You probably saw that Gartner report earlier this week about the sluggishness of PC shipments last quarter. Shipments were so sluggish, according to Gartner, that they shrank by almost 5% compared to the same quarter in 2011. I'm sure there were many factors at play, but Gartner pins the blame on one in particular: users relinquishing PCs for daily use.
Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC. There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm. Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet.
I'm a PC enthusiast, and chances are you, the reader, are as well. We might therefore find it hard to imagine folks ditching their computers for comparatively limited tablets. I mean, you can't do much on a tablet, can you? Most of them lack Flash support, make multitasking awkward at best, and don't play terribly well with keyboards. I use mine for e-book reading and some light gaming, but I would never dream of taking it to a trade show instead of a laptop. No way.
Yet Gartner's suspicion is truer than you might think—and as it happens, I have some very convincing anecdotal evidence to support it.
I bought my girlfriend an iPad 4 for Christmas. Well, technically, we went to the Apple Store and picked it out together. Aline chose the base Wi-Fi model (in white) and a matching SmartCover (in pink) for a total of $538 U.S. before tax. She unwrapped everything a couple of days early (because waiting sucks), played with it some, and then promptly stashed away her notebook PC—a relatively speedy 13" machine with a Trinity APU and Windows 8.
The laptop has been sitting under her desk ever since. She hasn't switched it on in almost a month. Not once.
And really, the substitution makes perfect sense, if you think about it from her perspective. The iPad has a great many advantages over a cheap consumer laptop:
For the price of the iPad and SmartCover, Aline could have snagged an Asus VivoBook X202E, which is selling for $549.99 at Newegg right now. I had a chance to play with that pseudo-ultrabook before Geoff got to work on his review, though, and I wasn't impressed. The thing is abysmally slow, has a really ugly screen, and seems to run its fan continuously, even at idle. Geoff measured the battery life at four hours, which sort of sucks. Overall, I found it unpleasant and frustrating to use.
Sure, the X202E runs things the iPad cannot—things like Word, Excel, Photoshop, and a full-featured operating system with proper file management. If you need to do real work, then there's no substitute for a real laptop (although you'd be surprised how much an iPad can do with a Bluetooth keyboard and Apple's iLife apps). The thing is, however, most consumers already have an old PC they can use to write resumes or telecommute. Why should they buy a new laptop when a tablet can serve their other needs so much better?
I can't think of a good argument.
When the iPad came out in early 2010, I thought of it as a nifty companion device for folks who already owned smartphones and laptops. Tablets seemed, in short, like gadgets for the technologically privileged—cool but unnecessary. Yet in three short years, these new devices have become something else altogether. In a very real sense, they've become highly compelling replacements for consumer laptops in non-productivity usage scenarios. That's exciting... and, frankly, a little scary.
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