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Undoubtedly, tablet computers are taking over a very large chunk of computing.  Everywhere you look, you see not only iPads, but also Android based tablets and also e-book readers like the Kindle and Nook.  Add to this the conversion of phone screens into tablet-like smart phones and it’s clear that a sea change in the future of computing devices has arrived and is here to stay.

Consider the trending numbers:  According to research company Gartner, the estimated total units of all types of Windows devices sold in the U.S. fell 8.6 percent from Q4 2010 to Q4 2011 (see DATA for more updated info). During the same period, according to Apple’s earnings report, the number of Macs sold rose by 26 percent.  Moreover, during that same period (Apple’s fiscal quarter 2012), the number of iPads sold rose by 111 percent — to over 15 million.   Microsoft is finally in the picture, although the introduction of Windows 8 mobile operating system and devices is making some inroads, albeit simultaneously with the fourth generation iPads and Android devices.

So why aren’t tablets going to completely replace desktop and laptop computers?  Mainly because at this moment there are a multitude of tasks which are routinely done on computers which just can’t be done on tablets.  Most of those tasks involve business processes, but also to some extent personal computing as well.  This is slowly evolving, but it’ll take quite some time.  And, of course, big iron servers will always be necessary for larger businesses and server farms. 

MY PREDICTIONOver the next 5 to 7 years (after 2011), tablets will get more and more like laptops.  They’ll do more than mere e-readers or pads.  Right now, the iPad and Surface already have keyboards and stands and are getting more powerful and user friendly.  They can print and some have USB peripheral capabilities.  They are slowly moving toward apps that will have the same productivity programs as the desktop machines.  And advances in mobile processors and tablet manufacturing have dramatically increased battery life.  So, at a certain tipping point, they’ll replace laptops and most (but certainly not all) desktop computers, leaving a market for cloud servers (used by big businesses like Amazon, Microsoft and Dell to support the tablets) and tablets for the rest of us.  A few desktop computers may or may not be custom made for gamers, and some desktop legacy systems will be required for large businesses, but that’ll be about it.  Computing hardware will be fundamentally changed into cloud tablets and server farms for more than 80% of us home users.  With the exception of some of the e-ink technology readers, a great deal of e-readers will probably become subsumed by the full feature tablets (like the Kindle by the Kindle Fire).  And tablets will become generally supported in the enterprise as BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”).  Support, repair, software and drivers will all be changed as well due to this “paradigm shift”.  And people will view tablets, printers and the like as “disposable” at the hardware level if they don’t already do so.  How fast this occurs will depend partly on the advances discussed above, and also how fast the gap between inexpensive laptops (e.g. Dell) and netbooks and less expensive tablets intensifies (possibly from Google), making the tablets a more economical choice for most consumers.  [Click HERE for a discussion about whether the PC era is over.]  UPDATE:  Some things happen sooner than you might think:  The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (not to be confused with the Surface 2, it’s underpowered sister), introduced in 2013 may just fill the bill.  At least if you add an excellent keyboard like the Cover 2.  With a Core i5 chip, up to 8Gb memory, 512Gb storage, USB3 ports and a MicroSD slot, it can come loaded with Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2013 and runs quite quickly.  Base price is around $999.  You can use it as a tablet, but also like a laptop for (some) real work.  I’m sure that now that the ball is rolling, many more productivity pads will follow. FURTHER UPDATE: Finally, on 3/27/14, Microsoft introduced Office for iPad, which should substantially resolve the compatibility issues between Apple and PC tablets, making them much more useful in the enterprise. Each app in the suite is being introduced separately, and offer the ability to view documents, spreadsheets and presentations at no cost.  However, to edit any of these documents, a user must sign up for an Office 365 subscription at $99.99/year, which can be used on up to 5 PCs or Macs or tablets.  It also includes 20Gb cloud storage on OneDrive for all 5 users and 60 minutes of Skype calls/mo.  2014 UPDATE:  We may be almost there!  Finally, on May 20, 2014 Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3, billed as ”the tablet that can replace your laptop,” and it didn’t fail to impress.  Its larger display (12.1 vs. 10.6 in) and shift in aspect ratio (3:2 vs. 16:9) made a big difference when using it for longer periods of time.  Battery life can be up to 9 hrs with the Haswell chip (although it runs hotter), and it can come with between 4 - 512Gb of RAM, front and back 5Mp/1080p HD front and back cameras, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 port, just about anything you could want from the hardware.  But it comes with a hefty price, compared to the iPad Air (at $500), the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (at $400) or even Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 (at $900) it’s not the best buy for a tablet.  But pit it against a laptop, it’s faster and lighter than the MacBook Air and has a better front camera and is in the similar battery life and price range.  Let’s see what happens after it has a track record.  For the record, I still don’t like any of the keyboards for real work, even the SP3 one which shouldn’t cost another $135, but maybe that’s just me.  I could always plug in a keyboard, but that just defeats the purpose of a tablet, doesn’t it? By the way, you’ll probably have to pre-order.

