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January 2010 / The Evolving Face of Mobile Computing

 


On Wednesday Apple gave a press conference in San Francisco where they announced the newest piece of technology to sprout from the mind of Steve Jobs - the iPad, a tablet computer. While tablet computers aren’t a new concept, they’ve flown under the radar of many users and haven’t taken off as other mobile technology, such as netbooks, has. However, with Apple and a host of other major manufacturers getting ready to introduce tablets to a wider market we may be on the verge of entering the next phase of mobile computing.

 

In this month’s Tech Brief we’ll take a look at tablet computers - what they are, what they do, and where you can get them. We’ll also look at some of the other mobile computing options available to you and help you decide what machine is the best option for your needs.

 

 

What Are Tablets?

 

Tablets are wireless, portable computers that allow users to interact with the screen via a stylus or by touch. Tablets typically contain the same processing power as a standard laptop and come with many of the same applications that you would find on any new machine, some slightly modified to accommodate the touch screen interface. About the width and height of a sheet of notebook paper, tablets typically come in two formats:

 

  • Devices that look like conventional laptops but contain a screen which can be rotated 180 degrees and folded down over the keyboard.
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  • Devices called “slates” which contain just a screen (and sometimes a removable keyboard)

 

Although the idea for the tablet first originated in 1971, they weren’t produced until the 1990s, and even then it took until the next decade for wireless, graphic, and touch technology to advance enough to make them commercially viable. Even with advanced technology and unique designs, tablets have been a tough sell. Framingham, MA-based research firm IDC reported that worldwide sales of tablets peaked in 2007 at 1.5 million units - or around 1% of the total computer market.

 

 

2010: the Year of the Tablet?

 

"This Goldilocks of devices -- not too big, not too small -- is expected to offer an appealing balance of form and function going forward.” -Deloitte

 

Industry tracker Deloitte is predicting that Apple’s tablet will kick off a surge among consumers for the portable device and make tablets the must-have consumer electronic device of the year. Although that’s a lofty statement, they may not be too far off. But, the tablet that they’re describing, and the one Apple has released, are markedly different from the tablets available now whose function is more or less that of a standard laptop.

 

Apple’s iPad function more closely resembles that of a netbook; stripped-down, low-cost computer that are designed purely for browsing the web and checking email. Netbook popularity has exploded in recent years and it seems that Apple is trying to morph that concept into tablet-format.

 

Whereas the tablet computers available today from HP and Dell, among others, gives you all the functionality of a full PC, the iPad allows users to browse the web, listen to music, watch movies or TV shows, and read e-books or magazines.

 

Clearly this device is being positioned to the personal consumer market instead of both consumers and businesses. If Apple is successful though, the resulting interest that it generates in tablets could spell a major boon for the industry as a whole and boost sales of "traditional” tablets which may appeal to some businesses.

 

 

So What Makes Sense For Me?

 

Laptops, netbooks, tablets, the iPad - you’re not lacking choices when it comes to selecting a mobile computer. Thankfully making the right decision shouldn’t be too difficult and really boils down to a couple of questions:

 

  • Is this for business or personal use?
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  • What kind of functionality do I need?

 

 

Business Users

 

In general business users may want to shy away from netbooks and the iPad as they’re usually not going to contain the productivity software that businesses require (although the iPad does contain the iWork productivity suite, it’s not being marketed as a replacement for a business computer). That’s not to say that there aren’t uses for netbooks on-the-job. A lightweight device may come in handy for those looking for something portable to take notes at seminars or meetings. And their small size fits well into tight or cramped spaces where technicians may work.

 

In general business users may want to shy away from netbooks and the iPad as they’re usually not going to contain the productivity software that businesses require (although the iPad does contain the iWork productivity suite, it’s not being marketed as a replacement for a business computer). That’s not to say that there aren’t uses for netbooks on-the-job. A lightweight device may come in handy for those looking for something portable to take notes at seminars or meetings. And their small size fits well into tight or cramped spaces where technicians may work.

 

 

Personal Users

 

 

For personal users it’s really all a matter of preference and what you’re looking for functionality-wise. Are you a power-user who uses your computer for productivity as well as entertainment? Go with a standard laptop or tablet. If you’re more of a casual user looking to just hop on the Internet and check your email, go with a netbook or Apple tablet. Or, with the prices of netbooks usually only being a few hundred dollars, you could also compliment your laptop with a netbook.

 

 

Final Thoughts...

 

Apple actually released a tablet computer of sorts back in the 1990’s when it debuted the Apple Newton - which went on to fail miserably. Yet while it’s not a guarantee that the new iPad will kick-start the tablet revolution, one thing for certain is that it’s going to cause a lot of discussion about tablets and the future of mobile computing. If you have any questions about laptops, tablets, netbooks, or the Apple iPad and which one might be right for you personally or your business, contact Thrive Networks.