tabletLast year I read an article which provoked such a strong reaction that I clipped it to Evernote and set a reminder to revisit it a year later.

A year later, my reaction hasn’t changed. The article was entitled, “Our Love Affair With the Tablet is Over,” and I still disagree with much of what the author wrote.

Yes, tablet shipments are down. We’ve covered that trend on TeleRead, but does it mean we don’t love our tablets? Maybe not. I think declining shipments say less about how much we love them and more about how we don’t upgrade them as often as our phones. That makes sense to me. I use my phone heavily enough that I need to charge it every night. I don’t charge my iPad that often. Part of that is that the battery life on the iPad is really good. The other is that there are days when I have time to use my tablet heavily, and days when I don’t.

So let’s talk tablet vs. phone usage. At the end of the article I referenced, the author said:

Cue the sad music for the tablet we all loved, and that many still do. Except now as I glance over at my original iPad, iPad mini, Kindle Fire and Motorola Xoom, acting like paperweights, I realize I don’t miss them — especially when I am curled up with my five-inch phone fitting comfortably in one hand.

I have a five-inch phone. It’s better for web browsing and email than was my old iPhone 4S, but I still turn to my iPad for heavy web browsing. I also use my iPad for video. Sure, I can (and have) watched video on my phone, but I do prefer the larger screen. I don’t read books on my phone. Again, I can, but I do find the screen to be a bit too small to hold in two hands and too large to comfortably hold in one. (I do have small hands.) My iPad and Kindle are more comfortable to curl up with.

Then there is work. Yes, I could write on my phone, but the iPad screen is more comfortable. I prefer to take notes on the larger screen. Often, I need access to a PDF in a meeting, and my iPad is far preferable to my phone.

Are tablets sufficient as “the only device you’ll ever need?” No. They work best as a supporting device. They are too big to be the only device to carry, and laptops and desktop computers still have their place. Even phablets aren’t quite it. While big enough for many uses, when it comes to work-related activities, I think they are still too small.

Not everyone agrees with me, which is okay. The iPhone 6 Plus obviously met a need. I’m surprised at how many of them I see in my travels. However, when it comes to seeing people at work in a coffee shop, I rarely see people working on their phones. I see lots of people working on their tablets.

I could be wrong. I didn’t think smartphones would take off. I assumed more people would want to use a device, like a Palm Pilot, that wasn’t always connected. I called that one way wrong. However, I think tablets have proved their worth, and we’ll continue to see some sort of tablet device in the future. I can’t believe everyone wants to do everything on a phone-sized device. Well, at least not until the phones have heads-up displays or projection capability. That might spell the end of the tablet. Or maybe not.


  1. Birds of a feather and all that….

    You’re right, my iPad 3 delights me, so much so that every time I ask if I should replace my seven-year-old MacBook, the answer comes back a decided no. That decision is made still easier by the fact that Apple has so stripped down the MBA and made it hard to upgrade, that it’s not that removed from a tablet in capabilities.

    I do my computer heavy lifting with a Mac mini and two large displays. I’ve been using that MacBook only for at-the-library drafts of books. When Scrivener for iOS comes out, probably in a couple of months, even that use will go away. I’m already preparing with a small pack that’s perfect for my iPad and a full-sized keyboard and far lighter.

    My plans are to draft ideas for books with Scrivener on my favoritest-device-ever, an iPhone 5. That’s always with me. When a structure starts to take shape, I’ll then begin to flesh it out on the iPad. With Dropbox synching, the files remain synched everywhere and even backed up when my Mac mini backs up. Eventually, when the content is settled down, that book will go into InDesign for formatting, layout and publishing. In that work flow, a laptop isn’t needed.

    With work-for-others that means I always need a work machine, in the past I often thought I needed a laptop new enough and powerful enough to substitute in a pinch for my desktop. I no longer see that is necessary. First, it’d mean I have to buy a heavier than I want MacBook Pro. The MBA can’t substitute for a desktop. Second, I’ve concluded that, should my Mac mini die in a puddle of melted aluminum, I’d simply overnight a replacement. That’s cheaper in the long run than having the depreciation of two computers.

    I read a lot on my full-sized iPad, including proofing books. That means that even an iPhone 6 Plus isn’t an adequate-sized replacement. And staying away from the cell-contract-with-evil-cellular-companies trap means I can buy a used iPhone and pay a reseller for air time. That iPhone 5 is factory unlocked, world-ready, and cost me only $210. My cellular reseller is half what I’d pay with one of the major cellular companies. It’s fine for taking down ideas on the go.

    And the key reason why many aren’t buying tablets is as some are saying. The one they have is good enough. It’s certainly not that tablets have bombed as a technology. I’m regularly amazed at the clever iOS apps coming out, apps that do things OS X apps don’t or can’t do and cost almost nothing.


  2. Over the last five years I have bought eight Android tablets and three e-readers. Three have broken, and three have been retired because they couldn’t compete against newer, better models that were available at the right price. Of the current crop of tables, two are pick-up-and-take anywhere 7″ devices, and one is a large-screen model. I don’t plan to buy another in the near future, because these take care of my current needs; but I keep an eye on eBay, and when a new model offers some high-powered capability at a reasonable price, I may let myself be tempted. For the record, I wouldn’t buy a new tablet without 3G and GPS. Battery life is also a major factor.

    But of course the market has flattened. That’s what new electronics markets do. It happened with MP3 players, it happened with mobile phones, and it happened with personal computers — though over a longer period of time because the pace of development was slower. It is happening with laptops. You can’t make a product consistently better, faster, and longer-lasting, and still expect people to turn it over as rapidly as its slower, shorter-lived, less reliable predecessor.

  3. I doubt if tablets will disappear. I didn’t think they would take off originally because they are primarily geared to playback, not content creation. However, the middle ground — 7″ or 10″ — that they occupy between a smartphone and a laptop make them powerful “good enough” devices to earn them a permanent place.

    I am not convinced that any smartphone over 5″ is a good idea because beyond that it loses portability: it doesn’t fit in a pocket so easily. So that tablet sweet spot of 7+” remains a motivating factor to acquire one (and who wants to take a picture with a 10″ camera?).

    For reading, 5″ is still far too small for me — but the tablet reigns supreme. It’s also great for personal video viewing at home in bed or on the road.

    I think one of the key impediments for tablets is cost. They don’t actually cost any more than a cellphone (and many are less) … except that many cell-phones can be purchased for close to $0 on a two year contract making it easy to renew. Tablets — not so much — given they are usually bought outright at “full” price.

  4. I’m nearsighted so do well with my 5g iPod touch both with text and video. For me, its not the size of the screen but how much of my field of view is taken by the screen. Thus, a 50″ TV and my little iPod touch are equal to my eyes.
    Computer I/O really needs to move beyond keyboards and screens but acceptance by habituated humans might be a barrier or at least a speed bump.

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