In January this year The Economist cover led with The Book of Jobs which confirmed that Apple had “blessed” the nascent tablet computing category.
The iPad was coming and so the world was about to change, again. It has. When the dust has settled its biggest impact won’t be on “people like us”.
This was the key theme at a talk earlier this week by The Economist’s digitial editor Tom Standage.
As with digital music players and smart phones which had long endured before the iPod and iPhone defined their categories, Apple did not invent the tablet computer. They have been around without taking off for ten years.
Apple’s genius has been to convert untapped potential into a world-wide revolution.
From early estimates that the market might accommodate three million units, they now stretch to 55 million by the end of next year. To put it in perspective, that’s a quarter the size of the PC market.
His other predictions included:
1. Different tablets will emerge for different uses
As the category grows, three sorts of tablet will emerge.
The highly portable “disposable” readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle with little functionality. Medium sized “big phone” with six-to-seven inch screens will be built around the limited functionality of the Android operating system and the fully-functional, full-screen iPad.
2. Tablets won’t kill the PC
They do different things. We’ll still need PCs for the big tasks such as sitting up and creating documents.
The netbook will be more vulnerable as it is often already the “second computer”.
One of the attractions of the iPad is that, like a good book or a paper, you can sit back and immerse yourself in it to the exclusion of almost all else.
3. New commercial opportunities
We are already used to paying for content on the Kindle and iPod touch, and so are prepared to pay for content specifically designed for the tablet.
4. Tablets won’t save newspapers
Bad news for papers which have had localised news and advertising monopolies: that model is still broken.
Even those papers that want to transfer online to compete cannot simply turn off the presses and so, in building for the future, they need to run two cost bases in tandem.
Papers in the US will be the main victims. Sales in emerging markets like Brazil and India where papers are seen as status symbols are still growing.
5. New ways to reach consumers
Tablets are more immersive than the web, and it’s harder to browse onto the next site, so it can hold their attention longer.
Communications professionals will also have the added attraction of being able to measure more accurately behaviour on bespoke applications. Much of the guesswork needed to track behaviour on the traditional web is removed within the software.
6. Tablet apps won’t kill the open web
The web has more content, it is harder to control the experience and you cannot “finish” it, as you can with many self-contained tablet apps, whether books or newspapers.
Doomsday predictions rarely materialise. TV didn’t kill radio. The cinema didn’t kill the theatre. Even the short-form telegraph reemerged as SMS text.
In each case, the old media endured by adapting, and we can expect to see change.
7. Tablets won’t kill books
Book sales may even go up, though reading habits will change. We’re likely to see the emergence of two markets and many models.
A “disposable” digital market, similar to film rentals, may emerge for reading books on the beach which, frankly, we don’t want to put on show on our shelves.
At the other end of the spectrum, we could see a high-end book fetish emerge for beautiful physical objects we display in our homes.
8. No single device will dominate
The iPad will always be too big to take everywhere. Try reading it while strap-hanging on the train. The iPhone is not really immersive, but is highly portable. You can’t easily create big documents on either.
If anything, we’ll see the proliferation of different devices, which we’ll use for different things.
The same person may carry a BlackBerry, with its industrial security, a laptop for work, an iPhone for convenience on the go and an iPad in which to immerse.
9. The tablet will bring the internet to the developing world
Perhaps the biggest theme of the next decade will be the roll out of fast wireless internet to the 4.5 billion people that don’t yet have access to it.
The tablet could be the most useful device for millions of new users wanting to use the internet to look things up, rather than create and send each other big documents.
10. Apple won’t dominate
Despite starting the tablet revolution, Apple won’t dominate market share in the long term, and it will be fine with that.
It will continue to trade on the aspirational cachet which, once tablets have swept the globe, may net out at four per cent of the worldwide market share and 50 per cent of the profits.
Finally, coming soon…
For any iPad-Economist devotees out there, the word over coffee was that The Economist will very soon be bringing out its own, long-awaited, iPad app.
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