It's time for your tablet

Tablet computers, electronic slates and digital pads. Call them what you like, there’s no disputing that they’re going to be an important part of the technology market over the coming decade. And before the end of the year there will be many more players in this market than there are now.

In the same way people rushed out to buy Apple’s iPad when it launched internationally, those that haven’t yet decided to get one of these fantastic devices will get the opportunity to experiment with an Android-based tablet, Blackberry’s BlackPad or an HP slate running the WebOS platform the company acquired Palm for earlier this year. And chances are they will end up walking out of a store with one or another tablet-type device under their arm.

Why, you might ask. Well, simply put it’s because the tablet computing makes a ton of sense in the consumer’s life—arguably more sense than any device has made before. Although business people will try to dress these devices up as work tools, claiming they’re great for staying in touch with work colleagues by email and interacting with online services wherever they happen to be, the reality is that these devices are designed for and make the most sense in the consumer context.

If you look at how technology use has evolved in the consumer market, two things stand out. The first is that technology has become one of the most effective and hassle-free ways for consumers to interact with and enjoy media such as video, audio, still photographs and books. The second is that a growing number of consumers find it impossible to enjoy a piece of video footage, listen to a few songs from their favourite artist, gaze at some photographs or read a book without letting their social network participate in the experience.

These things need to be tweeted, put on Facebook and made a note of on Linked-in. And to be perfectly honest, why would you need a computer to do something like that? Don’t get me wrong—today’s notebook computers are more attractive than they’ve ever been and they’re more convenient to use than ever before.

But, when consumers are kicking back, they’re looking for the simplest, most effective and unobtrusive way of interacting with technology. And tablets have everything they need and nothing they don’t.

For starters their screens are insanely bright, sharp and colour- rich, displaying everything
from a high-definition video to a page in a magazine or a piece of text in a novel with almost ridiculous clarity. Throw super-clear, loudspeakers into the mix and tablets are perfect media-consumption devices for a variety of content types.

Secondly, there’s no need for a cumbersome keyboard, mouse or trackpad to drive the tablet—touch is a far more effective data input method. If you don’t believe me, look at how naturally a five-year-old child interacts with a device like Apple’s iPad without having laid eyes on one before. It’s enough to make you bow out of the technology race altogether.

Thirdly, tablets are hyper-connected—all include WiFi and Bluetooth at a bare minimum and in the next year it will become impossible to find a tablet that’s unable to connect to a 3G network. Connectivity is important, because it’s the part that will connect consumers to content in the coming years.

DVDs, BluRay movies, paperbased books and CDs will die a relatively speedy death over the next decade because, really, why would you want something physical when you could push your finger on the “buy” button and gain access to the content you desire immediately?

Does this mean television studios, recording labels, book publishers and magazine brands will die too? Well, not necessarily—somebody still has to be responsible for making the content. And if publishers and content rights-holders could just get their heads around the internet being the most cost-effective way to deliver video, music, magazines and books to the masses—and that this is a good thing for their industry because it saves them money—everything will be fine.

Just because technology is in the equation it doesn’t mean music, video or magazines will become less important. To remain compelling, some content types will need to start embracing the interactivity the new medium brings them—like the ability for a user to share magazine content with their social network, or being able to interact with a piece of content in completely new way.

Publishers face the biggest pressure from technology vendors, however, because in the coming months they will need to compensate for the rising success of tablet-like devices and the much smaller margins they command by getting into the content space. We can expect some technology vendors to partner with content companies and others to look at becoming content companies themselves, to varying degrees of success.

Exactly how this happens remains to be seen. It is pretty clear, however, that tablet devices are going to be a substantial part of the technology space for the next few years and make their way into the lives of consumers in a way that no other technology has managed to do thus far.

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