It is a bit of a running joke that Moses was the first person in the world to have a tablet – well, he had two, but he broke one. The tablet form is nothing new - tablets far predate paper as writing tools, as the ancients used pointed sticks to make marks on tablets that had thin layers of wax as the recording material. Much of the fuss in the technology space at the moment revolves around tablets, as they firmly establish themselves as yet another flavour of computing, in between the palm-sized mobile phone and the laptop.
The availability of mobile data is the driving factor behind tablet growth. While mobile phones offer a great deal of utility and connectivity thanks to their 3G connections, tablets arguably let users do a little bit more with the data. Today’s tablets come complete with all the accoutrements of a mobile phone, except the voice connection. So it is relatively easy to use a tablet to take photos or listen to music or watch video. Tablets excel as consumption devices, even more so than laptops, since the all-in-one form factor eliminates the need for a hinged keyboard, and enable tablets to be held in one hand.
Growth in tablets is currently being led by Apple’s iPad sales. Tablet buyers do have more choices than ever before, thanks to the wide range of Android devices, and Microsoft is looking to enter the game with its own Windows 8 devices set to launch soon. Samsung’s Galaxy Note series bridges the mobile phone and tablet spaces, including a 7-inch tablet with phone functionality, and these have proven to be unexpectedly popular. Amazon is tackling the tablet market from another direction, this time powering up its Kindle e-reader with the new Kindle Fire product, also an Android device.
For someone with relatively light computing requirements, including some web surfing and email, a tablet is a natural choice. Tablets also have large, bright screens – no more squinting at tiny screens – with little or no sacrifice in mobility. A tablet equipped to receive mobile data is as portable as a phone, and even wifi-only tablets (which are becoming less common) can function as home entertainment devices, streaming digital media directly to point of consumption.
Research from Forrester showed that 85%of tablet users use their tablets while watching television – and another report from Nielsen says that 30% of tablet use happens while watching television. Users are clearly using their tablets as adjuncts to the consumption of traditional media, a trend that some publishers are also encouraging by offering free subscriptions to their digital versions alongside print subscriptions. The Economist, for example, is available free on the iPad for subscribers.
Turning media consumption into a social activity is a function of both the mobile phone and the tablet, and both of these have helped to move computing from a deskbound activity (or at least one that must be done sitting up in front of a computer) to something more relaxed and (for lack of a better word) mobile. Tablets can even be used while lying in bed, so so it’s no surprise that tablet users have moved from the desk to the sofa.
Tablets are perfectly designed to present rich media, so these devices present marketers with many opportunities. Tablet users are ready consumers of digital media, and (like phone users) are already purchasing and using ad-supported apps. At the moment, tablets seems to be treated as a subset of mobile devices, part of a wider spectrum that includes feature phones and smart phones. As our understanding grows, and as tablets mature, the mobile tablet may become a category of its own, with specialised delivery systems that can take the best advantage of the tablet’s many strengths and particularities.
The fact is that tablets offer up a portion of the mobile experience writ large, and every day new uses for tablets seem to appear. Microsoft has already partnered with Barnes and Noble to take a stab at the tablet market from the e-reader end, and is working on a new tablet-friendly operating system with fully integrated touch interface. Google’s Android OS is already up and running on tablets, and of course, Apple is currently a little ahead of the curve since the iPad has been available for three years. What comes next is anybody’s game – but it seems fairly certain that the mobile tablet is here to stay, carving out its own niche in the gadget space of a smarter tomorrow.