The Tablet Era Will End. Will Apple be Ready?

| Hidden Dimensions

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -- John F. Kennedy

The personal computer era lasted from 1977 until 2010. Nowadays, we're in the Post-PC era, the tablet era. That, like the netbooks, shall also pass. What's next? More importantly, what do we want?

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It's often been said that Steve Jobs gave us what we didn't know we needed until it was delivered. Then we had that aha! moment. Lo and behold: the iPad.

That was genius, but it was 33 years in the making with both hardware technology and the cultural momentum of the PC, windows and mice. Then the iPad stripped away all the non-essentials, the security and maintenance headaches, and focused (mostly) on what we all wanted to do most of the time.

The Post-tablet Era

This time around, in the tablet era, we won't have 33 years to decide what's next. Technology is changing too rapidly and social media has created a strong current of consciousness about what we need and want. That social current is what keeps Android and iOS moving along briskly while a good product like Windows Phones, languishes.

Given that technology is racing forward and various competitors are seeking to one-up each other, it won't be long before the tablet interface starts to morph.

Next generation tablet concept. Credit: Samsung

One thing the tablet interface does have going for it is the natural idea of see-point-touch. The tablet is popular because it fits in well with the way tool-using Homo Sapiens tends to work. But whether that see-point-touch metaphor remains instantiated in a physical device with a touch screen remains open to question.

Google Glass and Microsoft Kinect come to mind. These are not wide-spread technologies today, in comparison to 100 million iPads and many more than that smartphones sold. And Microsoft may not be around long enough to cash in on its Kinect technology, but the point is that these technologies lurk around the edges of our consciousness. Then one day, a refinement springs forth from a company that puts it all together in a commercially successful way, has good luck, good timing, good resources, and good marketing.

Miniaturization

Another factor that's coming into play is the off-loading of technology for the sake of miniaturization. Here's the sequence: In the PC era, it was a stand-alone device. You had a display, a printer, and a backup drive. With the Internet and the march of technology into tablets, we can offload some of the processing to the clouds. For example, an iPad needs no printer (it is its own print/display) and it needs no backup drive (if you back up to iCloud). That allows the iPad to be a lot more compact.

The next phase will likely be something even smaller, miniature devices that display information in our field of view, hanging in the air. We'll see-point-touch, but the physical manifestation of current day tablets will be gone. Even more more work will be done by the cloud, supported by whatever comes after LTE.

Plus, companion robots are not far off. A 50 kg robot companion has plenty of room for powerful energy source, communications, processing and a local secure link to the owner. That kind of hybrid arrangement frees up the human to wear lighter, smaller devices.

How well we as customers define what we want and how we use our devices will play a role in the next phase as well. For example, with smartphones and Facebook, most people have completely abrogated their responsibilities to insist on privacy protections, leaving it to the government to muddle through.

The post-tablet era may be the last chance customers have to dictate how their devices will serve them.

I, Robot credit: 20th Century Fox

Is Apple Poised?

One of the things I often wonder about is whether Apple is the company that will take us down that path. Can a very large company, making oodles of money with iPads and iPhones, foresee and plan for the next phase of technology? History says no. History says that it will require a new company with a new vision to seize on the post-tablet era.

It would be a shame to see Apple become another Kodak, bound by it's own tradition and corporate blinders. We're already seeing Apple holding back in some technologies while Google and Samsung move aggresively forward, keen to compete. Is Apple rationalizing itself into IBM-think? Watching to see how the iPad evolves in the face of the me-too copycats will tell us a lot about whether Apple is on a path to the future or just riding the tablet wave for all it's worth.

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15 Comments Leave Your Own

Kip Alderman

And you wrote this BS instead of doing what?

fultonkbd

We are in a mobile era and the tablet is just one device that’s part of it. This mobile era will be around a very long time. A lot longer that the desktop PC era, I think.

So the article is a little off, but it does raise questions… what’s next? Morphing man and computer together probably. But really hard to gauge this early.

John Martellaro

fultonkbd: Nothing in the article suggests an end to mobility. In fact, we’ll get lighter, smaller devices and even more mobility.

dhp

If this is the “tablet era” I must be missing something. I still use my desktop, laptop, and iPhone. There’s an iPad in the house but I rarely pick it up. I haven’t found a compelling need for that mid-sized device, perhaps because my laptop is a small Air. Then again my 5-year-old loves the iPad.

fultonkbd

@ John: agreed… lighter, smaller devices for more mobility. But what I meant was that you are mis-labeling the mobile era as the tablet era.

To me that would be like naming the Desktop PC era as the Apple II era.

