January 27th 2010. Steve Jobs announced the iPad in San Francisco. Whichever side of the Apple camp you sit (or if like me you choose not to engage in the forever on going battle between Apple supporters and their detractors) no-one can deny that, like he said, it “changed everything”.
In just 18 months the mobile industry has gone tablet mad, obsessed even – almost every major manufacturer (Sony are currently taking their usual time to make something slightly different and undoubtedly very expensive) has got a tablet to market, with wildly varying success (remember the Toshiba Folio?), and the majority of the iPad competition is running all sorts of flavours of Android.
Now Apple didn’t create the tablet. Tablet computers have existed in various forms in business and design capacities for decades, mostly running optimised versions of Windows, Apple OS and proprietary systems and were designed to fulfil a particular purpose in a particular environment. So what did Apple do last year to change the game and where is it going now?
The answer is nothing. We have changed. The modern consumer is a different beast to that which existed not just in the 90’s but as little as 4 or 5 years ago. Computers are cheap. Technology is mainstream. My Grandma has Skype. Geeks are cool. Films about Batman win Oscars. All Apple did was realise this shift and sell us something before anyone else – now everyone else is playing catch-up.
Some reviewers will have you believe that Android tablets are never going to beat or take share from Apple in the same way as the smartphone market. “The system is too fragmented”, “there’s no direction”, “Apple cater for the consumer better”. These snap-judgement arguments and more you will hear on many forums and sites. Of course there are counters too from the Google fans. The hammer will ultimately fall with the consumer and the people that sell to us both online and in the shops. If the right people are made aware of alternatives to Apple’s media machine then they will have the choice.
The question that bugs me though is “why tablets”? Personally I haven’t bought in to the idea of a tablet yet and I don’t think I need one (although I thought that of a smartphone before I got my first pushed email). I can see their practicality, however what I think it ultimately boils down to is that now it’s cool to have a tablet. I saw a man walking down the street browsing on an iPad this morning – I though that was awesome and apparently so do many other people.
So what’s the future of these computing slabs then? At the moment everything available is new, expensive and frankly still a little buggy round the edges although it’s pretty safe to say the market has gobbled up the idea of tablet computing quicker than other emerging tech in recent years. Personally I think that the next generation will be the tipping point with the introduction of iPad 3 and the unveiling of Android’s convergent Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 release. Let us not forget Microsoft’s big play with Windows 8 as well – if everything goes to plan the current 3rd wheel in this relationship could start to get some attention.
A current gen iPad or top end Android tablet will always be an expensive investment but the beauty of the little green robot is that manufacturers can still use older versions to run on older hardware. 6 months down the line what is out-dated to the most tech-savvy of us is still a fresh and incredible experience to the average consumer. Cheap Android tabs are available now and will only continue to be produced in ever higher quantities and more importantly quality with time. I can see the tablet becoming a staple in many households very soon but what badge will be on the back of most of them only time will tell.