When the iPad was revealed back in 2010 many derided it for being just a 'bigger version of the iPhone.' I must confess I was among those who were initially sceptical that Apple's device would have real mass appeal. But now, three years later, and with a tablet market showing no signs of slowing down, us naysayers have been proven wrong. Tablets are most definitely here to stay. In fact, I'm prepared to go one step further and say it won't be long before tablets become the dominant form factor for personal computing devices, replacing laptops and PCs.
When I bought my iPad back in 2011 I had no idea that I would use it primarily as a productivity device. I imagined cramming in a few more minutes of web-browsing while lying in bed, playing games on the train, or watching a bit of YouTube on the couch. But I've grown so accustomed to the iPad's touch screen keypad that I frequently write entire articles within apps such as iAWriter. I've stopped using desktop audio programs like Audacity and instead record and produce music with Garage Band. For PDFs, flyers and other rich documents I use Pages, along with surprisingly powerful art apps like Procreate. I hardly ever run Final Draft on my desktop to write my (admittedly terrible) screenplays, and instead use the brilliant ScriptsPro.
Sure, all of these activities can be performed on a laptop and there are definitely times when I need to use the functionality of a more robust word processor or audio editor. But most of the time my iPad apps get the job done. The best thing is, the apps I use are much cheaper than their desktop equivalents. A script writing program like Final Draft costs over £150, while most script-writing apps on the App Store can be bought for under a tenner. Similarly, you have to pay around £100 for an art program like Corel Painter, while Procreate is under £5. Then there's extra portability a tablet brings into the equation.
A tablet future
Despite all the above, tablets are still not where they need to be in order to replace laptops (multitasking, for instance, remains pretty terrrible). Nevertheless, a split seems to be forming in the market along the lines of media consumption and productivity. On one side you've got 7 inch tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, which are firmly positioned as entertainment consumption devices, while on the other side 10 inch tablets, like the iPad and Surface, are becoming skewed more toward productivity users.
Hybrid tablet/laptop devices such as the HP Envy, and the Asus Transformer have not caught on just yet, but I believe they offer the best glimpse of how tablets will evolve over the next five or so years. The key to this evolution is the development of operating systems that can bridge the gap between the traditional desktop and the touchscreen world.
Microsoft has already started down this road with Windows 8, which blends a touch-screen-optimised interface with a traditional desktop interface. Then there's Google, which is undoubtedly trying to devise ways of integrating its desktop Chrome OS with its mobile Android OS, or replacing Android altogether with a unified Chrome experience. But of course, the iPad still the front runner in the tablet market (although its share is declining), so when it comes to the evolution of such devices, all eyes will be on Apple's approach.