Will the general public become tablet owners?

Way back in January 2010, I wrote a blog post entitled “The general public doesn’t need an iPad“. I felt that the iPad would struggle to achieve mainstream success as it was a disruptive technology that people had little reference to – it was competing with something that didn’t exist rather than something inferior. Furthermore, I argued that none of its features were truly unique, and that the functionality could be enjoyed using other devices.

Since then?

“U.S. tablet usage hits ‘critical mass,’ ComScore reports”

“iPods changed the media industry, iPhones ramped even faster; iPad growth leaves siblings in the dark” – Mary Meeker.

Tablets have been more successful than I envisaged.

However, we’re not quite in “mea culpa” territory yet. Comscore’s stat is among smartphone owners, not adults, while the iPad has benefited from iPod and iPhone’s introduction and success – from production and distribution mechanisms to consumer desire of the Apple brand. Also, just because last year saw x% growth doesn’t mean this year will see x% growth. And finally, semantically, people still don’t need an iPad. People just want one.

Tablets aren’t mainstream. Yet. Could they be?

Potentially, the main barrier to tablets becoming mainstream is category distinction. There is a dotted line going from the iPhone’s 3.5 inch screen to the Galaxy Note’s 5.3 inches to the Kindle Fire’s 7 inches to the iPad’s 9.8 inches to the Galaxy tab’s 10.1 inches. With the Asus Transformer Prime paving the way for touch-screen laptops, tablets could get squeezed between smartphones and next generation computers into oblivion. The battle could be less about size, and more about open vs closed ecosystems.

But if the tablet market stabilises at one or two form factors – say 7 and 10 inches – could it achieve mainstream success? Possibly, though I think game console ownership could be a useful comparison point in that tablet computers are desirable but not essential.

Their desirability stems from their usage occasions, which is the key component I overlooked in my 2010 post. Tablet use does not compete directly with phones (out and about) or computers (largely fixed location at home/office) – instead they are used primarily in the living room, bedroom and on holiday (Source). Why is that?

  • Living rooms are a social space. The tablet is the most social device – it is tactile and better than either a mobile or laptop for showing and sharing
  • Living rooms are dominated by the television. The tablet is the best device to switch out of standby and begin browsing or chatting – whether as a companion experience or independent to the viewing
  • Living rooms are a place of relaxation. Casual gaming is now huge. Angry Birds on a tablet is a far better user experience than on a phone (particularly for the less¬†dexterous), and casual games aren’t as visible on laptops
  • Bedrooms are for preparing for sleep as well as sleeping. E-readers and tablets are fundamentally changing the book-reading industry (and potentially the newspaper and magazine industry, though I think this will be more difficult given that a book is a coherent narrative, and newspapers and magazines are great at editing disparate content)
  • Holidays and travel in general require equipment that can do as much as possible in as little space as possible. A tablet is ideal.

All of these functions can be performed by phones, laptops or traditional media but the tablet hits the sweet spot. Hence penetration grows, and with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, Nexus 7, Surface etc it will continue to do so for a while yet. Though I’m still not certain tablets will become mass, they can certainly become mainstream.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pswansen/5680074913

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Future Technologies with Sir Tim Berners Lee, Stephen Fry and more

The Royal Society are currently celebrating their 350th anniversary with a series of events under the See Further banner.

Last night, I attended a panel session entitled Future Technologies featuring

So, a very esteemed panel and a very educational session.

This was also the first session I’ve attended with a (moderated) Twitterfall running on a screen in the background. While this meant there was no danahboyd style sniping , it didn’t provide much value and was primarily an annoying distraction

While the panel were prompted with a series of questions, the speakers invariably went off on tangents. At times, this made it difficult to keep up with the gist of the arguments (if indeed there were points being made) but I did jot down plenty of interesting things. Perhaps inevitably, Stephen Fry and Tim Berners-Lee did most of the talking, but I’ve jotted down at least one thing from each of the speakers (Wendy Hall and Bill Thompson chaired parts of it, hence the relative lack of quotes from them).

Note that I am paraphrasing, and they aren’t verbatim quotes.

I also apologise for my interchanging of the terms web and internet. I know they are different, but I’m never entirely certain which is correct in which circumstance.

Future technologies

Stephen Fry – We are often made a fool of by the future. But it is not the science that surprises us but the humanity – how we humans respond to the science.

Jim Haseloff – Biological systems are increasingly being seen as information processing systems, with recognition of the discrete parts

Tim Berners Lee – there is so much data that we are now moving from one person retaining all of the information to it being shared among a group. We therefore need democratising technology to help us work together collectively. This in turn could help democracy work better

Technology and tipping points

Stephen Fry – Twitter is banal and foolish… Naturally, I gravitated towards it

Stephen Fry – The press feel threatened by Twitter as celebrities can now go and do their own press. Why should Ashton Kutcher or Demi Moore use a press agent when they can talk directly to four million people? (Incidentally, he views this lift incident as a tipping point for Twitter)

Stephen Fry – The most important debate at the moment is the tension between openness and privacy

Bill Thompson – In the early 1980s IBM computers were priced at such a point that middle managers were able to buy then without seeking corporate approval. They were able to undermine the mainframe and information services department, providing them with new tools and a choice

The internet for everyone

Stephen Fry – we are facing a same problem with a digital underclass as we did with a literary underclass one hundred years ago

Tim Berners-Lee – The internet isn’t more important than vaccinations in Africa, but they can work together in interesting ways

Tim Berners-Lee – It is more important for the internet to be ubiquitous than it is to be fast

Bill Thompson – we need to prepare ourselves for the ways in which the 80% of those not currently online will try to use the internet

Tim Berners-Lee – Once a computer is connected to the web, it is as important as any other computer in the network, whether it is at MIT or somewhere in Africa

Evolution of technology

Stephen Fry – We can’t deduce from an invention how people will use it. From a person experimenting with pistons we get a car, huge highways, London’s one way transport system and Top Gear

Jim Haseloff – We have an emotional attachment to “natural crops” but these have still evolved due to our behaviour and involvement. Our crops are just domesticated weeds.

Tim Berners-Lee – The internet removes our geographic constraints. Does this mean we can meet a greater variety of people, to open up society, and produce greater peace and harmony

Society and culture

Tim Berners-Lee – Freedom and freedom of speech online raises questions about society, not technology

Stephen Fry – We are walking masses of metadata. We plug ourselves in and react. Software then deduces our intentions without the need of us to state them

Jim Haseloff – The internet will encourage diversity, not monoculture. However, it can introduce more volatility since consensus, and thus change, is reached quicker

Stephen Fry – (Rubbishing Nicholas Carr’s thesis on changing neuropathy in The Shallows) This current generation is more literate and more confident in what it wants to say than that of one hundred years ago. Who cares if they don’t always put the apostrophes in the right places. Language pedants are only trying to prove that they have received a good education.

Stephen Fry – The first thing I thought when I opened up my iPhone 4 (and saw the front facing camera) was that this will be great for prostitutes

Stephen Fry – We talk about systems but we are in them. We talk about humanity but we are human. We can’t perfectly design a system and the web will be like us – disgusting but lovable.

The future

Wendy Hall – I’d like a teletransporter, but I’d be worried about 404 errors

Tim Berners-Lee – The most important thing for the future of the web is something I can’t imagine. It is open and for everyone; it wasn’t designed by me for me.

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgjones/3265964293/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/hyoga/881424158/

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