Technology commentators are obsessed by a binary world of absolutes. For one company to thrive, the others all have to fail; for one technology to succeed, the rest must be consigned to history.
This is conspicuous in current writing about tablets. The narrative has shifted from the tablet as conqueror to claims it is done for – yesterday’s fad, shortly to be crushed by the triumphant non-death of the PC and the all-consuming might of the smartphone.
Evidence is presented: Apple’s iPad is now merely selling quite well rather than continuing to have meteoric growth; many Android tablet sales are for dirt-cheap devices that are quickly abandoned or used solely for video; Microsoft has thrown in the towel and now pitches its Surface Pro 3 against ultrabooks rather than tablets.
Such arguments hinge on use cases, and also quite a bit of missing the point. Smartphones, we’re told, are the great ‘everywhere’ device, because they’re always with you; PCs are the workhorses, for doing proper work with their advanced apps, exciting choice of ports, mice and proper keyboards.
By contrast, tablets are merely the middlemen, the first to feel the squeeze as technology evolves, sales begin to wobble and doubt begins to bite. The point being missed is that although tablets aren’t the most mobile nor the most powerful devices, they’re pretty good at a lot of things, and the advantages they offer provide compelling new ways of working. This appears to be backed up by continued growth in tablet traffic, and the increased visibility of such devices in public, schools and workplaces.
Most tablets are lightweight, with larger models boasting screens with more spacious real estate than the comparatively cramped dimensions of even the more gargantuan smartphones. Resolution isn’t the issue – space to work and do things is the key; interaction is more important than pixel density. Apps have the space to breathe and thereby offer scope for the tablet to be more than just a simple device to contain or serve ad-hoc content, instead becoming a receptacle for considered, long-form focus.
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Compared to PCs, tablets have the advantage of freeing you from the office – first, in the literal sense, in that you can use a tablet in the most comfortable of environments, in the same way you can curl up with a good book; and secondly in the focus you gain when what you’re working with becomes the device. With the right app, your tablet can become your writing machine, reference tome, art board, music studio or window into another world, in an immersive manner that any machine with an attached keyboard cannot match.
It’s long been recommended that escaping the sterile and familiar helps snap your brain into new thinking. If creativity isn’t flowing when basking in the blue glow of a monitor atop the same old desk, it often pays to go for a walk or mull things over in a café or creaky old armchair. Creativity doesn’t arise from the stale and uninspiring. Ultrabooks get you part of the way there, but again the direct manipulation of apps that occurs on a tablet display has the potential to unlock a different way of perceiving content and working with it.
Perhaps this is why when exploring the idea of tablets and their potential for long-term success, it’s stereotypically creative people who are said to benefit beyond anyone using them solely for leisure activities: musicians; painters; writers.
In reality, though, a great many tasks have a creative component, right through to the most mundane of office work where you’re balancing the budget in a spreadsheet – a change of environment can provide a world of difference. And then there are plenty of industries for which the tablet form factor alone can be a major plus, such as medicine.
This is not to say that tablets will take over from other devices either. For many people, PCs will remain a go-to device; for others, a smartphone may be sufficient. But any attempt to dismiss the tablet as a fleeting craze seems at best misguided and rash when there’s so much untapped potential, in devices that people forget are still relatively immature.
And while it’s still hard to argue most people really need a tablet today, chances are one could benefit your working life and leisure time in ways you’d not previously imagined.