Thursday, July 10, 2014

Who needs tablets, we have phablets now!

The latest global and Asia market analyst reports tell an interesting story - PCs are making a comeback (especially business and budget PCs) and tablet sales are slowing down (the premium tablets are most affected). This is not entirely a surprise. In India, phablets (smartphones with 5 inch plus screens) constitute upto 30% of smartphone shipments, and the supersized phones have been a hit across Asia. It is entirely possible to get a tablet experience on such phones. Why would the canny Asian consumer buy two separate devices when one can serve the purpose?

In my personal experience, the tablet has been really convenient - especially when I am lounging on the sofa. I carry it for meetings and use it instead of a notebook. I preferentially pick it up to play games.  And there are many days when I do not switch on my PC at all but stay connected on the tablet. But when I want to do serious work, its still my trustworthy and battered Dell Vostro that I reach for. Serious work includes paid-for client assignments, blogging, online bill payment and banking and even posting on our company Facebook page.

For the initial year, I was extremely enthusiastic about using my tablet as a substitute for  my PC, but now I have to admit that the excitement has worn thin. The deal breaker for presentations and day long meetings was this - it's easy to plug in and continue a presentation on a laptop but it's really hard to do that on an iPad.

I have said this before and I will again - I find that typing on a touchscreen is painful. Productivity devices need to have good keyboards. I believe that the CEO of AOL agrees with me. I look forward to the launch of the Surface 3, because I see it as a thinner, lighter laptop. In fact, the form factor of a tab combined with the utility of a PC is my dream. But the tablet was designed for a different utility and its easier for a PC to be streamlined to a tablet size. It looks like Microsoft has gotten it right this time, after a couple of disastrous iterations.

And meanwhile something else has happened. The experience on mobile phones has gotten better than ever. I can speak only for the Android experience on the superlative HTC One which I use. Increasingly, I can do things on the fly, on the mobile, as effortlessly as I do on the iPad. One more reason that I do not reach for it.

When the iPad Air came out, I drooled, I wanted - and then I asked myself whether it is really required. My iPad 2 is still chugging along steadily though I have seen the battery life drop sharply in the past year. If money were not a constraint I would not have hesitated - I already have picked up  a Nexus tab which I passed on to my parents after playing with it for sometime. But I am constrained to use my money wisely and I would rather save it for a laptop upgrade which is due this year. The fact is, a better tablet is not going to improve my tablet experience. Considering that I am using a device from 2010, that says a lot.

So yes, I am not surprised that the tablet is dying. And I am excited to see if Microsoft will get it right this time around with the Surface 3 Pro. Neither fish nor fowl, but half tablet-half PC is the Microsoft solution. And they may have the answer that we are all looking for.