Why Are Tablets So Popular?

Now that the iPad 2 is out and several competitors have been announced, the tablet market is all of a sudden the new hot technology that everyone has to have. When the first iPad came out, I was part of the chorus that derided it as being just a larger iPod Touch with no real added value. I had an iPhone at the time and saw no need to rush out and get an iPad — I had the iOS ‘experience’ already and didn’t see the value aside from a larger screen. However, when the iPad 2 came out I was ready to buy the first day and have been very happy in my first week of ownership. What had changed from the iPad 1 and why had the iPad found success where countless others had tried and failed?

Tablets are not exactly a new thing, as I remember using several Windows tablets more than 5 years ago that had all the same basic concepts that modern tablets have, but they were glorified PCs with touch screens that required a stylus. They also weighed several pounds and were really meant to be used when laid on a surface instead of held in your hand constantly. The iPad created the modern tablet, cutting down the weight and using an OS that was designed to be used with a finger instead of a mouse. The first iPad quickly was seen as good for web browsing and email, which is what many of the first buyers used it for, but it was considerably more expensive than a netbook or used laptop which could easily do the same — and at the time, more. This lead many to make fun of iPad purchasers.

Then something happened. Developers started writing apps uniquely for the iPad inspired by it’s book-like qualities, touchscreen, and light weight. These ranged anywhere from games to book readers to apps that turned the iPad into a full-fledged musical instrument. The latter was much of what caught my attention. Applications like MorphWiz and miniSynth Pro, along with the new Apple GarageBand allowed users to create music with both new instruments and reproductions of existing instruments, as well as to use the iPad as a portable recording studio. In fact, the band Gorillaz recently made an entire album on the road using only an iPad for all the recording and most of the instruments.

Another use that came out was one that musicians have dreamed of for years — a digital music stand. All your music is displayed on a screen that you either touch or hit a foot switch to flip the page. There are now several apps that do this. Before the iPad, there were only a couple of vendors making such a solution, but they required expensive, custom hardware and software and were out of the reach of most musicians.

Another app that has caught my attention since I bought the iPad is Flipboard. It scrapes content from multiple sites and displays the first part of each page in a format that looks more like a newspaper or magazine along with pictures from some of the articles. You can even set up your own feeds based on twitter accounts or RSS feeds. It is a very fast way to browse through sites and find which articles are of interest which you could then tap to pull up the full article. I highly recommend it for anyone who has an iPad.

There are plenty more examples out there and more coming every day. I just heard that an update to the game Real Racing HD is coming out which allows you to use the iPad as a controller and secondary display for a racing game that will run on your HDTV. The graphics quality is comparable to that of a PS3 or Xbox 360.

Another area that is perceived as an advantage is that most people feel that you are more secure using a mobile device than a PC. However, it’s really not the case and will probably be the subject of a later blog posting.

Now that the Apple has created the modern tablet with the iPad, I expect that the market will continue to expand. With some new competitors in the space, there will continue to be advancement in tablets over the next few years, but they will all use the same basic formula created with the iPad. But what will really drive advancement in their use is software.

My new iPad has almost completely replaced my personal laptop for everyday use since it’s faster, has a nicer (albeit smaller and lower resolution) screen, is more portable, and the apps work much smoother. In fact, I actually wrote this entire blog post using my iPad (though I did use a wireless external keyboard) using the WordPress app. While my total cost was slightly higher on the iPad, the addition of the portability, long battery life, and touchscreen, along with all the new applications I’ve been using has made it quite worthwhile. If you haven’t tried using a tablet, I recommend that you do (the iPad is still the best currently, but competitors are starting to catch up). They are definitely more than just a fad and will be continuing to grow in use in the future, replacing the laptops of more and more people.

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