What Is The Future For Tablets? [You Told Us]

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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, 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.

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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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