Why Tablets Represent the Future of Computing
Article by Ben Bajarin for Time Tech.
Where is personal computing headed?
As a technology industry analyst I get asked this question quite often. My answer, although it’s hard to wrap our brains around now, is that we are moving away from a keyboard- and mouse-centric computing experience to a touch computing experience. Tablets represent the beginning of that shift and are the devices that will usher in the touch computing era.
Just to put the astonishing growth of tablets into perspective: This year alone tablets will see 255% unit growth to about 55-58 million units respectfully. By 2015, tablets will have seen 750% shipment growth. During the same timeframe laptops will only see 83% growth.
Although tablets are compelling devices on their own, it is my opinion that the touch computing element they bring is the cause of this incredible growth.
Why Touch Computing?
Touch computing represents a much more expansive opportunity for computing in the post-PC era primarily because it fits into the category called “Natural User Interface,” which basically means it’s a more natural way to interact with electronics. Speech is another example of natural user interface we will see more deeply integrated into next-generation devices but that is still at least another 3-5 years out.
Devices that have little or no learning curve for all demographics break down barriers that typically exist when adopting new technologies.
A good example of this is how the iPad has been gaining traction with older adults and younger children. For kids, the iPad delivers an easier and more natural experience using a touch computing device, like an iPhone or iPad, than a PC does. And with older adults, we have found in our research that they are much more comfortable using touch as a computer interface than they are with using a mouse.
Learning to use a mouse and a keyboard takes some time to master. Both my kids—who are six and eight—still have issues using a PC, but they have no issues whatsoever when using my iPad.
To further emphasize my point, consider this: 41 of the top 50 education apps in the iTunes app store are for kids under the age of 10. Furthermore, 32 of those 41 apps are for kids under the age of six. We are finding that especially with children, the touch interface has no learning curve and they adapt to it very quickly.
But the learning curve barriers that get broken down with touch computing are not just limited to kids or older adults.
What about the billions of people on the planet who have had little to no PC experience at all? The touch computing platform that exists on tablets can bring computing to entire generations of new consumers where the PC could not. Because of this we will likely see the adoption cycles of these devices happen much quicker.
If you add all of that up you begin to see that touch and speech will become the predominant ways we interact with devices in the future. To do this, however, there is a tremendous amount of technological innovation still needed. Innovations in hardware and software, specifically, are still needed to bring touch computing to its full potential.
Next Generation Software
Over the past 30 years the software industry has written software for devices with a mouse and keyboard; imagine what the next 30 years will bring for touch computing platforms.
Also, think about the reach of the PC as we know it today. Industries were created, transformed, and many are still transforming.
Touch computing and the next-generation software that gets created will even further transform industries like health, education, entertainment, media, agriculture, government, business and more.
We are already seeing iPads being used by doctors, educators, students and field researchers in amazing ways, all made possible by touch computing.
The point can be made that the PC as we know it today can technically do all the things a tablet can do. Although true, the tablet is a better suited form factor for touch computing because of its design and portability.
We will see a range of form factor innovations around tablets, too—for example, designs like the Asus Transformer, which has a tablet dock with a keyboard. We are seeing designs of tablets with slide out keyboards, similar to mobile phones with slide out or flip out keyboards.
For those still skeptical, touch computing is coming to traditional PCs as well via the trackpad.
Apple has been integrating multi-touch gestures into the Mac operating system for several years now and with its next release—OS X Lion—there will be even more. New and exciting software for the Mac operating system that utilizes touch computing is just around the corner.
For the Windows consumers, Synaptics, a leading provider of trackpad technology, is developing new innovations aimed at bringing mutli-touch and touch computing gestures to the traditional PC.
These innovations and more are what will lead touch computing to be used on a range of different devices—which will lead to a wider range of consumer choice in form factors built around touch computing.
What’s encouraging to me as a life long student of the technology industry is that we are only half way through our computing journey. The last 30 years brought some of the most amazing innovations ever created. However the next 30 years worth of innovations will truly change the world.
Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.
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