Where has my tablet gone?

Published On: June 2, 2017 11:37 AM NPT By: Prajesh SJB Rana

Back in 2010, tablet computers were in full bloom. Apple had announced their iPad and Samsung was working on their Galaxy Tab line of tablet computers. Initially, a lot of hype was also created around the tablets, and what got people interested in these devices were the bigger screen real-estate as well as the maneuverability of the devices. Back in those days, people still preferred smartphones with a smaller screen and tablets took up the mantle of providing a bigger screen for activities like content-consumption and digital reading. Back in those days, the tablets filled these aspects of digital life really well and thus, the tablet market boomed with many hardware manufactures banking on tablet sales.

But today, things have changed quite a bit. Smartphones have started shipping with larger screens and the small footprint smartphones that people preferred in the past have now been dubbed ‘compact’ smartphones. A smartphone with a 5-inch screen would be considered a phablet back in those days but today smartphones with such screens have turned into the norm. On the other side, laptops have also started thinning down into tablet-like form-factor. Ultra-books have turned popular these days and many companies have started manufacturing well-built laptops with a smaller footprint. These advances, on both ends, have started encroaching on the tablet’s unique market presence. This has led to a steady decline in the number of tablets produced over the years and also a decline in the number of tablets bought by consumers. 

In Q4 2014, 24.1 million tablets were shipped worldwide and in Q4 2015, this number dropped to a mere 16.1 million. This drastic drop in number not only represents the shrink in tablet market share but it also means that it’s causing a snowball effect. Manufactures aren’t interested in manufacturing any tablet computers because consumer enthusiasm has dropped. And because manufactures don’t manufacture tablets anymore, there is a growing disconnection between consumers and tablet consumers. There are various reasons for this decline however, and most of it was inevitable because tablet computers just happened to be left behind because advances in technological failed to favor it. But regardless of these advances, there is still a market for tablets since it’s used for content consumption purposes.

Technological convergence is one of the major factors that managed to work against tablets. Different kinds of devices ended up doing things that they weren’t actually made to do. Smartphones can now be hooked onto a monitor for a complete desktop experience and more and more laptops are shipping with touchscreens. Convertibles take it even further by making it possible for users to completely detach their laptop screens and use it as a standalone tablet. The initial success of tablets computers can be attributed to the fact that they bridged that gap between a portable smartphone and a laptop but because of technological convergence, this bridge is slowly getting shorter and shorter. But regardless of the convergence, tablets still hold a space in between smartphones and computers because of its portable form-factor. But the continuing advances only further challenge the space tablets have created in the market. 

Tablets are also not as essential for daily life as smartphone have been. We can’t imagine living a day without our smartphones. We have internalized smartphones to such an extent that we even take them into the bathrooms with us; we even buy external power-banks to extend the battery-life of our smartphone because we can’t imagine leaving our phones to charge for a couple of hours. Tablets don’t have this effect on us, we leave them be unless we want to use them for mild content consumption or big-screen portable gaming. And since we use tablets for these mild tasks, they tend to have a longer replacement cycles. This is also because tablets don’t suffer from wear-and-tear as much as smartphones because they tend to be inside protective cases when not in use and even during times of use they tend to be safe, much like a laptop. 

During the initial heyday of tablets, many experts touted the devices as laptop-killer, assuming tablets would kill off the laptop because of how powerful and portable they were. But this assumption did not come to fruition because no matter how powerful tablet PCs were, they were still portable devices armed with small ARM processors that couldn’t hold a candle against legacy processors and applications found on laptops and desktops. Even today, ARM processors can’t handle powerful applications such as the full version of Adobe Creative Suite applications. 

But regardless of this dip in production and consumer enthusiasm, I wouldn’t completely write off tablet computers just yet. Tablet PC created a new category of computing and even today, tablets are struggling with that identity. For a resurgence of tablet computers, a complete reinvention of the genre is need and that is happening to some extent with the release of Microsoft’s Surface, Google’s Pixel and Apple iPad line of tablets. Some of these hybrid tablets have started implementing Intel’s Atom line of processors that can easily handle legacy software and some even come armed with Intel i5 and i7 processors. And while these tablets do cost a lot of money when compared to lighter tablets that are made for mild use, they are catering to a niche populated by digital artists who want to work with a digital canvas and content creators that who want a portable device with a bigger screen real-estate. 

The writer is The Week’s tech guru. If you have any queries, write to us at theweek@myrepublica.com and we will have him answer them for you.

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