I hold very strongly to the idea that there are two ‘tablet device’ markets – the first is the much older ‘slate PC’ one that saw PCs and laptops gain expensive convertible options around 2003. These slate PCs are still around today and provide a reasonable compromise between a full PC and touchscreen device, but generally come with a higher price. One still has to know how to operate a full computer to use one.
Since the rise of smaller, mobile devices that mark the start of a Post-PC era, elements of ‘full computing’ have increasingly become available as part of their feature sets. Such things as the light productivity of email and web surfing, as well as viewing and consuming documents and media can all now be done almost anywhere at anytime, and with better battery life and often direct touch control. I have been calling these ‘Tablet PCs’, but the launch of the Amazon Fire tablet has got me thinking that phase 2 of the Post-PC era is upon us, and that we should instead be using the term ‘appliances’, or ‘Appliance computing’. Why?
In phase 1, I think large segments of the tech industry and their user base have stuck to the idea that a slate or tablet computer should just be the classic PC plus touch, and nothing else really needed changing. When the iPad debuted and didn’t try to be just a PC-replacement, it really messed up all these notions and led to nearly two years of discussion about what a tablet PC should be. Most similar devices released since by Motorolla, Samsung, Sony, RIM etc have tried to hedge their bets by ape-ing the form factor while still advertising their ‘PC’ features – USB ports and multi-tasking. Perhaps they do offer a useful middle ground or transition zone for those used to the PC-only era, but the general public has not adopted them in numbers any greater than they did the previous convertible Slate PCs. So what have they been adopting?
I think we all know. Not a tablet focused on being a PC replacement, but one that I see as having deliberately left-out USB ports and as many buttons as possible so it can’t be confused as a PC. Now for almost the first time since it debuted, a tablet is being released by a major player that also doesn’t seek to be seen as a PC-replacement. The Amazon Kindle Fire is a touchscreen eReader and media consumption tablet – and e-Content appliance basically – and at US$199 is also priced as such. So now that another ‘tablet as appliance’ device by a major company has entered the market, I think this space just got a whole lot clearer – Slate CPs for the older and smaller ‘PC in a tablet’ proffessional market, and and ‘appliance tablets’ for everyone else. Which market would you like a company that you hold shares in to target?
NB. Of course what I haven’t stated is why the appliance tablets are the ones that are selling – just for the record – its because they are simpler (and in many cases, cheaper).
NB2. Of course Microsoft’s Windows 8 on tablets may muddy this space again in 2012, but I think you can see that if all it does is go for the ‘a tablet and PC should be the same’ model, then they will miss the ‘computing for everybody-else’ potential of the Post-PC era.
NB3. Of course these are my own thoughts entirely and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer or other professional groups of which I am a member.