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I, like many others, was unsure how strong demand would be for media tablets, the form factor that Apple spawned when it launched the original iPad in 2010. The sales figures were impressive right from the start and have continued to be through the two upgrades we have so far seen – the latest being the Retina Display-boasting new iPad (or iPad 3 to everyone but Apple).

Since then most manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, and there are now a host of tablets other than the iPad to choose from. Most, including the flagship Nexus 7 Why The Nexus 7 Is Competition For The iPad [Opinion] Why The Nexus 7 Is Competition For The iPad [Opinion] Google unveiled the Nexus 7, its long-awaited foray into the burgeoning tablet market, at Google I/O last month. The combination of hardware, design, and price took many by surprise, with all three of these components... Read More , run on Android, but Surface is going to lead the way in touting Windows 8 as a viable tablet operating system. We are, therefore, just at the start of an emerging market. But what of the future? This formed the basis for last week’s ‘We Ask You‘ column.

What Is The Future For Tablets?

We asked you, What Is The Future For Tablets? We had scores of responses, most being very positive about tablets and how they will shape the future of computing. But not all….some suggested tablets will always be for consumption, with desktops and laptops reserved for creation. Some also think tablets are nothing more than a “passing fad,” a “fashion statement,” a “status icon,” and “toys.”

There was a conversation on 7-inch vs. 10-inch tablets, and I threw phablets (phone tablets such as the Galaxy Note) into the mix. Bill Gilbert suggested “tablets will evolve into flexible displays that can roll up into a small container. They will be touch enabled and can have an optional keyboard and mouse for any intense work you may need to perform.” However, he noted that as he originally thought the Internet was a “passing phase” that he may be wildly wrong.

All in all it was a thoroughly engrossing debate for those of us who like to think about the direction technology is likely to head in the future.


Comment Of The Week

Comment of the week goes to Laga Mahesa (again!):

There is no question that tablets are here to stay. It is a technology that the art and geek world has been pining for for decades, in the form of science fiction. Their future uses have been proposed many times through the same medium – yes, most are fairly similar, but there’s plenty out there, starting with the famous pre-existing art trumpeted by droid champions in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Newspapers, control panels, diagnostics, adverts. Most pre-iPad scenarios were special purpose; a bit like the Kindle is, now.

Let’s take a side step here and address your secondary question.

Keyboards. Mice. Crutches, both of them.

When was the last time you saw a scifi movie where mice are used? Let’s take a classic example scene – Minority Report, sifting through the imagery projected by the psychics. In that scene, nothing but gestures are used. Natural motions to indicate what we desire to take place: a twist to rotate an image, a slow turn back and forth to step through a video. If you haven’t yet, load up Opera and take the gestures for a spin. They get addictive. Now let’s go to an even older film: Flight of the Navigator. The spacecraft was controlled by what was essentially a pair of trackballs – trackballs that went one further and allowed for 3D movement, which translated the pilot’s movements into fluid flight control. How natural was that? Mice are and were designed to allow us to simply navigate a user interface by pointing and clicking (a press). Take away the mouse and you have a touch screen. Take away the touch screen and you have Kinect, or, better yet, a Leap.

There is another Human Interaction Device (HID) which has been coming to the forefront recently. Voice control, voice interaction, natural language processing. This is what will kill the Keyboard, once it has matured. Siri is getting there – still in Beta, it has no problem understanding my dictation, with only some minor corrections necessary per paragraph which I’m happy to put up with when in a rush.

The mouse was designed to translate our actions. The keyboard, our language. The mouse is almost dead, the keyboard will be next.

Back to the topic, the small-factor device (tablets, here) is here to stay. They won’t replace desktops. They will BE the desktops. Going to work? Pull the tablet core out and go. Arrived at work? Slot in your tablet in any station and you’re where you left off. Roaming profiles for the 21st century.

Eventually, say 15-30 years provided the Mayans weren’t just pulling our collective legs, computer cores will be small enough that you’ll have an entire mainframe in a signet ring, and this entire discussion will be laughed at.

This was by far the most involved and forward-thinking comment received, and shows exactly what kind of insight we’re looking for in ‘We Ask You’ each week. Not only does it address the question of the future of tablets, it envisions a future in which this whole discussion will be moot because the technology will have evolved by such a large degree.

The timing may turn out to be wrong, along with the future being imagined, but it’s this kind of longterm, forward-thinking that can get us all working towards a time when computers are very different than they are right now. The point about the interface is a particularly good one, as a combination of gesture-, voice-, and touch-control will likely reign supreme in the not-too-distant future.