What, then are tablets good for?  Because tablets are lighter, more mobile and have excellent battery life, placing them between a heavier full-size notebook and a smart phone with an unbearably small screen (although phablets like the HTC 1 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are crossing the line and have a larger cell phone screen), they are well suited to those tasks we do obsessively every day — such as reading e-mail, searching the web, checking Facebook, watching YouTube videos, Netflix movies, and recorded television shows.  But they’re much better for consuming content than for creating it.  Even with the (somewhat lower quality) keyboards, they’re just not suited to productivity software like writing, spreadsheets and databases. So it’s a mistake to think that tablets can do everything, i.e. replace PCs or act as full laptops.  At the moment, at least, tablets can replace PCs, but usually only for select tasks, and are not suited for replacing an entire PC environment, either for employees in an enterprise or for complete home use.

































So, what is a tablet?  Tablets fall into four general categories which, depending on features (some are simple e-book readers, some are Internet devices, some have as many features as a laptop), can become slightly blurred:

1.  THE Apple iPad:  The gold standard against which all other tablets are measured, and will probably always fall short.  It has a large 9.7 in. screen, great resolution, lots of memory, hundreds of thousands of apps, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, internal keyboard, virtually anything you could want (except Flash).  You can read books and magazines, watch movies, browse the net, check stock quotes, get your e-mail, Skype, do it all.  But it’s expensive ($499 to $829, depending on the model).  In October, 2012 Apple introduced the iPad Mini, a smaller, slightly less expensive but more portable version of the iPad.

2. The Kindle:  Smaller, lighter, with a built-in physical keyboard and a black-and-white or color screen in several sizes depending on the model, at one-third the price of an iPad, this device is a less expensive alternative to the iPad.  The simple model is basically an e-book reader, priced starting at $79 for an advertising-based model with its 6 inch grayscale screen, to the Touch, with less or no buttons and a touch screen interface (one with free 3G communications), up to the Fire HD and HDX, which has Kindle’s only color screen at 9.7 inches for $379 and is more like an iPad. While the Kindle Fire has access to Amazon’s huge library of books, and an expanding library of games, it has a lot fewer apps than Apple in other areas.  But it still has all of the basic apps for Facebook and Twitter, as well as Netflix, Hulu and Pandora, as well as many other video and audio activities.  It’s said that it’s actually better for reading e-books without eyestrain (the shiny iPad screen can be reflective out of doors) but it isn’t as good as the larger screen on the iPad for some typing apps. On 9/7/12, Amazon expanded it’s Kindle line with two dedicated readers (including the Paperwhite, below) and three Fire tablets, ranging in price from $69 to $499, with a variety of formats and speeds. The Paperwhite has a 6 inch screen and a built-in backlight, much like the Nook (below) and the Kobo Glo. Amazon also offers a subscription package to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so users can borrow up to one book per month from a selection of titles.  On September 17, Kindle introduced its most advanced e-reader, the Kindle Voyage ($199) along with a new $79 touch screen model.  The Voyager is thinner, the battery lasts longer, and the screen is clearer, adjusting to lighting conditions.   On 7/18/13, Amazon introduced KindleUnlimited, its $9.99/mo unlimited reading subscription to some 600,000 books and 200,000 audiobooks in its library.

