The release of the Apple iPad in 2010 started a global revolution, selling millions of devices in its first year and changing the way people view computing.
As a result of the astounding popularity of this highly premium product, the tablet PC market, which has actually been around for a number of years now, has suddenly become a lot sexier, and the year 2011 is being heralded as "the year of the tablet", a fact seen in the hundreds of articles, blog posts and comments about this subject.
This is according to Mandy Porter, Dell business unit manager at DCC.
Manufacturers have certainly climbed aboard the bandwagon, with a variety of tablet style computers using various different operating systems being announced and due for release this year, and therefore, it can be said that 2011 is indeed the year of the tablet.
In fact, according to Engadget, a total of 36 new tablet PCs were announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year, and as consumers move further into 2011 this number will increase.
The battle for market share in the space so neatly created by Apple in 2010 is poised to begin. The sheer number of devices that will be coming onto the market presents consumers with a wide variety of choice, and this increased competition may drive down the pricing, making these devices more accessible for consumers.
As a result, analysts have been having a field day playing with numbers around the latest contender for computing market share.
One analyst, Bill Shope from Goldman Sachs, comments that tablets "will most likely cannibalise a sizable chunk of the PC market next year, as 20-million potential PC buyers are expected to turn to tablets instead" and that he expects around 55-million tablet PCs to ship in 2011, which will impact the growth of the PC market by as much as 35%.
While there is no doubt that the tablet PC market has quickly become one of the fastest growing consumer electronics segments, the heralding of the tablet as the death of the PC is premature and difficult to substantiate.
While the tablet PC may compete with the notebook market in a small way, in all probability it will not take over this market, because the form factor is too small to use for everyday work and the touch screen is simply not conducive to a wide range of daily business activities, including word processing and spreadsheets.
The touch screen itself is also a detracting factor for many consumers, who prefer the familiar interface of a computer.
The impact of the tablet will in all likelihood be felt most in the netbook space, since these devices were designed primarily for portable Web browsing capability, which is exactly the space the tablet plays in but with higher levels of success.
One of the major failings of the netbook was the lack of power, and the new generation of tablets has processing capacity in spades along with instant power on and the ability to accessorise it to the hilt. The functionality of the netbook has been seriously outdone by tablets, and as a result this market is shrinking while the tablet market grows.
The fact is that tablet PCs are difficult to use for day-to-day tasks because of the size and the functionality of touch screens. A bigger form factor would make them easier to use but less portable, and so the notebook space will still have a significant market in the years to come, as it offers the right combination of functionality and portability for today's world.
In the corporate space, the tablet PC presents a lot of opportunity, particularly for people who typically need to carry a lot of paper based documentation around with them as part of their job, such as sales people
and estate agents.
The benefit of the tablet here is that it enables these professionals to carry the paperwork in electronic format, and with the invention of technology that enables signatures to be conducted via the tablet, will eliminate the hassle of paper based processing.
For the moment, however, these devices are far too expensive to be justified as a mass rollout to enterprise employees or as a convenience purchase for professionals. With the increased competition the pricing may well change and the use of tablets in the corporate space will become more common, but as an additional accessory rather than as a replacement for a traditional PC or laptop.
The rumours suggesting the death of the PC have been greatly exaggerated, and in all probability, while the tablet market will grow, this will be as a result mainly of opening up other avenues and ways of working and will not cannibalise the traditional PC market to the predicted extent.