A recent press interview with AT&T's emerging devices president Glen Lurie suggests that the tablet form factor could herald a major change in the consumer electronics market and consign the laptop to history. Is this wishful thinking- on the grounds that AT&T is more likely to achieve data plan sales from tablets than laptops- or a genuine possible future for the device hardware industry?
The answer, of course is that it is too early to tell, but here's a thought. Tablets are excellent for consuming media of different types- whether photos, web content, eBooks or video content- but, based on the limited number of product launches to data, they do have their limitations (dare I say it). They are less able to deal with a situation where a user wants to create or adapt content. However good a touchscreen keyboard might be, it will struggle to compete with a physical keyboard (though you can add one to a tablet) and despite clever pinching motions to navigate within app, you can't beat a mouse for scurrying around a screen (though this appears to be coming to). The point is, tablets are designed for a quite different purpose to the laptop. The laptop is much more of a workhorse than a tablet, which is more about fun and media consumption.
So how might the industry develop once tablets have achieved a respectable niche in the market? Could a not too distant future see a device which combines a Windows type operating system with an Android-type app based OS, both on the same device, offering the best of both worlds.
Of course keeping the manufacturing cost down for such as device will tricky, but then one can assume there would be a substantial premium for such a high-end tablet computer. Also, integrating two operating systems could be hard, and then there is the question whether such a device would have a genuine USP, but it does represent one possible future. In the mean time, it makes sense for operators to big-up the tablet market- they are largely about data consumption of one sort or another than the workhorse laptop is, and they therefore represent more of an avenue for extra revenues for the operator than the laptop.