3.  The Nook:  The offering from Barnes & Noble is an e-reader famous for its simplicity, at least for book reading.  Models range from the basic $99 e-reader with a six-inch, grayscale touch-screen to the $249 tablet that comes with a seven-inch, color touch-screen.  A lot of people like the way that the hardware is laid out.  It also has a microSD card slot (for photos from cameras, for example) which the Kindle doesn’t have.  And in May, 2012, it introduced a Simple Touch with Glow Light, an e-reader that uses e-ink but is also backlit for indoor and night time reading ($139).  But for web browsing, it’s not as easy as the Kindle or iPad. 

The Nook's forte is as an e-reader. After playing with the color version for a while, I liked it better than the Kindle Fire when reading digital books and magazines: the scrolling works more naturally and more quickly, and in bright light the screen is a bit easier to read. I also preferred Nook's microphone, home key, and hardware volume control. The Nook also has a microSD card slot, a feature missing on the Kindle Fire.

Unfortunately, as Nook sales tumbled 34% in early 2013, Barnes & Noble may be rethinking its tablet strategy, as the Nook was too expensive to manufacture, hence the rumor that Microsoft was going to increase its 17.6% stake, or at least B&N was looking for a new manufacturer for the tablets.  Either way B&N says it will still continue its digital library business.  Problem is, B&N has has decided to stop making the color Nook tablets discussed above which presently cost about 25% less than the comparable Amazon Kindle produce and, more important, will run any Android app, not just select branded products, like the Kindle.  Even worse, if B&N stops manufacturing the Nook completely, because of the incompatibility of competing e-book copy protection (see discussion below), purchasers of any Nook e-books could be left in the cold, with completely unreadable books.  Sure, there will be some workarounds, like converters or web apps, but they’ll just be a patch.  UPDATE:  As of 2014, Samsung makes the Nook, and it’s now a full tablet computer as well as a reader.

4. Android:  Because there isn’t one single Android standard, it’s difficult to pin down this category as easily as the ones above (even the Nook and Kindle run, to some extent, on the Android operating system, for example).  However, Android tablets (as opposed to Apple or Windows based tablets) have been on the market and available (think the Samsung Galaxy, Asus Eee Pad, Toshiba Thrive, Acer Iconia, or the Google Pixel C (the first pad made from scratch by Google) etc.), there will shortly be pads introduced based on the newest Android operating systems like Ice Cream Sandwich (“ICS” or v. 4.0) or Marshmallow (5.0) so you might want to wait for that, as it’ll have more features and probably run faster.  Because Android has been around for a while, and is gaining rapidly in the smart phone market over Apple, you might want to have a device that runs on the same platform as your phone.  The  Android devices probably provide a better experience for those desiring a browser over an e-book reader.  There’s also the phablet, which is both a smart phone and a tablet, using the Android platform.

5. Proprietary tablets: Yes, there are quite a few.  For example, the U.S. Navy has the NeRD (“Navy e-Reader Device”) which, for cybersecurity reasons, is a secure e-reader that allows those on Navy vessels to read some pre-loaded library titles without cellular connectivity or Wi-Fi.  The NeRD was developed through a partnership with Findaway World, which provides digital devices and audiobooks to the Pentagon. 

6.  Windows 8, 8.1/10 tablets, cell phones and computers (The Surface(s)), which use the Windows Mobile O/S, were introduced in late 2012  and have had mostly positive reviews. But they are more than mere readers or even pads.  They’re trending toward laptop replacements (like the Surface 3, 4 and SurfaceBook advertise).  For more about this, see the Prediction section above.

