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Tablet Computers vs. Netbooks

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 7:28am
Peter A. Khairolomour, Technical Marketing Manager, Fairchild Semiconductor
Peter_KhairolomourIt’s really not a question of whether or not the tablet computer will displace netbooks and laptops. What it comes down to is what functions the tablet computer will take over and what functions netbooks/laptops will retain.

In my opinion, I see the market breaking into two categories: consumption and creation.

For those more interested in consumption or entertainment applications as opposed to creation, the tablet is a very well-suited device, especially for those applications where information is flowing primarily from the tablet to the user. This is the area where I see the tablet making inroads into the laptop space. As depicted in some Apple iPad freeway billboard advertisements, lounging in bed or on the couch with a tablet propped up against your legs is nice for watching movies, surfing social media sites, typing short emails, or exploring the web. In these cases, the tablet is comfortable and can be used for an extended period of time. I believe, however, that the tablet’s inconvenient data inputting ergonomics will limit the number of users willing to completely do away with their laptops. As a result, it’s my belief that the tablet will either primarily complement the laptop user’s stable of electronic devices or appeal to consumers who would not be buying laptops in the first place.

By creation based, I’m referring to applications requiring extensive data input. This is where laptops, in my opinion, will remain strong. My rational for this is the tablet computer’s virtual on-screen keyboard and form factor that isn’t hinged. This form factor makes typing on the device for extended periods of time problematic. In most stores, the tablet is sitting on a waist height table or platform and slightly angled. While this is probably the most comfortable typing position for the tablet, the user is still forced to look almost straight down at the screen and I wonder how the neck and back will hold up after an extended period of time. Alternatively a user could place the device a little further away from the body so as not to crane the neck but then the ideal viewing angle becomes compromised. Of course there are plenty of aftermarket gadgets such as bolt on keyboards and kickstands, but this approach goes against the spirit of the form factor and touch screen GUI.

The players in the laptop/netbook supply chain should ask themselves what percentage of laptop users are primarily interested in consumption as opposed to creation. If the number is significant then it would be prudent to adapt accordingly in order to retain their customers in the shifting landscape. However, in my opinion, a large percentage of users will not want to sacrifice the combination of portability and comfortable ergonomics the laptop affords.

As with any new device, as improvements are made, the blurring of lines will continue. For example, if someone developed a tablet using a flexible LCD or AMOLED material that allowed angling the top 2/3 of the screen while keeping the lower 1/3 flat for a virtual touch screen keyboard, I’d probably be the first to jump ship. But in the meantime, I see both tablets and netbooks/laptops winning in different areas.
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