The days of the tablet device are numbered, warn tech experts

16th January 2016 at 12:00
picture of tablet computer
If your school is about to place a large order for iPads, then it would be wise to hold off: according to technology analysts, the days of the tablet are soon to be over.

Writing in the free EdTech supplement accompanying the 15 January issue of TES, Dan Worth, deputy editor of technology website, explains that analysts are predicting tablets will be usurped.

"Apple, long recognised as the market leader with its iPad, recorded sales of 9.8 million devices in its final financial quarter of 2015, a steep decline of 20 per cent on the same period in 2014," he reveals. "According to market research firm Forrester, general global tablet sales have followed a similar pattern in 2015."

Worth explains that as tablet sales fall, another device is taking its place: the hybrid.

"There is a growing trend for a new breed of hybrid device that mixes the best of a tablet with the best of a laptop," he explains.

He quotes Neil Mawston, research director at business management consultancy Strategy Analytics, who explains that "Tablet usage today is shifting from ‘browsing’ to ‘creating’. A physical keyboard in a hybrid tablet is [now] a key tool."

Worth says that this shift started not with Apple, as you might expect, but with Microsoft.

"Back in 2012, Microsoft surprised the technology world when it unveiled its own entry into the tablet market, the Surface Pro," he says. "It was marketed as the ‘tablet that can replace your laptop’, and offered a dedicated keyboard attachment and stylus pen, so it could be used for content consumption, like a tablet, but also content creation, like a laptop."

Worth explains that, despite initial scepticism and slow sales, Microsoft stuck to its guns and the device has grown in popularity, with the fourth model now available on the market, prompting uniformly positive reviews and rising sales.

"Microsoft is already looking to build on this success with its recently unveiled Surface Book," says Worth. "This is an evolution of the Surface Pro, and veers more towards the laptop end of the spectrum, chiefly because of its adjustable hinge.  This is a small but notable change, as it makes the device easier to type on when being used in laptop mode but it still retains the same detachable screen so that it can become a tablet again."

He explains that Apple and HP Inc have spotted the trend and are entering the market with their own products, while he expects cheaper options to quickly come to market from Acer, Asus and Lenovo.

This is good news for schools, he thinks.

"The whole movement to hybrids could be beneficial," he says. "When schools next face the prospect of making new IT purchasing decisions, they could actually find themselves in a better position than they have been for many years.

"Whereas in the past five years budgets may have been stretched to try to cover both traditional laptops and tablets, new hybrid devices could help to reduce costs by allowing schools to buy one device that offers the benefits of both."

When will this happen? Worth says it is difficult to say when the balance will tip from one to the other. But he would recommend assessing all options before making a significant IT purchase.

"None of this will happen overnight, or indeed within the next year, but just as the first generation of tablets took only a few years to become everyday devices used in all walks of life, so too might the new kids on the block – the hybrids."

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