7.  Giant Tablets:  Here’s something I didn’t see coming.  Tablets as large as 27 inches, like the Lenovo YOGA, which have become very popular not only for enterprises (meetings and collaboration) but gamers as well.

Now, let’s talk about compatibility:  When you buy an e-reader, you are essentially committing to that one company’s catalog of books forever, because each of the e-reader books are incompatible with the others.  You can’t read a Kindle book on Nook reader, or a Nook book on a Sony reader, or a Sony book on an iPhone.  Although you can read any of these books on an iPad, laptop, iPhone or Android phone with the use of a special app.  [There is also an app named Calibre, which purports to convert from one e-book format to another, but this is very limited, because it can’t convert copy-protected books, which virtually eliminates current best sellers.  Besides, most classic books are already available in PDF or text formats anyway.]  And see the problem which is likely to occur (discussed above) if B&N discontinues the Nook.

Moreover, it doesn’t happen frequently, but your e-book can actually be secretly erased not just from the e-book store shelves, but directly from your electronic reader as well.  This happened in 1989 when Amazon secretly removed the electronic copies of George Orwell’s “1984” (ironically a book about government control of digital records and altering history) and “Animal Farm” when it discovered that its publisher (MobileReference) didn’t own the copyrights to those books.  Also in 2013 when Amazon removed abuse-themed e-books from its Kindle Store after a report highlighted titles depicting rape, incest and bestiality. And a couple of years before that when Amazon also deleted some Ayn Rand novels and Harry Potter books.  No refunds were ever made, even though they were paid for by customers.

This isn’t like buying a car.  When you buy a Ford, you’re not committing to only purchasing Citgo gas.  You can purchase gas from anyone.  Not so with e-readers.  You’re married to that brand and it’s catalog of books.  If you want to change brands, you’ll probably have to give up all the e-books you’ve ever purchased from a competing reader. Amazon supports the .mobi format which can be read on a Kindle or with Kindle software (available for most major platforms, including Windows, Mac and Android)  But no other programs will read it.  .epub is excellent for people who want to have the ability to change the font size, as it automatically reflows the text on the page, eliminating scrolling back and forth.  But it’s not always supported with iOS.  .pdf is a universally supported format, but it has limitations and isn’t available for many books.  Many technical and textbook publishers will let you choose your format, but these are niche publishers, not best sellers.  And in the U.S., every book published before 1923 is now in the public domain, meaning that anyone can scan it and make it available in plain text or otherwise, although the quality may be dubious.

Theoretically, you could copy a library of your books between competing libraries, but it’s a lot of work locating and copying the “acsm” files controlling licensing, and it only works with e-Pub books.  Of course, there is quite a bit of duplication in book catalogs, particularly if you’re reading the best sellers.  So choose carefully from the start, if you know the type of books you are looking for and the type of hardware features you desire.

These days, you can also borrow an e-book from your public library, just like you could a paper book.

I hope that this discussion helps...Keep in mind that, by the time you read this, there will be even more models of these products.  iPad 3 is supposed to come out in late 2012, and Nook and Kindle morph almost daily into the son of Kindle, Bride of Kindle, AdverKindle and the like.  Moreover, you’ll find that not all stores sell all versions of each product.  For example, Best Buy no longer carries the basic physical keyboard Kindle, mostly the later touch versions and not the glow-light Nook tablet.

THE FUTURE?  In 2013, some have predicted that as tablets have become more prevalent, they may replace e-readers entirely.  While revenues for e-readers like the Nook declined 26% from the same period a year earlier, tablet sales have doubled.  Moreover, newer tablet devices such as the iPad Mini, the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab have exploded into the tablet market, providing devices which do a lot more, but also include, e-readers.  Even as the price point of dedicated e-readers declines, users may still opt for tablets that provide the additional web browsing, e-mail, apps and games for a reasonable cost.  Stay tuned for more....







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