The Tribbles… er… New Tablets Population Continues To Multiply
Since the introduction of the IPad in 2010, a virtual armada of new tablets has been launched to take on Apple, and more are getting ready to launch. This, of course, couldn’t happen without a market. Apple sold around 40 million Ipads in 2011. Analysts estimate that more than four million Amazon Kindle Fire tablets were sold in the fourth quarter of 2011. According to a recent study by DigiTimes, the demand for mobile computing is predicted to rise steadily along with the improvements in price-performance ratio of new tablets. The study also forecasts improvements to the software and hardware support for Android-based tablets. All these factors, DigiTimes says, point towards a 60% growth in tablet shipments to 95.10 million units in 2012.
With all the Ipads and other new tablets coming out, doesn’t it feel sometimes like we‘re inside some bizarro “Trouble With Tribbles” episode? At the beginning of 2011 there were just a handful of tablet pcs. By the end of the year, more than 30 different tablets were being actively marketed for Christmas (quick: name them!) We ain’t seen nothing yet. The tribbles, er, new tablets population will continue multiplying.
What does this mean? For one thing, it means many of us love the tablet pc. But love, if unchecked, can often lead to one of two extremes: obsession or anxiety.
Halfway through writing this, I searched “Tribbles” with “Tablets” to make sure this analogy hadn’t already been done to death. No. But one gets plenty of tablets news links comparing the iPad to the Personal Access Display Devices (PADDs) used in Star Trek, The Next Generation (TNG), which were essentially thin, handheld touchscreen tablets. Arstechnica.com has a great piece on How Star Trek: TNG artists imagined the tablet pc almost a quarter century ago.
Star Trek has inspired so many things – the cell phone, the Bluetooth headset, the touchscreen tablet. It also introduced us to Tribbles, which brings us back to the subject of love and its two extremes: obsession and anxiety. The Enterprise crew, who found them quite soothing, initially adored the little tribbles. They couldn’t keep their hands off the tribbles, couldn’t stop staring at the tribbles, couldn’t stop thinking about them. The crew became obsessed with Tribbles.
The “trouble” with tribbles was their explosive reproduction rate, and this eventually brought about high anxiety for the crew. In comparison, with the tablet pc population multiplying like tribbles, how can one make a knowledgeable purchasing decision today without a certain degree of anxiety? Sure, one can go with an Ipad or Kindle Fire, but there are a growing number of choices coming out.
David Gerrold, the writer of that particular Star Trek episode said the Tribble story was originally intended to be a take on the introduction of alien species in predator-free environments. Towards the end of that episode, it showed that tribbles would likely die off once they’ve eaten up the food supply. Just like an eventually maturing tablet market will shake out the weak and only the strongest will remain. Until then, obsession and anxiety may loom for many of us.
Unlike tribbles, though, tablet pcs aren’t pests, unless you have luddite tendencies. And the new tablets out here aren’t carbon copies, either (unless, of course, certain lawyers convince some judges otherwise). Tablet PCs are currently in the toddler stage, or to paraphrase a commenter on another blog: “we’re in just the first few minutes of a long story.”
Eventually, there will be no more anxiety concerning tablets. Although there will be allegiances to different hardware and operating platforms, nobody will really be thinking too much about tablets because everybody will own one.
Last week, on BBC’s Business Daily’s “Silicon Valley comes to Oxford” segment, BBC’s Lesley Curwen interviewed tech author, journalist and investor Mike Malone, about the outlook for the next few years. What he says about the Iphone in that radio interview could easily be about the Ipad or any breakthough mobile device:
Curwen: “That’s the question, isn’t it? The Iphone isn’t almost free, though. Actually for a lot of people on the planet it’s a huge amount of money.”
Malone: “Everybody points to the latest technology and says ‘This isn’t universal. This isn’t democratic because it costs five hundred bucks.’ You’re right – and they’re only going to use it in Stanford, California and Oxford, England. But wait five years and you’re going to see school kids walking by the Oxford Union using the same product. And, if you wait three more years after that, you’re going to see people running businesses in Lusaka, Zambia using the same product, because now it’s 20 bucks.”
We can also get a clue of what happens next from Stark Trek (TNG).
In the Arstechnica article, Michael Okuda, one of the principal scenic artists of the now 24-year-old Star Trek (TNG) series, and the designer of the PADD interface, said he finally understood that, with physical hardware interfaces, each function has to be pre-designed into the interface.
“But by imagining that software could re-configure the interface as needed, the writers were able to imagine any function that needed to advance the plot…”
Joe Hopkins is editor and publisher of New Tablets News, a brand-new site that officially launched three weeks ago. Please stay tuned.
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