Is There Any Chance at All That Tablets Are a Fad?

By  |  Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 9:21 am

I’m not sure whether tablets are going to become the dominant form of computing device over the next few years, or just a very successful one that peacefully coexists alongside phones, traditional PCs, TV, and other gizmos. But I can’t see a scenario in which the iPad and its rivals (once good ones arrive in force) are simply irrelevant.

Others, however, aren’t so sure that these newfangled gadgets are here for the long haul. In “Why Tablets Are Just a Fad” (a story that’s been widely, um, commented on), PCWorld’s Katherine Noyes says she doesn’t like ’em–especially the iPad–and believes that everyone else will come around to her way of thinking:

It’s no secret that I am not an Apple fan, as its devices are so closed and restrictive. For that reason, I’d be far more inclined to look at Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom–which, I should add, could certainly be useful in niche applications such as health care and inventory control.

For my purposes, though, I just can’t be bothered. I see no reason to own a tablet, and fully expect them to fade out of the mainstream over the next few years.

Meanwhile, Microsoft research and strategy head Craig Mundie has what seems to be a more nuanced–but still skeptical–take on tablets:

Speaking at a lunch held in Sydney by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Mundie, who reports directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said he did not know whether tablets like the iPad would “remain with us or not”.

Mundie said he believed the smartphone “as it emerges more will become your most personal computer”, while laptops would occupy a space he dubbed the “portable desk”.

“I think there’s an important distinction – and frankly one we didn’t jump on at Microsoft fast enough – between mobile and portable,” he said.

“Mobile is something that you want to use while you’re moving, and portable is something that you move and then use.

“These are going to bump into one another a little bit and so today you can see tablets and pads and other things that are starting to live in the space in between. Personally I don’t know whether that space will be a persistent one or not.”

As quoted, Mundie’s remarks are a tad murky: I’m not sure whether he’s drawing a distinction between tablets and pads; whether the reference to “in between” means in between tablets and pads or in between phones and PCs; or exactly which types of products fall into the space whose persistence he’s unsure about. To me, the most interesting thing about his sound bites is that he says that the smartphone “will become your most personal computer”–we’re entering new territory when a Microsoft bigwig suggests that something other than a traditional PC is the most important PC.

Then there’s Dell marketing honcho Andy Lark, who has a different perspective: He likes tablets but thinks that business users will reject the iPad as too pricey and limited:

“We’ve taken a very considered approach to tablets, given that the vast majority of our business isn’t in the consumer space,” he said. “[A company] like Samsung has to aggressively go after their business, but we’ve got a far more diversified footprint than some of these players.”

The cost of Apple products was another deterrent to iPad deployments, with Lark claiming that a the economics on a fully kitted iPad did not add up.

“An iPad with a keyboard, a mouse and a case [means] you’ll be at $1500 or $1600; that’s double of what you’re paying,” he claimed. “That’s not feasible.”

I’m not a big fan of the acronym FUD, but in this case, it’s exactly what Lark is spreading. Even if a company bought a 64GB iPad with 3G, a leather case, and a keyboard, it would add up to $967, not $1500 or $1600. And as for an iPad mouse…well, I’m not sure what Lark is talking about. It’s kind of like he’s only read stories about Apple’s tablet published before the iPad existed.

Oh, and Dell’s approach to tablets for the enterprise is so “considered” that when you go to, click on “For Large Enterprise,” and then select “Laptops & Tablets,” you go to a page with laptops. But no tablets.

So what’s your take?


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. IcyFog Says:

    There's more Apple hatred, than Apple fanboyism. I mean this is coming from bloggers, journalists and company executives.

  2. Millard Says:

    I read a tweet around the time of the iPad2 announcement (from someone I presume is a fanboi or at least so disposed) that said once the he got his MacBook Air that he stopped using his iPad. Wished he'd sold it off before the iPad2 had been announced. I think "computing device" is too vague. For people who mostly consume content, the tablet is the new TV (only better). But it can't replace a smart phone that fits in your pocket — it's not that kind of portable. Until voice input because a true keyboard replacement a tablet only is unlikely to replace anything with a decent keyboard. And if you are carrying a tablet, keyboard and mouse, you largely have a deconstructed laptop.

  3. topchatterbox Says:

    Wishful thinking from Lark. Dragon Dictation exists for the iPad which while not perfect is a possibility instead of the onscreen keyboard. And why not a $3 stylus rather than a mouse? I still make that less than $1000 total.

