Feb 2, 2011

Tablets and Tech Convergence

Two years ago, a tablet computer was basically a laptop with optical character recognition (OCR). Since Apple launched the iPad in the Spring of 2010, “tablet” has taken on an entirely new association and created a new market. Some have gone as far to say that the iPad is a “breakthrough” device when it is really a product of technological convergence.
Technological convergence is the idea that niche devices will ultimately be incorporated into an all-in-one media solution. Before the release of tablets like the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook were the dominant forms of personal media devices outside MP3 players and smart phones. Now, e-readers are taking a substantial hit from tablet growth and failing to meet projected sales numbers. While the e-reader is unlikely to be phased out completely, tablets have hindered their expansion by offering people a merger of an e-reader and a smartphone (minus the phone for now) in a package that amounts to a portable LCD screen. At this year’s CES there were over 100 new tablets on display, most of which were hidden behind walls of glass beyond the reach of salivating consumers. Complaints about the iPad go so far as to say it isn’t convergent enough with a lack of voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) capability or a camera, but I attribute those deficiencies to Apple’s marketing department. The iPad 2 is slated for release in 2011 and all reports indicate it will be the iPad plus a camera.

The Apple 'iPad,' a new tablet computing device, is shown in this publicity photo from Apple released to Reuters on Wednesday.
The "revolutionary" iPad from Apple

While I do think that tablets have the ability to change the way we use technology, I also think their potential for backsliding is greater than any other portable media device available today. What happens when someone releases a tablet with a slide-out keyboard? Do we call it a giant smart phone or a netbook? Will netbooks even exist in 5 years as Moore’s law continues to improve computing power in smaller packages?
In the perpetual quest for a technological singularity, tablets will likely get closer than any consumer product in recent years. I have seen them dim lights, change channels, and control entire planetariums, but don’t toss out your remote just yet. The days of being able to dock your tablet in a desktop cradle for home use and carry it on the road during your daily commute are far away if they ever come. The rise of cloud computing makes this scenario somewhat practical yet still pretty unlikely.
I have no doubt that as tablets continue to evolve the lines between consumer products will become increasingly b lured. One day, people will look back and wonder why they paid money for superfluous gadgets when their tablet does it all; maybe there’s an app for that…


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