The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show opens on January 10, and there are rumbles that this show will feature lots of ultrathin laptops similar to the Macintosh Air. Last year was supposedly the year of the tablet, but the rollout didn’t take place until months later, leaving Apple with the market pretty much to itself. Of course that has changed, with everyone from Toshiba to Samsung offering quite powerful tablets at reasonable prices. Schools, in particular, seem eager to jump on the tablet bandwagon and, while a good case can be made for this, my guess is that much of the early enthusiasm was generated by the freshness of the product category.
And some of these tablet installations are huge! The Brazilian State of Pernambuco is placing an order for 130,000 tablets as a trial run for high school students to use! Other projects on the drawing board are larger than that. Everyone who can create code is getting up to speed on the Android OS and educational apps of all kinds are in various states of preparation – apps that go way beyond e-books or other applications reflective of the outmoded educational practices found today.
So, if the tablet is just now starting to emerge as a big seller (and it is), what is the rush to create a new class of ultrathin laptops that will cost a bundle, and do nothing you can’t do with the laptops we already have? My guess is that this move is just to embrace an idea and hope it becomes a trend.
We saw this with Netbooks – a technology I endorsed when it came out. Netbooks never achieved their potential because the price differential was not big enough to keep people from buying full-sized laptops. The death blow, though, was the tablet – a truly portable device that can be used while walking around.
And that brings me to an important point. I was an early fan of the Netbook, and it didn’t take off. I am a current fan of tablets, so what are the chances I will get this one right? I think my chances are pretty good. The relationship kids have with tablets is different from the one they have with laptops of any kind. That is true for adults as well. Yes, tablets do not currently offer the rich variety of software found on laptops, but that is starting to change.
CES may be where the dreams of Ultrabook designers get shared, but I’m sticking with tablets as a dominant platform for the foreseeable future.