As I survey the tablet market and its trends, I am continually reminded that tablets are still in the early stages of development. We talk with consumers and enterprise customers alike, and there still seems to be some perceptual nuance surrounding tablets. People are just starting to get their heads around what a piece of glass that's bigger than their phone yet smaller and more portable than their PC means to them.
Laying all my cards on the table, I use the iPad Air with the Zagg iPad Air Folio case. I take this setup out into the world to meetings, or to pop into a Starbucks to get some work done in between meetings, and I constantly get the exact same question: What kind of computer is that? People see this device and realize that it is, in fact, a computer. This fundamental point is where the paradigm shift to tablet computing is about to happen.
The amazing thing about a tablet that sets it apart from every device I use is that it has more computing capabilities than my phone and is more portable than my PC. I can sit reclined on my couch or in bed and learn, work or play. I can take it to the office and work. I can use it as portable TV or DVD player. I can use it to make music. I can take it to the lake and capture video of my family water skiing, editing and creating the video right there on the lake. I can keep going with these scenarios, but you get the picture. The tablet is more capable than my smartphone and more portable than my PC. This is why I believe it has the most potential of any form factor out there with regard to the future of computing.
A point that often gets made is that most people just need their smartphone -- and once bigger-screen phones are more popular, people will simply choose to use a bigger phone and a traditional PC over a tablet. I don't doubt that there will be a certain percentage of the market that chooses this solution. However, I feel more people will choose a phone (of any size) and a larger tablet solution. If there is any device that I feel may be threatened when five-inch-and-larger phones become the norm, it's smaller tablets, not bigger ones. The best way to think about this is that bigger smartphones will challenge small tablets the same way tablets challenge PCs. Larger tablets, however, are poised to become the dominant computing form factor. All of this is because of both its unique form factor and the developer ecosystem behind it.
In 1978, something important happened. In those days, personal computers were in their infancy. Most viewed the desktop personal computer as a hobbyist toy. But in 1978, a piece of software called VisiCalc was being developed, and overnight, its business and productivity value was grasped. The rest was history. Where we are with tablets feels very much like 1978 for personal computers. We have a few showcase apps, mostly from Apple with iWork and the iLife suite of applications for iPad. We also have a number of great apps from third-party developers for music creation, art and any number of genres. But the list of showcase apps to drive home the value of the tablet as a personal computer are still in the minority.
Whenever people ask my how I get away with using my iPad as my main PC, I always show them the above types of applications. I show them how I can capture video and make a movie right on the spot. I show them how I can write my columns and even post to my blog. I show them how I can use it to create spreadsheets and presentations, all with as much ease as if I was on my notebook. Every time after I give these demonstrations to someone, they always respond with a kind of profound tone in their voice: "I didn't know you could do all that with an iPad."
This is the point. As consumers catch on that these devices are more capable than their smartphones and more portable that their PCs, the floodgates will open. Developers will similarly begin re-imagining entire categories of new applications and new software to drive this unique form factor forward as a computing platform. Hardware manufacturers will continue to enhance the tablets features, from its optics, biometrics, sensors, chipsets, and displays. We really are just getting started with tablets. And more importantly, the tablet is going to help many consumers -- both existing tablet owners and new ones just getting started with computing.
Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.