Are tablets for work or play?

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Microsoft’s first version of the Surface Pro failed to excite the business world. It’s hoping its second (new and improved) version will catch on with the business and enterprise crowd.

Microsoft’s first version of the Surface Pro failed to excite the business world. It’s hoping its second (new and improved) version will catch on with the business and enterprise crowd.

By Oon Yeoh

Oon Yeoh“Our competition is different. They’re confused,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the launch of the iPad Air and the upgraded iPad Mini last week. “They chased after netbooks. Now they’re trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they’ll do next?”

Although he didn’t name names, it was obvious that he was referring to Microsoft, who itself had just launched its latest version of its tablets, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.

When Apple first introduced the iPad to the world in 2010, there wasn’t a tablet sector to speak of. Sure, there were iterations of tablets made by various computer brands but they didn’t really work well and never took off.

Apple singlehandedly launched the tablet revolution with its iPad. And it did so by promoting it not as a business or enterprise device but as a consumption device. You are supposed to use it for quick Internet browsing, watching video clips and listening to music.

You could use it for typing and therefore for work but without a USB port and without a keyboard, it really wasn’t meant to be a work device. And Apple was unapologetic about it. It was what it was – a sleek, elegant, consumption device.

Microsoft, however, decided to take a different tact and instead of promoting its device as being mainly for consumption, it worked on making its tablets, especially the Surface Pro (and now, Surface Pro 2), a work device… a laptop replacement even.

Its first version failed to excite the business world. It’s hoping its second (new and improved) version will catch on with the business and enterprise crowd. It does have unique features, for example an optional docking system that gives it more ports, including one that lets you hook it up to a large monitor. If you use that together with a Bluetooth keyboard, what you have effectively is a desktop computer.

So, now we’re not just talking of a device that can convert into a laptop but one that converts into a desktop, too. This 3-in-1 concept on paper sounds good. But will people buy it? If you look at current consumer trends on tablet usage, the outlook does not look great for tablets as work tools.

Tablet users spent 50% of their screen time on entertainment activities like games, movies and listening to music, according to new research from Gartner conducted in July 2013 on 726 tablet owners in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. In contrast, tablet owners spend only about a quarter of their screen time on e-mailing and visiting social media sites. Only 15% of their time is spent on creating content such as videos or blogs. So much for tablets being work, productivity or content creation devices.

Another research company, comScore, has also found that the most common activities on tablets were entertainment or leisure-related such as playing games (66.3%), watching video’s (50.9%) and reading books (51.2%). A third research company, Mojiva, found that in all demographic segments, watching videos (63%) and reading (48%) were the most popular uses for tablets.

What these surveys show is that, so far, the Apple view has prevailed. Generally, people regard tablets as so-called “lean back devices”, used when they recline on a sofa, for instance. Desktops and laptops, meanwhile, are “lean forward’ devices, used when they sit at a desk to do work.

Will the tablet someday become a true hybrid “lean back/lean forward” device that people use for both work and play? Of course it’s impossible to predict the future, especially when it comes to tech trends which can shift very quickly. But judging by the situation today, I wouldn’t count on it happening.

 

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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