While the utility of a portable, touch-screen, connected device was never in question on the Enterprise, their utility in the 21st century is still being determined.
So what, exactly, are tablets good for?
The Shared Communal Device
I've already found the Galaxy Tab to be the go-to device in the living room. It's perfect for shared photo-viewing, checking actors in IMDB, and adding something to the shopping basket. The large, bright screen and long battery life make it a much better viewing experience than a mobile, and simpler and more convenient than passing around a laptop.
Modern smartphones are intensely personal. They hold more private information than most people would ever willingly share. Would you hand over your phone to a friend for 30mins? What about your wife / husband / girlfriend / boyfriend?
I've created a new shared Gmail account, specifically for my Galaxy Tab (and potentially my GoogleTV), to make it easier to share. As prices come down I see a bunch of these around the house - probably replacing laptops and TVs.
The Ultimate Gaming Device
Games on tablets look incredible. A bright, sharp screen with a ton of screen real estate work superbly with touch controlled games.
The bigger screens could have been designed specifically to support multiplayer gaming. Games like Scrabble would work great with the screen becoming the game board, but that's just the start.
I grew up playing RPGs and CCGs. Imagine playing them when everyone has a tablet. Each player would have their card deck (or character sheet) on their tablet. Another device (probably at least 10") sits in the middle of the table and displays the cards in play (or character positions on a map).
The Multi-Media Entertainment Center and eBook Reader
Back in the day, I owned an Archos 320. 20Gb of audio and video on a 2.5" drive with a 4" screen. With no SSDs in sight, moving it while playing video let you feel the torque!
Today's tablets have up to 64Gb of solid-state storage, with many also including SD card slots letting you double that. A 7", 16:10 aspect ratio screen is the perfect surface for watching movies on the move, and HDMI output will let you plug your library into your giant flat screen TV.
Add an eBook reader app and you've got one device with all you music, movies, and books. That makes for an epic entertainment center.
While you'll need to pry my hardcover books out of my cold, dead, hands - I still think that within the next 5 years, most people will access all their movies, music, pictures, and books from the cloud. When that happens tablets will be the perfect portable screen on which to consume any kind of entertainment media.
The Laptop Replacement
Is the tablet set to replace the laptop? I've noticed a few iPads in meetings as people leave their laptops behind, preferring tablets for their portable computing needs. Typing on a fast, responsive 10" touch screen is actually a workable exercise, and it's the perfect platform for presenting an impromptu slide-show pitch or showing off your app / website.
I don't see tablets replacing the laptops we use at work for tasks that require significant typing (like writing code), but the future of netbooks might have just gotten a little grim.
So what's the real deal?
My gut says tablets will become increasingly popular as shareable devices that double as personal entertainment centers. The big screen and wide viewing angle of tablets makes them less private than phones. Still personal but not inherently private.
As app developers, we are uniquely positioned to both influence, and be influenced by, how people will use these new devices, so what do you think?
- Communal Internet Portal
- Ultimate Gaming Device
- Multi-Media Entertainment Center and eBook Reader
- Laptop Replacement
- All of the above