“The days of the tablet are coming to an end” goes the word around tech corridors, in the face of declining sales of tablets – even the mighty iPad has not had the best of times. Many are already writing the obituary of the tablet, saying that like the netbook, it was a 4-5 year phenomenon that after making history is now becoming history.
Know what? They are wrong.
For the fact is – the tablet has not lost. It has won. If someone has lost, it is the phone.
Before you start throwing statistics of increasing phone sales from around the world, let us just consider what exactly we mean by a tablet. Initially the definition of the tablet was ‘a large touchscreen device.’ When the first iPad was released, it came with a 9.7 inch display. Although it had Internet connectivity, Apple stubbornly kept it out of the phone category by not letting people make calls off it. Android manufacturers, however, had no such qualms. The iPad’s first worthy rival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, came with calling out of the box and a SIM card slot to boot. It needs to be noted that at the time when these two worthies hit the stands, five inches was still a very large size for a phone, and HD displays were something that were restricted to televisions. In fact, Dell’s very first tablet, the Streak, had a screen size of – hold your breath – five inches! And no, no one really contested its being called a tablet – five inches and above was considered tablet territory in those days.
The purpose of a tablet was simple – to give you more display real estate to be able to watch more, especially for those who love videos, e-books and games. These were supposed to be data consumption devices (we will argue about that term in another article on another day!). These were devices that would not easily fit into trouser pockets and often needed two hands to operate.
However, the years that have followed have seen tablets get considerably more compact – even Apple came out with an iPad mini – while phones kept getting bigger. Today, we have come to the stage when the difference in size between tablets and phones is basically a matter of an inch here or an inch there – the likes of HP and Nokia have devices with six-inch displays that they call phones and Intel and Asus often refer to their FonePad (which sports a 7.0-inch display) as primarily a phone. The demand for bigger screens on handsets is going up all the while – and barring Apple, every major manufacturer has a ‘flagship’ device with a display that is five inches or more, and boasts an HD display.
These devices give you more display real estate than ever before, sport resolutions that in some cases are higher than televisions, are perfect for viewing videos and playing games, even though if they are often a bit bulky and need to be used with two hands, and struggle to fit into trouser pockets…
Sounds familiar? Those were the very parameters that were being used to define tablets not too long ago. Irrespective of what ‘experts’ with stacks of stats and definitions might say, the stark fact that today, most high-end devices have more elements of tablets than smartphones in them: the big and higher-resolution displays, the louder speakers, and of course, the little matter of bulk. Yes, the sales of tablets has gone down, but that is not because people don’t like tablets – it is because they are getting something similar in their handsets already. Would the iPad have enjoyed the same sort of success if it had been released at a time when the average handset size was in the vicinity of five to six inches with high resolution displays? I am not too sure.
So contrary to what a lot of people are saying, I think that tablets have actually won. They have won to the extent that we have started calling a number of them phones. If there has been a loser, it has been the conventional mobile handset, the one that could be used one-handed with minimum fuss and easily fit into our trouser pockets. So comprehensive is the tablet’s victory that phones with displays of 4.3-4.5 inches are being referred to as ‘mini’ variants of bigger devices.
The tablet era has not ended. The one of the conventional mobile phone has.