We will be asking a new question tomorrow, so please join us then. ‘We Ask You’ is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. We ask you a question and you tell us what you think. The question is open-ended and is usually open to debate. Some questions will be purely opinion-based, while others will see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps for your fellow MakeUseOf readers. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.

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  1. Caroline West
    October 16, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Hmm...Interesting POV by Laga. Yes I agree that the timing is a little premature for the 'vision' but definitely a valid description of what 'could' be; but it will take a few more generations for that to be the norm. Many people cannot even turn a computer on so we are most certainly not that close.

    I was reading the related article "4 Reasons I Don't Care About The iPad 3..." and I care little for them too. I just think that the Net Books should have been made more powerful. If I was asked to swap the best Tablet out there with my little ole' Net Book, I would say no.

    I do think that Tablets are a little of a craze, I mean they are even bringing out ones that have attachable keyboards - is that not a revert back to Net Book influence??

    Anyway, I personally think they will be replaced by the next big thing and the next after that. But I won't be rushing out to get one until something far better is produced.

  2. MerVzter Balacuit
    July 26, 2012 at 3:48 am

    tablet will be limited in terms of functionality than pc , but still theres advantage

  3. Shawn Ashree Baba
    July 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

    The future of tablets look quite promising.

  4. Luke Brannon
    July 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

    I don't see how people claim for tablet computing to be a fad, it's not a fad it's computing evolution, yeah sure look at netbooks, they were meant to be the portable computer for reading articles, newspapers, watching videos etc much like the tablet does but yet the tablet is a niche, there's nothing else like it, it can be as small as an a5 notepad and yet contain an entire library of videos, pictures, music, plus access to the internet and with apps be able to have a full office suite complete with cloud storage and easy sync between machines via bluetooth, all in the palm of your hand. this is definitely the future. desktops won't go as such but they will be used as business tools such as a server or storage/backup pc. also look at peripherals, keyboards will stay but they will be replaced by small slimline flatpack ones, mice will be replaced by the stylus, and monitors will definitely stay for now but with some sort of advancement where you can stream the view from your tablet straight to your monitor like a dual screen set up for those in the creativity industry who require attention to detail such as graphics designers and photographers, as well as those with visual problems. in short;

    Tablets will be the general device for day-to-day work like the laptop is currently

    Desktops will be confined to business use such as servers, and specialist uses (based on current specifications of tablets) like high-end gaming, graphics rendering etc.

    Laptops have a more foggy area for the future, I think they are staying to be the day-to-day heavy duty device (big screen, better specifications useful for enthusiasts performing tasks such as photo editing etc) but I think with the advent of Smart PC's (as I call them) which have 24" touchscreens and pretty much all of them coming with Freeview box's for watching TV it's most likely these will be dominating the home ground alongside tablets, or possibly nettops?

    • Tom Sobieski
      July 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Agreed. We've been talking about a paperless society for decades and it's finally starting to happen.
      I've been reading e books since the days of Peanut Press and my Palm, and then the Kindle exploded into a market that was treating the e reader as a luxury item for the wealthy early adopter
      I recently moved to Mexico, and took my entire 2,000+ volume library with me, in the .cabin of the plane, no less. I have to laugh when friends say they don't like e books and prefer the " smell and feel of paper". LOL. I guess the content of the book is unimportant to them.

      • Luke Brannon
        July 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

        Yeah exactly it'll become a more economically friendly environment, well once they start replacing fossil fuels :L

        but I do agree with you on that real book statement, yeah sometimes I would love to just carry a real book around rather than a gadget as it would be boring to use one gadget for everything in your life but really to me that only applies to fiction, for non-fiction reference books I'd prefer just to have a kindle rather than whack out a huge 300 page book on boolean logics :L

  5. Mart Küng
    July 25, 2012 at 5:29 am

    Tablets are here to stay. And for the foreseeable future so are keyboards and mice.

    • Tom Sobieski
      July 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Mostly agree, but only because I broke my crystal ball the other day. I'm personally looking forward to Win8 Surface. and wondering if some version of a Kinect will find its way into one. Seems that might put MS a step or 2 ahaed of the House that Jobs (et al) built

  6. nahid saleem
    July 25, 2012 at 5:21 am

    There seems to be some problem with my Ipad as it displays youtube kinda weird at times. Browser color changes from white to black. Why is that? Any idea?

  7. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    July 25, 2012 at 5:05 am

    Hope a better future for tablets.

  8. Laga Mahesa
    July 25, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Thanks Dave!

    BTW, it's somewhat curious how the line breaks are in place when viewed on my iPad but not here on the desktop on either Opera or Firefox. :p

    • Dave Parrack
      July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      Hmm, that is strange!