Time up for tablets?

A few months ago I attended an event where a mobile network operator executive posited that the tablet computer as we know it only has perhaps a couple of years left to live. It was quite a blunt and even shocking statement at the time – tablets haven’t exactly been around all that long after all – but thinking about it afterwards it made some kind of sense. The tablet is neither really one thing nor the other – it is too large to be used as a phone handset for making voice calls and its lack of a proper keyboard a la laptop makes it insufficient for working effectively.

As a web browsing device and portable magazine and e-reader it does a good job. But as phablets gain popularity and smartphone screen sizes increase – meaning more people watching streamed mobile video on their smartphones rather than tablets – it’s not unreasonable to question the tablet’s purpose and future.

So the news that Gartner predicts a particularly poor year for tablets in 2015 perhaps underlines the projection. Sales are forecast to grow only 8 percent this year, a massive slowdown on the previous few years when iPads and Android tablets were pretty much ubiquitous.

What might be next?

So in spite of the predicted 2015 fall in sales, the market is still growing, just more slowly. The purpose of the tablet is perhaps a more personal one on my own part; frankly there isn’t much that I can do on my Google Nexus 7 device that I can’t do on my Samsung Galaxy smartphone. The screen sizes aren’t that much different, the operating system is the same, the functionality pretty much identical.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is upbeat about the future of the iPad and tablet market in general, but then he rather would be; in practical terms the iPad is too big to hold with one hand so smartphones tend to have it beat there. That said, multiscreening is on the rise – in Hong Kong for example more people now watch TV on mobile devices than on traditional TV sets – and on-demand web content is also powering forward.

So maybe it is here that the tablet has found its true home – in the living room? Too big and unwieldy to lug about as a truly portable device, superseded by affordable 5 and 6-inch screen smartphone models but perhaps the perfect form and function for the home. A blue tooth keyboard for responding to email, apps galore to interact with your various connected home and multimedia solutions, integration with smart watches and other wearables plus a nice-sized screen for making Skype of Facetime video calls. Maybe that’s the life of the tablet now.

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