Friday, April 27, 2012

Will tablets replace PC as preferred computing device?



Lot of people have been asking this question lately. Many of them are putting off upgrading their PC/Laptop for an iPad. (And Apple stock continues to rise) Even prominent industry analysts have predicted the demise of the PC.

While there is no denying that tablets are more handy, more mobile and has longer battery life, PC still has an upper hand when it comes to content creation. Tablets are very good for information consumption.

To answer this question: Will tablets replace PC?  We need to ask the question in a slightly different way.

  1. What is the preferred way to consume digital data?
  2. What is the preferred way to create digital data?

And then ask the question: Will Tablets replace the PC?

When we rephrase the question, the relevance of tablet computer seems to fade a bit.

Are tablets the preferred way to consume digital data? 

Well, the short answer to the above question is "NO".

Today, Cell Phones or rather Smart phones are the preferred way to consume digital data. Today cell phone users are the largest consumers of Internet bandwidth, followed by PCs, in the third place are the Tablets.

Looking ahead, cell phones will evolve and will be able to connect to bigger screens - such as TV screens and will continue to be the preferred way to consume digital data.  If I look at myself, in last two years, cell phone has become a preferred way to search the Internet, listen to music, and watch YouTube. I have a desktop, two laptops, an iPad, and iPhone, but the phone is still the preferred way to read news, search for information and my personal entertainment system. I checked with several of my colleagues and friends in the USA and their usage pattern is similar as mine. Some of them still use the wired Internet to download stuff, which is consumed on the cellphones - mainly due the the data plan caps imposed by the operators.

Most people in the world cannot afford to have a tablet and a smart phone, and they will use the phone as the preferred means to consume digital data. As vast populations in India, China, Asia, & Africa come out of poverty, the only information device they will ever use will be the cell phone. So I would assert that smart phones will be the preferred devices to consume digital data.

For digital information consumption, Tablets will be a niche device - sandwiched between the Smart TV and the Smart Phone and this niche may even disappear.

Now coming to the second question: What is the preferred way to create digital data?

The very fact that I am writing this on my laptop, while my iPad is sitting right next to me is a testament to the content creation capabilities of tablets. Today, we are seeing the first generation tablets and they are really lousy when it comes to digital content creation. I still have not come across people who have used an iPad to write a book or create a poster or develop a video game.

Personal computers are the preferred way to create digital content and it will remain that way for next decade. Personal computers will evolve to have tablet like touch interface, or even evolve into a PC-tablet hybrid device. But then such an hybrid will eventually kill the tablet.

Now coming to the main question: Will Tablets replace the PC?

Did the PC replace the mainframe/server? Well the short answer is NO.

Likewise, tablet will not replace the PC either. Tablet and PC will co-exist for sometime till cell phones become powerful enough to replace the tablet. Book readers such as Kindle or Nook may hang around longer, but eventually tablets will have to evolve into an hybrid PC or vice-versa.

As I see things, pure play tablet computers - iPad or Kindle or Galaxy Tab & the like are transitionary devices - which must evolve into an hybrid-PC or die. There will be small niche market segment which wants the PC and the Tablet and the Smart phone, but that will be a very tiny minority.

Closing Thoughts

Most people consume data. Its almost 80-20 rule that applies. 80% of the population are consumers, and 20% are producers, and 80% of the world population cannot afford both a smart phone and a tablet, and will use cell phones are the preferred way to consume digital data, while for the content producers - PC will remain an indispensable tool.

Tablet computers in its current form is only transitional and will evolve into a Tablet-PC hybrid device. I predict that in next 2-3 years we will see tablets that will have many of the PC like functions - like native printing capability, multi-input devices: keyboards, pen/stylus etc., and then at that point, Tablets will start looking like a PC.

3 comments:

bharatbook said...

Your post really informative as well as so helpful for my Terahertz Radiation Market Research and Development.

Krishna Devale said...

Even if one can afford both a tablet and cellphone, one would not be comfortable carrying both. Nobody wants to carry two cellphones; thats when dual sim captured market until mobile number portability was implemented.

Device manufacturers need to come up with a device which features functionality of a tablet and a cell phone. I believe that our own Indian "Akash" tablet has done a great job in providing a small tab (7inch screen) which can fit into pocket and can function as a cellphone too. Many other low cost tab manufacturers like HCL, Micromax have not been able to provide phone functionalities which is a major drawback.

Arun Kottolli said...

Samsung releases Series 5 Hybrid PC running on Windows 8. This marks the beginning of the convergence of Laptops and tablets in the non-apple world - designed for the masses.

Similarly, Android and Chrome platforms will converge to create a web PC.

Apple will then have to make the inevitable decision of merging iPad with its Notebook