When Apple first announced the iPad, there were those of us who didn’t get it. We didn’t get why, in a world full of laptops and iPhones, we would ever need a tablet. But as the years went by, this group of dissenters, belittling the tablet to either a novelty or a status symbol, has shrank significantly, if not completely disappeared. The general consensus now is that tablets are more convenient, simpler to use, and all around cooler than their keyboard-encumbered counterparts.
The first attempt by the tablet to enter the mainstream consumer’s world that most people remember (or choose to forget) was Microsoft’s launch of a tablet PC line in the early2000s, which was largely unsuccessful. It was not until Apple’s release of the iPad in 2010 that the tablet became a computing staple. With such incredible success in the past few years, the popularization of the tablet has many of us wondering if it won’t be long before the tablet outgrows its place in the holy computing trinity between laptops and smartphones and begins nudging into its digital siblings’ territory. It seems that some major players are already bracing themselves for this shift, such as Microsoft, whose new OS, Windows 8, is ostensibly streamlined for mobile or tablet use. They’ll even be launching a line of tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface, to be used specifically with the new OS. But will we soon live in a world where tablets dominate our data? According to research analysis released earlier this year by NPDDisplaysearch, tablet PCs will outrun their counterparts by 2016. That may seem like an exaggerated claim for what to expect a mere four years in the future, but it appears far less farfetched when you think about the changes we’ve seen since four years ago in 2008, when the term “smartphone” would have a fair amount of people scratching their heads.
Yet there are some, like Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst at Technology Business Research, who think that such claims invest too much faith in tablets conceptually. “The tablet has real long-term viability as an additional device,” he says. In other words, when you walk into your local computer shop four years down the road, you won’t see the laptop displays completely replaced by tablet models. Tablets will still be seen, first and foremost, as secondary devices; something you have in addition to—rather than instead of—a traditional computer. It is worth noting, though, that the tablets’ portability has also brought them success in work-related functions, as many companies encourage employees to use an iPad for on-the-go work, and some—such as United Airlines—go as far as to hand them out.
But what does this mean for developers? Well the most obvious precaution is for those working for iOS to cater not only to the iPhone resolution but also to that of the iPad, and for Android developers to take the analogous steps. But this is not news. It's also likely that in the near future we'll see more and more developers hold the iPad and tablet PCs as their primary target devices and the iPhone and other smartphones as secondary, rather than the other way around. Another change is that web app developers need to put a greater value on making products responsive, or adaptable to any screen size, so that they work not only on laptops or smartphones but also on a wide range of devices of varying dimensions, such as the Microsoft Surface.
As of today, whether the tablet will successfully branch out into use as a primary device or continue to tread the thinning line between smartphones and laptops remains uncertain, but the emergence of tablets (whatever their future trajectory may be) is ultimately a helpful reminder that the means by which users interact with what we create are constantly changing and evolving.