Have we landed in the age of the tablet?

Walking around electronic stores recently, at least here in Australia, I have noticed that tablets are popping up left right and centre. Six months ago, the only tablet you could find at an average store was the iPad. So a year and a half after the first iPads release, have we finally reached a point at which the average consumer can walk into a department store or electronics store and purchase either an iPad, Android based tablet, Web OS tablet, or Windows based tablet with ease? Even better, can they walk out with a device that suits their needs? And since when has a tablet become such a good option over a laptop?

It wasn’t all that long ago that Steve Jobs was up on that stage announcing the iPad, ringing in the supposed “new age of computing”. I was a doubter – wondering how on Earth a product such as the iPad, or a “large smart phone” could make any impact on my life. I also was unconvinced that my computing needs would differ from the current solution of a laptop and a smartphone.

How wrong I was.

Of course there have been tablets out there for years, with people like Andreas owning quite a few before they became mainstream. Andreas has said that 2010 was the year that tablets went mainstream, and I agree. It wasn’t until towards the end of 2010 that I took an interest in tablets anyway. One day, after I saw an iPad at University and had a discussion with the owner and the lecturer about the device, I headed off to grab one. It was somewhat of an impulse buy, but I knew that it would benefit me greatly in the long run. After all, my laptop was reaching the end of its life and I had plenty of money to burn at that point.

So what really changed in those few months? We do the same stuff now as what we did back then; email, Facebook, gaming and browsing. Yet our mobile was not capable of doing the higher end tasks that our laptops were able to do. Also, (for the most part) laptops did not have connectivity with the mobile phone network, limiting their use out in the field. There were work specific models of laptops for large scale government and private businesses sectors, connecting people “in the bush” to the internet but these were expensive to run and unnecessary for the average consumer. Plus, they had (and still have) terrible battery life.

With our mobile phone we had a connection to the cloud, yet our laptop had to be in range of an open and free WiFi network (which are becoming annoyingly fewer in number) to be of most use. Carrying around a laptop became a pain, as you usually had to add a power source and a mouse to the backpack. This was not working for the most part, and a device was needed that would take the connectivity of a mobile phone, yet have more functionality and power than a smartphone. This was where the iPad 3G came in.

The main criticism for the iPad when it was first announced was the use of iOS. Now, as I said before, I was a doubter. I thought it was stupid, and mainly just pointless. Who wanted a big iPhone?

Yet the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. A device that I could use to check emails, Facebook, listen to music, watch movies, browse the web and play the odd game or two was what I wanted and needed. Chucking a fully blown OS on there, especially Windows, would require a fully blown setup making the point of a thin and light mobile device redundant. I didn’t need all that extra processing power for those tasks while out and about.

This point was where everything changed for me.

Soon after, we saw a few other devices hit the scene with Android 2.2 and the like. Although they didn’t really take off as much, they lead the way for bigger and better developments for Android. The announcement of Honeycomb came, and with it, the Motorola XOOM. Shortly after we were swimming in Android tablets. Now, with devices like the Acer Iconia Tab, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and Samsung Galaxy Tab all around there is no lack in choice (however similar the specs are).

So the consumer changed. No longer were we after the beefiest system in a laptop, we were after a device that suited our needs. We woke up to ourselves. Developers woke up to themselves. Now, even Microsoft has made a change, developing an OS optimised for tablets. We have adapted, moving away from the “take everything everywhere with you” approach towards the “take what you need” approach. Now, I pack my bag for uni accordingly.

If I have a massive assignment due that is computer based? Laptop. Am I just heading off to uni to do some reading and some math based homework? iPad. Heading to uni to just go to lectures? iPhone only.

Our needs have been met more efficiently. Now developers and manufacturers are pumping out tablets. As a result we are seeing reasonably priced equipment hitting the shelves and people who have always wanted a connection with the 21st century (such as the elderly) are able to have a chance given the non-complexity of the OS that are on them. People familiar with technology can grab one and use it straight away, making the most of the more portable technology. Everyone is seeing a point to the whole system.

With cloud based computing becoming a more and more popular idea, the laptop is seen to be as increasingly redundant. Why carry around all that extra power guzzling, heat producing, noise making weight when you can control a fully fledged computer system from the other side of the world with your finger tips while laying in bed? Splashtop of course allows this.

So, the answer to the question of whether or not we have landed in the tablet seems pretty obvious. A big, fat, stinkin’ yes. We have thrown away the size and power of a semi-portable system, and gone with the ease of small, portable, connectable tablets.

Now we are here, the question we have to ask is – “What next?”

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Stuart Cope

Stuart Cope is a former contributing editor at Nothing But Tablets, which was merged into Pocketables in 2012.