David

Glad to see I’m not the only dinosaur here. I have an iMac at home and a MBP at work that I use like a desktop with an external display, KB and multi-button mouse. Both kids have older model Mac minis. My wife is the only one who prefers to surf from the couch and when given the choice picked a MacBook Air over an iPad. My 8 year old played with an iPad at an Apple store over the holidays, but wasn’t excited by it.
We’re phone dinosaurs too. We have a cheap “land line” through the cable company with 6 cordless phones scattered throughout the house for ease of access. When away from home my wife and I carry the pre-paid flip phones we purchased in 2005 and buy only the minimum number of minutes needed to keep them active.

Joseph

My wife and I have fully embraced the mobile lifestyle. We don’t own a landline phone, a desktop or laptop computer, nor do we own a television set. Everything we do is either on an iPhone or iPad. I would love the idea of a product that would hover that same tech in front of me. However, instead of Google Glass, I would love to have a set of iGlasses!!!

I don’t think the tablet will go by the wayside in the near future, but I think it will definitely go away quicker then the PC era did. Right now, we still have a lot of people, like my mother and mother-in-law, who have no clue how to even operate a tablet and so the PC is still among us. The same will happen with the tablet generation being raised right now. I think the tablet is actually helping move the next tech along faster than we may realize. I remember not long after the iPad came out people were complaining about not having a tactile keyboard. That argument seems to be disappearing as more and more people adjust to the virtual keyboard’s on tablets and phones. That’s just a few steps away from having a holographic keyboard projected from you iGlasses smile.

Lancashire-Witch

I thought long and hard about the choice between an 11-inch MBA and an iPad.  I chose an iPad but, based on several months use,  I made the wrong choice. Convenience and iPhoto Journals are the only things the iPad has going for it.

Lee Dronick

Let us not forget that most of the regulars here are involved somehow in content creation, technical support, or something other than just surfing the web and being on Facebook. For us a Mac is necessary, for the others not so much.

Aaron Fothergill

Apple invented the personal computer era (ie the first personal computer for people to actually buy and use with software etc.) and invented the tablet era, so I’d put bets on them inventing whatever comes after the tablet era too.

poastpc

Its trending that way, but when I walk into my office at work and I see about 75 PCs, go home and do anything somewhat serious on a macbook pro, and still need a PC to do anything apart from checking Facebook, sending emails or watching Netflix in bed, I have a very hard time considering this a post-pc era yet. 

Also I don’t really think net books count as an era.  It was a fad spanning a couple years of cheap little computers that didn’t replace full fledged computers either.

Eyemah Source

Touch devices are limited by screen size. This size is constrained by finger size for target accuracy and by how close you can hold the screen to focus the eye.

These constraints are eliminated by placing the screen(s) in a pair of reading glasses. This reduces battery drain by the screen and provides much greater mobility because it is hands-free. Real 3D interfaces can be done with this because current 3D requires glasses anyway so why not put the screens in the glasses.

To those who fear the “walking into walls syndrome” try this experiment. Adjust a pair of reading glasses so that the tops of the glasses are at the bottom of your car windshield. If you wear them this way you will have to concede that wearing the glasses would be no more of an impediment than driving your car.

No other approach can reduce power, increase battery life, be hands-free, provide native appropriate 3D and steer us back to desktop screen space. It will mean that the desktop interface ultimately wins out over touch.

wab95

John et al:

When it comes to analysts’, pundits’ and investors’ assessment of Apple’s performance, conclusions are curiously dichotomous. Either Apple is doing okay, in which case investors are bullish, or it is plummeting pall mall and flat spin towards extinction. More curious, still, is the fact that the bearish assessments are often independent of Apple’s performance, notably in sales, inventory and profitshare, but are driven by the activities of Apple’s competitors. Still in strangeness, those competitors’ performance indicators are often unidimensional if even existent - that is, the indicator may be nothing more than gross market share, or worse, shipments (with no proof of actual sales to end users). If those indicators are greater than Apple’s, then all of a sudden the ‘Apple is doomed!’ mantra is invoked, investors bail, stock prices plummet, and analysts spin their scenarios about where Apple went wrong, and what it has to do next.

And still, while we remain in strange land, no one exhibits a modicum of anxiety about Apple’s competition, however sadly their performance indicators are, or whether or not those competitors even publish them (yes, Amazon, Google and Samsung; I’m talking about you).

