Whether or not the mythical Apple “iPad” will ever grace our presence, the idea of tablet device seems to be cresting the point of critical mass. While many have tried and failed in this area, the environment for tablets is dramatically different than only a year or two ago. Here’s why…
1) Connectivity – One of the key issues with a tablet device is being connected to the internet. It makes way more sense to have a full screen device when you can connect anywhere. Wifi is now nearly everywhere and 3G/EVDO is everywhere else. 4G, just around the corner, promises to deliver 60 megabits/second… this is faster than most of our home, or office, connections.
2) Netbook success – After years of ever-growing laptop sizes, the trend towards “less is more” has definitely taken over. Netbooks are more than computing, they are high-portable computing. Their only real impediment is making room for the keyboard.
3) The Cloud – As we move more and more to the cloud (Google docs, Zoho, Salesforce.com, etc)… We become less and less connected to a single computer for everything we do. We don’t need to have our music, our calendar, or our documents local to the CPU. While this may not work for graphics professionals… it’s a contributing factor to popular demand for a tablet.
4) The iPhone – More than anything else, the iPhone is the bellwether of the rising storm of tablets. As the applications available approach 100,000, the way people use their iPhone has changed dramatically. It has gone from a phone with some applications to a portable internet device that happens to answer calls.
5) Web Video – With everything from Netflix to Hulu to iTunes to You Tube serving up high-quality web video, a portable way to watch this becomes more and more appealing. While the iPhone has proven to be a force in this area, it’s viewing range is painfully limited (hardly “arms reach”). The video available is also ready for a bigger screen. This is why, of course, this article is in PVC and not Engadget…
Not only does video help usher a device of this sort, it massively benefits from tablet proliferation. Never in any of our careers, will we see such a spike in demand for our work. Devices like this, always connected, easier propped up, and easy to watch… make video something we simply expect. From news to entertainment to how-to use our camera or build our assembly-required furniture… the device makes all of this easy. As it makes it easy and more companies take advantage of it, the digital arms race begins. 10 years ago, if you didn’t have a website, you began to be seen as backward. Video becomes the next wave… the next necessity for corporate marketing, e-learning, and entertainment.
Tablets, more than iPhones or laptops, are the perfect device for high schools – revolutionizing note taking, test taking, and class participation. Link these tablets to smart boards in the front of the room and you truly have a 21st century classroom.
Tablets are the end of paper in the hospital. “Old fashion” doctors can write on them, doctors on the edge can get real-time patient data (EKG’s etc) anywhere in the world.
Tablets become an interface to appliances. Most of our high-tech appliances (let’s include cars for this example) have processors more powerful than our home computers a decade ago (the iPhone is twice as fast as the computer I used to render shots for “Star Wars” Episode 1). Unfortunately, building interfaces to access this power is tricky and often undeveloped. What if, instead of building and interface, a manufacturer just built an API and SDK? You could see more of what the machines are doing and have the ultimate customization. You could adjust your car’s air-fuel mix and error codes or the best custom times for your favorite microwave concoction.
Sure, the iPhone may be able to do many of these things but it’s too small to truly become this “global world interface”. Watching movies and writing notes, while possible, are not really practical. A slightly larger screen changes the range dramatically. And it wouldn’t just be Apple… The Archos 5 and Archos 7 are already part of the this new breed of device. Though, without something like the AppStore with a truly deep selection of applications… they will never have the impact that an Apple device promises.
So, if we agree that we will see more and more of these devices, what should we hope to see as a form factor? There is a limit to the size that makes sense. A 15″ laptop is cool but a 15″ tablet is not very portable in a real sense. 7-8″ screens seem more likely. These are large enough to “set-up” on a table but still small enough for a cargo pants pocket or larger coat pocket. I think 960×540 is probably the target resolution for a tablet but most of us wouldn’t be able to discern this from 800×450. This is just the display resolution. I think a tablet must be able to play 720p to an external source to be complete.
Connectivity will, of course, be paramount. Hardwire, Wifi, and Bluetooth are minimum… 3G or 4G would be optional… and really make it an anywhere device. No, you probably aren’t going to put it up to your ear but most of us have headsets… Hardwire allows the device to become part of other devices and easily sync with peripherals ala iPhone, Wifi brings the ability to really watch video in many, if not most, places possible. Bluetooth allows for headsets, keyboards and mice. By the way, it’s not that the keyboard or mouse is not necessary… just not all the time. Many of us are carrying around twice the computer we need for less than half the time we spend on it.
With the environment finally mature for a device for this and what seems like a push to create these devices coming. Video Producers need to really begin thinking about what they will be producing on these devices. As with every new “game changer”… there is an incredible opportunity for moving early. Many of us missed the original YouTube and Podcasting opportunities… among others. Keep your eye on this one… I will suggest you don’t want to let this one get too far ahead of you.