The Past, Present and Future of Tablet Devices
Joe Van Fossen / Oct 4th, 2012 2 Comments
It’s hard to imagine that just three years ago the tablet computer was a niche device, relegated mostly to specific industrial uses. Most consumers never saw them or even knew they existed. Nowadays you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t at least know someone else who owns an iPad, Kindle Fire, or any myriad of computing slates on the market. Slate computers have existed in one form or another since the 1980s, with the Dynabook concept dating all the way back to 1968. It would be decades before advancements in technology would make the tablet a viable consumer good. Now, tablets of today come in all shapes and sizes. They vary wildly in price, content offerings, and features. Love them or hate them, it took one company to define the consumer tablet and drastically change the technological landscape forever.
If you haven’t read them yet, be sure the check out our articles – What Everybody Ought to Know About the iPad Mini, the Top 5 Features of the Nook HD, as well as our review of the Google Nexus 7.
How We Got Here
[adsense250itp]In January of 2010, Steve Jobs set off a firestorm with the announcement of Apple‘s forthcoming iPad. Tech pundits and Apple naysayers had a field day. “Dead on arrival” was the general consensus at the time. Three months later, Jobs and company went on to prove them wrong. Very wrong. In addition to creating an entirely new consumer space, the “third device,” Apple managed to turn pundits from saying “dead on arrival” to “death of the netbook.” Competitors scrambled to catch up, but no one was prepared for the runaway success of the iPad.
It wouldn’t be long before all of the major computer and cell phone manufacturers jumped into the ring with their own devices; most of them based on Google‘s popular, open and free Android operating system. In early 2011, the tablet wars had just begun. While many competitors offered desirable features not available on the i-device, they had yet to crack the consumer conscious the way Apple did. Skipping ahead to today, the variety of tablets on the market is seemingly endless. Available in all shapes, sizes, colors, prices, and configurations, tablets have become ubiquitous in today’s ultra-connected world. In order to differentiate, some manufacturers are adding key features that separate them from the pack, and sometimes more narrowly define their devices.
The Third Device
iPad, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7, Microsoft Surface, Nook HD…
The best way to describe the “third device” is something that sits between your smartphone and your workhorse computer, be it a desktop or laptop. They were designed to deliver you content, entertainment, and the internet on an adequately sized display, without the need for a long boot-up. The light weight and extended battery life of most tablets–twice that of a laptop, on average–also makes it great for the road and around the home. Most of the tablets you see on store shelves today fall under this category.
Amazon, like Apple before them, understood that the general consuming public couldn’t care less about technical specifications of computer components. For most people, tech jargon is a foreign language. Unlike their hardware-focused adversaries, Amazon set out to highlight their vast library of content offerings in a device that was easy to use. Based on the Android source code, the Kindle Fire is a tablet whose major purpose is to serve as a tie in to Amazon’s digital services (Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Music, Kindle Books, etc). Both the iPad and Kindle Fire family of devices are centered around vast ecosystems of content, and are great for consumers tied into said ecosystems. However, those who are not tied into Amazon nor Apple may appreciate the freedom that Android tablets have to offer.
Amazon’s decision not to partner with Google was deliberate. They had already built their own Android app store well before they announced their first tablet. For every app sold on a Kindle Fire, the revenue is split with the developer and Amazon. With the Kindle Fire being the most popular Android-based tablet to date, it was a no-brainer for Amazon to keep everything locked into their ecosystem. The downside is a lack of access to the Google apps (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, etc) and, more importantly, the Google Play store. With just north of 51,000 apps, the Amazon Appstore’s number pale in comparison to Google Play’s over 600,000 offerings. Sure, no one is going to need more than a few dozen apps at most; the problem arises when you really need the one that isn’t in the Appstore.
While Android doesn’t have quite the library of movies, ebooks, and music that Apple and Amazon boast, Google’s doing their best to catch up. It would be impossible to name all of the general purpose Android tablets currently on the market without turning half of this article into a list, but some of the heavyweights would include Google’s own Nexus Tablet (in partnership with Asus), Samsung‘s Galaxy Tab family of devices, and Asus’ Transformers. Each group offers a unique set of features and come in several sizes, price points, and/or configurations. Notably, Asus touched upon a niche with their docking keyboard accessory, allowing users to turn their tablet into a notebook. Making those long emails a little easier to compose on the go.
Stay tuned for part two, where we explore the differences between the various tablets on the market.
tags: ipad , kindle , nexus 7 , nook hd