    Watch Star Trek if you're not convinced of tablet viability.

  4. BladRnr Says:

    What did you expect from MSFT and Dell spokespeople? "Well, we totally missed the boat! kudos to Apple for taking an entirely new market while we sat back and did nothing."

    Dell and MSFT are clueless. Dell doesn't have an OS, and MSFT doesn't have the hardware or the right OS to compete with Apple. It was said yesterday about Ballmer's inefficiencies: he thinks the world revolves around Windows! He simply can't see past it. He is deathly afraid of running anything but Windows on any device because that would potentially kill the cash cow. If you don't need Windows at $50-100/seat, then the income with a tablet OS, just like the $10-15 Win7 phone OS, will have profits falling in the future. MSFT then becomes even smaller and the stock tanks even further. Apple doesn't have that problem with only 10% market share (and growing) with the Mac. Only when push came to shove did they make a different OS for their phones.

    Apple has this market dead to rights. I doubt anyone will ever catch them, because they have something no one else has: economies of scale and cash. They can buy a year's worth of parts at the cheapest possible prices while everyone else has to pay way more AND try to get their parts scheduled around Apple's. Plus the whole UI thing. Apple has 40+ years of integrating hardware with software. No one else has this experience. It shows in the iPhone and iPad.

    So who else has?:
    The cash
    The processor
    The battery technology
    The experience
    The UI
    The market ecosystem (iTunes/App Store)
    The hardware
    The stores
    The lead

    No one, besides Apple. And while Dell and MSFT twittle their thumbs and talk FUD, Apple will continue to dominate the enterprise and consumer markets with the iPad. This isn't fanboism. This is reality.

  5. Nick Says:

    The iPad is here to stay, and though I love Apple products, I hope other companies will get on board as well.

  6. Bob Says:

    I love the iPad. The feel of both hard- and software is great. But I still sold mine because I couldn't find the use-case. There was almost never a situation where my MacBook Air 11" wasn't the better choice. Built-in stand, keyboard, multitasking and higher resolution.

    Make the Air screen detachable and you have a winner. Otherwise it's just to niche to be really useful.

    Still, it's cool and that alone will keep it in the top selling lists for a couple of years.

  7. Alan Ralph Says:

    I think that Katherine Noyes must have taken a trip in the Wayback Machine. The devices that were of limited application, ironically, were the PDAs of the 1990 and the early tablet computers of the 2000s. The reason why this was the case was that these devices either lacked decent hardware (needing a stylus to operate, low battery life) or software (Windows CE, anyone?) to be considered viable consumer products. The iPad has succeeded mainly because it got the combination of good software AND hardware, and because it was designed to be a consumer device from the get-go. That is not to say that it's perfect in all respects (the absence of Flash, for instance) or for all people (particularly if a lot of typing and editing is involved), but they seem to have done a decent job, judging by sales. 🙂 I have an iPad (v1, love it, not feeling the need to upgrade to v2 right now) and use it every day for reading, blogging and staying in touch with friends. That said, I would welcome some good competition, if only because it will keep Apple's designers on their toes, and in the end that should mean better products for everyone.

    As for Craig Mundie's and Andy Lark's comments, I think it's fair to say that there is a lot of wishful thinking going on there. They *really* want their customers (and potential customers) to be thinking about something other than tablets, because right now they've got nothing to offer in that department that compares well to the iPad.

    Do I think that tablets will fade away? No, not unless someone somewhere comes up with a device that is even more consumer-friendly. Will tablets become dominant? Possibly, although I think it more likely that they will coexist alongside laptops and smartphones, with traditional PCs making way for unobtrusive set-top boxes and media servers, plus workstation appliances linked to tablets for content creators.

  8. Andy Carr Says:

    I posted a very long and detailed comment on the article's page about this. I'll give a condensed version here:

    Sure, tablet PCs may not be as powerful in absolute numbers as a laptop or a desktop, but they allow users to do more with less. There are tuns of productivity apps available for most all Android and iOS tablets and the games which are released for them (the iPad, at least) are starting to become very advanced and almost as sophisticated as their console counterparts. Heck, I've seen full Playstation 1 games ported to the iPod Touch (namely, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater) and run without missing a beat.

    If you want to call this a "fad", look at the Xoom and the millions of dollars spent on making it as great as it is and you will quickly be swayed away from such a notion. Motorola wouldn't have dedicated so much time and money to a device that they thought would have failed or have waned in popularity as quickly as a fad does.