Personally, I think that this dichotomous assessment, this black or white, good or bad, alive or dead (or at least dying) view of Apple’s performance and fate stems from the 1990’s in its bruising battle with MS over PC marketshare. Since that time, and to the present, pundits have, unimaginatively and often without a shred of current evidence other than a less favourable indicator in only one metric, opined that Apple is in trouble if their competition is doing something that Apple are not; whether that be a netbook, a smaller tablet, a bigger smartphone, or simply moving more units amongst device categories that Apple don’t even manufacture. It’s as if Apple is perpetually poised on the event horizon of a monster black hole, unlike any of its competitors who are safely housed in the distal and safe arms of a spiral galaxy, and that the slightest nudge will send Apple irretrievably into the heart of darkness from which it will never escape. Sitting beneath the sword of Damocles would be safer than being Apple, one would think, even in the best of times. Death ever stalks poor Apple, demise lurks in every shadow, and extinction is ever a footfall away. Apple doomed.

Despite their lesser profit share and market cap, who expresses ‘concern’ about Google, or Amazon or Samsung? Where is the handwringing if they lose a court case, make a bad investment, or underperform in one product or service line? Even in the case MS, and despite underwhelming sales indicators during the past holiday season around Windows 8 - enabled devices, there has been scarcely a whimper about their future, and no one is suggesting that MS is doomed. Less relevant, perhaps, but not doomed.

I, for one, worry less about Apple’s capacity to innovate ‘the next big thing’ than I am about the potential havoc that the ‘Apple doomed’ herd mentality can work on Apple’s current status. Like all mass hysteria, this irrational fear can precipitate unfounded and unjustified action, which is usually destructive in nature. If a critical mass of pundits panic, the populace will likely invoke the adage, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and follow suit. Apple could witness a mass exodus of clients on no other strength or justification than that a gaggle of analysts said it would be so. This, more than anything else, could threaten Apple’s capacity to reach that next milestone in tech evolution, towards which it bears every evidence of heading.

I would argue that the strongest asset in Apple’s current arsenal against irrelevance, as well as its being poised to move beyond the current stage of the post-PC era, (and yes, I too believe that we are in a post-PC era, which by the way, does not mean that we don’t use PCs, it simply means that the PC is no longer defines the pinnacle or state of the art of current digital management, but is relegated to but one of many available tools and to a lesser role for day to day common tasks); is Apple’s ecosystem which remains both unparalleled and unrivalled. This puts Apple in pole position for an even higher level of digital management integration, and creates a firm platform for the next big thing, which, whatever that is, must accommodate the current tasks and features we associate with our digital lifestyle, no less than did the post-PC era do for the PC era.

Indeed, I would argue that no one’s position is stronger than Apple’s which, while that is no guarantee of success, is neither an occasion for despair or the tiresome mantra of ‘Apple doomed’.

Lee Dronick

“I, for one, worry less about Apple’s capacity to innovate ‘the next big thing’ than I am about the potential havoc that the ‘Apple doomed’ herd mentality can work on Apple’s current status. Like all mass hysteria, this irrational fear can precipitate unfounded and unjustified action, which is usually destructive in nature. If a critical mass of pundits panic, the populace will likely invoke the adage, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and follow suit. Apple could witness a mass exodus of clients on no other strength or justification than that a gaggle of analysts said it would be so. This, more than anything else, could threaten Apple’s capacity to reach that next milestone in tech evolution, towards which it bears every evidence of heading.”

Which is why I aggressively defend Apple against calumny.

Gus Gordon

In 1987 I bought my first of many Apple laptops for something like $2,800.  It had a whopping 80 meg harddrive, and it was light years ahead of my preceding Toshiba dual-disk laptop that also cost well in excess of $2,000.

I was totally loyal to Apple and an early adapter of every new product launch . . . until about two years ago when Apple Care quite rudely and callously refused to honor a commitment on a Mac Book with cheesy power receptor.  The scales fell from my eyes and I realized that what once had been among the most customer-centric companies on earth had morphed into a greed-driven corporate monster, shortening product cycles and eliminating legacy compatibility to force consumers into buying both new hardware and new software when their present systems were perfectly adequate for their needs. 

Mac OS grew to monstrous proportions, monopolizing a machine’s RAM with absurd caches and redundancies merely to sustain itself before the user launched a single application.  There’s more . . . soldered-in RAM . . . the list goes on and on.

I will never buy another Apple product.  Sure, I’ll miss Sir Jony’s superb design eye, but not the mentality that has so successfully marketed cool as to become (depending on the week) one of the world’s three richest corporations.  Sorry, but nobody gets THAT rich playing nice.

I was ahead of the curve jumping on board the Mac ship, and I am ahead of the curve jumping off.  But as I look around, I am far from alone in being nauseated by the “Mac Tax.”  Maybe not this year or even next, but the tide will turn, just like it did with all the arrogant corporate behemoths of the last century:  IBM, Kodak, Microsoft . . .

Anyone besides me remember when Microsoft was the Evil Empire?  The ultimate dark side?  Nowadays they are just pathetic.  Apple’s moment has already passed.  It’s just that few have noticed.

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