Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the tablet a fad? Is the PC dead? In a word "no".

Despite growing sales, there is a sentiment that tablets are just a passing fad. Tablets are not for everyone, and a tablet is still not good replacement for your desktop or laptop PC. But the demand for a device larger than a smartphone but smaller than an laptop has been around for a some time.

In the spring of 2006, Microsoft and Intel created the specifications for the  An ultra-mobile personal computer, or UMPC. The UMPC are small hand held computers, which have a TFT display measuring (diagonally) about 5 to 7 inches, and operated like tablet PCs using a touchscreen or a stylus. The target price for these devices was $500, but the target was not met an UMPC hit the market with a price of about US$1,000

Gigabyte U60 UMPC from 2007

The following year, Intel launched the specifications for a Mobile Internet device (MID), which was a multimedia-capable mobile device providing wireless Internet access.

Nokia N800 from 2007

Eventually, the lower price point was met by going with a more conventional form factor, Asus Eee PC 700. The 7-inch device followed the form factor of a laptop, and was actually a product of the One Laptop Per Child program.

Asus Eee PC from 2007

But in the end, this was really a unhappy marriage between putting a conventional keyboard in a smaller package. The Asus Eee PC was originally classified as a "UMPC", but eventually a new category called "Netbooks" was created and the devices grew larger, being pretty much low cost ultraportable laptops.

Basically, the need for a device, bigger and more functional than a smartphone, more portable and cheaper than a laptop has been a recognized for some time. Apple's iPad, was the first truly commercial success in this regard. Basically, it dropped the physical keyboard and dedicated pointing device and created a software or app ecosystem which minimized dependence on those two input methods.

Apple's iPad from 2010

The other view has been expressed. Kevin C. Tofel of GigaOM wrote an article entitled "The once mighty PC treads a path towards extinction", citing Mark Dean, IBM's Chief Technology Officer:

[W]hile PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they’re no longer at the leading edge of computing. They’re going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs.
I think this view is extreme.While I can agree with the first statement, I do not see them going the way of "the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs."
Yes, I do see the tablet replacing the PC for a large portion of the market. A desktop or laptop is just more than many people need. The personal computer was a productivity tool, became a gaming device and morphed into a multimedia platform. With the advents of more capable smartphones, and now the tablet, it is going back to being a productivity tool.

Before the advent of the PC, we had the typewriter and the pen and paper. Our use for computers have gone beyond recording information and writing letters, but basically the need for this functions has not gone away.

Back in the day, a family would share a typewriter, with a few people who used it regularly having a separate one of their own. For daily needs, we would use the pen and paper.

Basically, the personal computer replaced the typewriter. For lack of other viable options, it became the tool for those who really just needed the pen and paper.  The tablet replaces personal computer for those who just really needed the pen and paper. Well, that is where things stand today.

But generation of ARM processors Tablets will get more powerful. Keyboards and other peripheral, even larger monitors can and will be integrated into tablets, so much so that a tablet can be transformed a laptop or a home theatre PC depending on need.

I do not want to put words in the mouth or Mr. Dean, but I think what he was saying that x86 (Intel, AMD and Via processors) is going the way of the dodo, in the personal computer space at least. I think I can agree with that. While there will always those who need more power, at some point in time, people will start realizing that their needs only require so much power that they will buy what works well enough and not worry about benchmarks, with other factors like battery life being considered more important. 

I would not say that the PC is dead, but it will loose relevance with the average home and business user.

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