Tablets Everywhere: Third Screen in Many Facets of Life


Life and love are fickle things. It seems like only yesterday that the netbook was going to give us the good life. Wait a minute – it was!

The folks at 1 Infinity Loop, California have changed all of that – again. True, Steve Jobs didn’t bring his black shirt nor did he make a personal appearance at the CES show last week, but Apple’s presence was evident as the entire industry joined the tablet craze.

First, Apple allowed Verizon to preempt the marketplace by announcing they would have the iPhone next month. The carrier strutted around the floor saying their infrastructure was ready to take on the massive influx of phone calling, emailing and video contact downloading customers. 

As you’d expect from CES, folks from the four corners of the globe came to show off their latest smartphones which had a strong resemblance to the iPhone. 

Then, there was a whole app zone where seasoned and hopeful developers showed off their creations to ensure there was an app for just about anything you could think of. But at the end of the day it was tablets, a new category of "computers," that produced the flurry of excitement.

"We must get beyond passions, like a great work of art. In such miraculous harmony. We should love each other outside of time… detached." ? Steiner, La Dolce Vita (1960), Riama Films

Figure 2: Vegas opening

Not everyone can make a TV set, but it felt like everyone can make a tablet computer. Nearly a hundred new tablets were announced, all hoping to capture just a little of the iPad customer overflow. More than eighty suppliers rushed to Las Vegas to show us the tablet that was poised to steal away huge portions of what the iPad would deliver? La Dolce Vita.

A few ? very few ? came close, however. Most displayed products felt cheap and looked like flimsy knock-offs running Android, Windows – you name it. Absent and waiting for early February was HP with their WebOS tablet (blame it on Hurd, he’s gone).

Out of the Orchard

Think of it as moving from one lowly "fruit" company to more than eighty firms setting up a new system category.

People who viewed them at CES agreed with Marchello, "You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home."

It’s a little hard to call these devices computers,though. Depending on the vendor, they will typically include some computer functionality paired with a phone, TV screen, game system, webcam, bottle opener and so forth.

Producers are rushing to squeeze into a market space that barely exists, but folks believe will go through the proverbial roof.

Figure 3: Tablet hockey stick

The growth projections for media and tablet PCs are so enticing they are forcing netbook computers almost out of the picture and many experts claim they’ll surpass notebook systems. Okay, 17 million units shipped last year isn’t anything to sneeze at, but can the space support over eighty different vendors (and Apple)?

Most folks call anything that looks like an iPad a tablet, but there are really two product segments ? media tablets (think iPad) and tablet PCs. Tablets are not a new category. Today’s offerings fill a void between four-inch smartphones 13-15-inch notebooks. They’ve been around for awhile in the form of:

  • tablet PCs
  • eReaders (Kindle)
  • media tablets
  • have color displays ranging from five to 14 inches
  • processor is an x86 or ARM
  • contain a mobile operating system
  • have touch interfaces
  • have a wide range of applications distributed through their own app stores
  • WiFi and/or cellular connectivity
  • long battery life

In 2010, portable device sales were 518.5 million units. Here’s a break down of this segment:

  • 52 percent smartphones
  • 38.9 percent notebook computers
  • 3.2 percent media tablets
  • 5.9 percent other connected CE devices

Last year 82.6 percent of the media tablets sold were iOS devices from Apple. The sliver remaining were Android. Analysts estimate that at the end of this year, the operating system spectrum will grow with Apple continuing to hold the major position.

Note: The iPad mockup image in the upper right is credited to San Francisco Chronicle.

Figure 4 ? OS struggle

Apple will continue to hold a strong market share in the emerging tablet market, keeping its design, development, manufacturing system humming. In addition to its early hardware lead, Apple already has a vast selection of apps that seems to grow at breakneck speed.

The big consideration for users will be a closed garden operating system (iOS) and open OS (Android). The big difference though is that the applications you select for the iOS environment will most certainly work, even though you are "captive" in the environment. The open apps should work as advertised, but they will be run on different levels of hardware that will shape the user experience ? good and/or bad. By 2014, analysts expect 1.07 billion portable devices to be sold (pretty impressive). But the product mix won’t favor tablets.

Figure 5: Big market

All of the mobile device segments will expand rapidly. This will also create a strain on business IT departments where BYO (bring your own) communications device – phone, computer, tablet, etc ? is becoming the norm.

The challenge for IT departments is that they have to protect the organization’s networks and IP from malware, hacking or theft. The available market for 80 + 1 companies shrinks rapidly. It reminded us of what one of the movie’s actors said years ago:

By 1965, there’ll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be.

Pick the winner(s)

The challenge for the consumer who wants a tablet right now is to look at the units available and determine which companies will be the survivors, because consolidation will occur.

Unlike netbooks, with their early media frenzy and consumer enthusiasm because of the low cost and notebook "l
ook," the tablet market will have staying power.

The problem was, the netbook was an anorexic notebook, which most people quickly found had severe work processing shortcomings.

Initial media tablet buyers will encounter similar issues. If you are going to use it to:

  • carry and show presentations, photos and videos ? it’s a great device
  • take it to meetings for notes ? works well
  • web surfing ? good
  • reading books anywhere/everywhere ? fair but you’re better off with an eReader like a Kindle (easier reading, relatively cheap)

There will be a world of apps ? free and paid ? that can be downloaded. The challenge will be to locate the specific apps you need. The media tablet will not replace your smartphone, even if the tablet has a phone capability designed into it ? dumb idea to hold something that large up to your ear, but go for it!

The media tablet will not replace your notebook for real work ? producing presentations, video post production, work processing, holding large volumes of materials for business, school. Kool-Aid drinkers swear the touch screen can be used for typing and work processing, but it gets smudged very quickly and for long typing periods it is awkward at best.

Ideal device

"Experts" agree the ideal media tablet should sport the following specs:

  • 10-inch screen
  • ARM processor for low power consumption
  • 32/64/128GB internal storage
  • 2-4 USB ports to add storage capacity or backup to external drive
  • SSD slot for photos and other content
  • WiFi and wireless ? use the WiFi whenever possible because wireless will be expensive; some units are available without carrier wireless plans, which we think is the best approach for the user.

At CES, we talked at length with industry analysts, company executives and retail executives about the devices, market potential and here’s what we found out.

Figure 6: Worldwide demand

The business and personal consumer demand for tablet systems is global, not regional. Sales expansion by area closely tracks notebooks and smartphones. So, we’re buying a new backpack so we can carry our fourth device:

  • smartphone
  • media tablet
  • notebook computer
  • eReader

The difference will be how people use the devices:

  • Smartphones – People keep their smartphone close to them. They don’t mind showing you photos, but they hang onto the device.
  • Notebooks – Notebook users hold onto their computer. When they show a prezentation to someone, they turn the unit to the guest and control the flow of the presentation, material. It’s the same when showing photos/videos.
  • Tablets – Walk up to anyone with a tablet and they shove it into your hands, have you go through the photos, videos and presentations. On the plane, travelling to Las Vegas, people were playing video games and were happy to share their device. The same occurs when people are at school or in business meetings. They gladly share the device.

The media tablet won’t replace the other devices, but will become one more device you carry regularly.Prices will come down rapidly for the non-Apple units. By the end of the first quarter you’ll see robust units with good power/price performance below $500.

Picking the winners from the losers will be the trick, but the tablet is here to stay. Wrapping up, right now we feel like Marchello and here’s our ending quote:

A man who agrees to live like this is a finished man, he’s nothing but a worm! I don’t believe in your aggressive, sticky, maternal love! I don’t want it, I have no use for it! This isn’t love, its brutalization!