at least in the home environment.

Shift from Personal to Communal Screens
With the role of the personal cloud, I can see a situation where you just pick up the most convenient tablet/screen to your proximity, in whatever room you happen to be, log in to your personal cloud, and instantly the tablet becomes “your tablet.” It would contain all your personal settings, preferences, access to media, etc.

In this environment what is personal is your cloud not the device itself. This is a different take on the concept of personal computing. This of course does not mean that we consumers will not own personal computing devices, like smart phones for example, but that there will also be screens we use in our daily lives that are not personal but more communal. The personal cloud we subscribe to is what turns any screen into our personal computing platform for the amount of time we choose to use that screen as such.

Google’s Chrome OS is very similar in concept to what I am outlaying. Any person who has a Google account and has invested in the Chrome OS, via a ChromeBook, could log into my or any ChromeBook and begin using the device as if it was their own. When this concept makes its way to tablets I believe it will enforce this idea of a screen agnostic tablet, in every room, future that I am outlining.

Now of course for this to happen the cost of tablets will have to come down. That is why I pointed out at the start of this column that I am talking more about the future than the present. However, what if someday we can sell a $99 or less tablet that runs a very light OS, with access to cloud services, and wi-fi? Another way this reality could happen is with a hardware-as-a-service model where as a part of a subscription, perhaps to your cable provider, the devices are provided for free.

The bottom line is that over the next five years the BOM cost of tablets will come down. If these devices rely more on the cloud than native software, some of the costs will move from the device to the service. Making the hardware more affordable as it relies more on a service to become “personal.”

It is with these types of “smart connected screens” that I believe we will see the explosion of devices into consumers homes. Prior to tablets we may have assumed that the dominant computing screen in consumers lives was going to be a notebook PC. In essence we would have said that there would be a notebook in every room, owned by every consumer. I think we are rapidly learning that, that future is going to be given to tablets.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research 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 and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • shockme

    I think what you are hitting on is the trend that has been happening for some time now. Sun used to say “The Network is the computer”. I think it came true in the following way: The tablet and smart phones of today would have little utility if they were not connected to a global network. Their form factor makes them more convenient to use in more places in the home as well as in and away from the office.

    I think you are also correct about the multi-user nature of a fair percentage of the screens of tomorrow. But, I don’t think this will occur until the storage is large enough to contain frequent profiles and common applications or very high speed access to local caches of applications forward positioned in the office or home.

    • benbajarin

      Yes storage will be a major inhibiter in the short term. But yes I am looking at this from a network topology of screen devices that rely solely on the network.

      There may as well be a hybrid solution in the future where both exist but I think these network screens can get pretty inexpensive.

  • mhikl

    Variety is the spice of life and I agree: one Tablet, the iPad, isn’t going to meet the needs of all.

    Here are a list of the Tablets the world needs.
    1. For accepter of Apple products: the iPad
    2. For haters of Apple products: Android Tablet
    3. For penny pinchers: Amazon’s Fire
    4. For haters of the 3As, Apple, Android and Amazon: the Other Pad, which might end up being the MS Tablet if MS is successful in its WOA or the beleaguered Web OS Tablet or both.
    5. For the hater of electronic tablets: the Scratch Pad, perfectly acceptable for use in the bathroom.

    And thus the world of tablets was made perfect but Apple will continue to steal the show.

  • mhikl

    Ben, do you really think Tablets are going to sell for $99 or less in the next ten years and be as viable as you suggest? Look at smart phones. Sure they are given away for free, but only with a plan which costs heaps. Apple’s 3gs is a freebee now, isn’t it? But Apple still makes its 30+ percent in profits. I think all the smart phones cost a lot more to make than three times $99. For every Kindle Fire Amazon sells it loses $12 or more.

    But do we want to pay the price for a tethered tablet with data plans? And if they were to become such, wouldn’t they be like the smart phone, a personal product? You don’t really want to share your mobile phone, do you?

    I can see a cheaper tablet, but they would be like the Kindle Fire. Maybe they would be good book readers, and maybe surfing the net would be a fair experience. But games and the fine ecosystem of the Apple world would not its genius be. Such pleasures are not trifles and are costly to make and support, in time and real dollars. It is fairly unlikely that in the foreseeable future that an ecosystem akin to the likes of the Apple experience will be universal amongst all tablet brands. Possible, but unlikely. It would take a heap of co-operating amongst all the operators to beat Apple at the game it has been developing for twelve or more years. (iTunes debuted 9 January 2001 but it took a year or more to develop Soundjam into the first rendition of iTunes, I am sure and look how complex it has become.)

    Maybe if governments forced Apple to open its structures to the world this might happen. Maybe its like electricity and roadways. Maybe then I could see what you are proposing coming about. Such might be a good thing, in the long run. Otherwise, Apple may just run off with its spoon.

    • benbajarin

      I think over time yes. Especially if the tablets I am talking about run no native OS but rather just have a web browser.

      This does not mean we won’t have tablets in our daily life that do run a native OS and are more personal by nature because they contain “our stuff” locally. However I think there is an opportunity in the connected home for very simple internet connected tablets with a touch based browser interface and support for web apps and things like that. In a few years the cost of those can get to or below $99.

      • mhikl

        Ben, I seem to have been signed out of Techpinions and I don’t know how to get in to post with my name (mhikl) pic and other details. I have to work very hard to keep all my accounts or forums straight and cannot keep all the little idiosyncrasies. Techpinions is become my favourite site. I used to follow and participate on the MacObserver but the quality there has deteriorated. AI is not bad but originality of thought and understanding is not near to the quality of your site. Techpinions, in my humble opinion is the best tech site with Apple interests, along with DaringFireball, I have found. The consistency of quality on Techpinions is admirable. I don’t always have the confidence that my thoughts are complete and true, but many of the points from the writers at Techpinions inform, confirm and advance my thinking and understanding.

        Any ideas how I can sign back on. I believe this is the email address I joined up with . I have many and am searching them to figure out if I signed up with something else and that is causing the problem.

        Namaste,
        mhikl (Michael)

        • benbajarin

          Hey Mike it looks like I am seeing your image now. I was able to get back and logged into disqus as I was logged out as well. There is a tab to log in and post with disqus user name, I think its the second tab from the top on the left side. Hopefully you are seeing that as well and can get back logged in.

          As I said I had our developer change the format to have the post box at the bottom with our posting guidelines more clear. I just wanted to make sure our great conversations that happen here stay civil and respectful.

          Thanks again for reading and commenting.

          • mhikl

            Hi Ben
            I’m back on after signing in using disqus as I pointed out in my response to your responds.
            I’m glad techpinion is monitoring for civil and respectful behaviour. The MacObserver had problems with that and I think it hurt the discussions a lot. Same over at AI. (Think I have a better understanding of disqus now – keychain didn’t have the correct password but I then found it on LassPass) – I really like the way techpinion links like-articles (side bar) new and older for further reading. Rare to find older articles that are still fresh months later in most discussions forums. Says a lot in regards to the quality you all at techpinons are addressing.

            Cheers again

          • benbajarin

            Thanks glad you got it worked out.

            Thanks as well for the nice thing you said. That is our goal with Tech.pinions and we are going to remain passionately focused on quality content about and for the technology industry. Of course feel free to give me any feedback on how we can continually make the experience better for you.

            Looking forward to dialoguing more with you.

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