Tablet computers will account for 23 percent of all PC sales by 2015, according to a Forrester Research report out today. Desktop sales will continue to decline, much as they have for the past several years due to the rise of laptops and netbooks. But netbooks — which not too long ago showed a year-over-year growth rate of 641 percent — are also expected to fall behind tablet sales, starting as early as 2012. I agree with Forrester’s forecast, for a number of reasons.
Tablets Are Now Designed for Mobile Use
Having been around since before the turn of the century, slate computers aren’t new. But recent attempts were desktop-centric in terms of interface and design, requiring software shells for better usability. Trying to fit a desktop environment into mobile device has failed time and again, as the user experience doesn’t match the form factor — on a smaller touchscreen, apps must be optimized for size and be finger-friendly, for example. With the quickly maturing iOS4 (s aapl) and Android (s goog) platforms now available, however, current and future tablets are actually usable by anyone — even a cat.
Low-Powered, High Performing Chips Are Available
Most tablets prior to the popular Apple iPad were based on x86 technology from Intel (s intc) and the Windows (s msft) OS, which only served to exacerbate the desktop environment issue. And it caused short run-times — my first 7-inch tablet, a Samsung Q1 from 2006 that I repeatedly upgraded, was lucky to run for 3.5 hours on a charge. That’s changed recently thanks to ARM-powered chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon (s qcom) and Apple’s own A4, the engine behind the iPad. And Intel has made great strides to reduce power consumption, so between now and 2015 we’ll see even better chip options for tablets, such as a dual-core Snapdragon CPU.
We’re Shifting to Task-Based Computing
As little as five years ago, many of us sat in front of a desktop or a laptop and stayed in the same applications all day long: perhaps a productivity suite, undoubtedly an email client and occasionally, a web browser. That mindset has changed dramatically and will continue to do so over the next few years. Today it’s all about mobile apps that handle bite-sized chunks of specific functionality — Apple alone has delivered more than 3 billion app downloads from its iTunes store. A tablet is well-suited to quick hits of functionality at various times.
Does all of this mean gloom and doom for traditional computing? No, I’m not suggesting that the desktop or laptop paradigm is going away, and neither is Forrester. In my lifetime, I expect there will always be specific use cases in which a traditional computer with mouse and keyboard are the best tool for the task. But with a tablet it’s just you interacting with your data, one little app at a time. More and more, that’s all a user really wants.
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