Tablet PCs: a Small Step or a Giant Leap?

Tablets May Eat Netbooks’ Market Share… Or May Not

by Anton Shilov
01/26/2010 | 06:21 PM

A lot of personal computers and consumer electronics makers have introduced or showcased their first tablet systems recently in an attempt to address growing demand towards multimedia on the go and electronic books. A lot of people are enthusiastic about such mobile Internet devices (MID) and therefore tablets will grab some market share from netbooks, however, the question is whether tablets can really transform themselves into very popular products.

PC Makers Show Off Tablets


At consumer electronics show there were at least 30 tablet PCs showcased by different manufacturers, which is a clear evidence that makers have been working on those sleek devices with touch-sensitive screens, no keyboards and hardly any expansion ports for some time now. This is explainable because the demand towards various classes of MIDs has been growing rather rapidly in the recent years and this year a lot of different types of mobile Internet- and media-centric devices will emerge on the market. In fact, chief exec of Nvidia Corp. even said that the year 2010 will be the year of tablets since the company has formally announced its next-generation Tegra system-on-chip designed specifically for tablets. 

Hewlett-Packard Slate, Windows 7-based tablet

“2010 is the year of the tablet, this is a category that’s got our [Tegra] name on it. We have been weaned on the iPhone with this idea of touch and tablets, all of these kinds of behaviours have been taught to us now and consumers are comfortable with them,” said Jen-Hsun Huang.

Hewlett-Packard Slate, Windows 7-based tablet

Tablets may be incoming in a good time. The global economic turmoil seems to be getting a little easier and consumers may start spending again, paying attention to new kinds of devices and services.

Roadblocks Ahead

However, even though tablets will capture some market share from netbooks and will allow manufacturers to hike up average selling prices of MIDs, they may face the same problems the netbooks did: disappointed customers whose expectations failed to materialize, lack of services that take advantage of all potential capabilities, poor performance and so on.

“I looked at probably 30 tablets at CES and [their makers] were talking about the hardware – the screen size, the storage, the weight, the operating system – but when I asked them about how people were going to use it, they really hadn’t thought about that,” said Geoff Walker, marketing manager at touch-screen supplier NextWindow.

Jonney Shih, chairman of Asustek Computer, the company that released its netbooks first, believes that it would be premature to launch a tablet today and predicts the devices will not be successful until there are easily accessible online stores of electronic books, music, videos, games and other content tailored to the form-factor.

"Content is still not attractive enough today to the customer. We have those kind of devices in our labs, but we are watching to see when this is enabled,” said Mr. Shih in a recent interview. 

Pros and Cons

Tablets that will emerge this year will compete against netbooks, smartbooks, smartphones and, to some extent media players or e-book readers, as a result, it is logical that many PC makers expect them to be used for services that are already utilized on the aforementioned types of products.

Tablets do have a number of advantages compared to the aforementioned devices:

But tablets have a number of drawbacks that will greatly reduce their competitiveness on the market:

But the main disadvantage for tablets is that everything is tailored for keyboards and mice. It will be nearly impossible to use certain programs or services on tablets. Even PC manufacturers claim that services for tablets should be released prior to devices themselves. In fact, today's slate PCs may be considered as oversized personal digital assistants that lost the battle to smartphones several years ago.

It is rather obvious that for some people the balance between pros and cons of tablets will be just what the doctor ordered. However, at this point it does not seem that tablet PCs will become massively popular among general users, at least, not this year.