Can Tablets save Desktops?

Aug 11, 2010
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With all the latest forecasts from my analyst colleagues at IDC, Gartner and Forrester showcasing declining desktops market share over the next few years, i'd like to pose an alternate question. Can tablets, like the iPad which was not on the market at the time the forecasts were made, actually re-invigorate the desktop market?

[Image credit Chris Jagers]

From Products to Solutions

I tend to believe that as the personal technology market matures consumers will be in search more of solutions then products. In short, as consumers become more familiar with a technology or product they tend to gravitate toward solutions around those products for future purchases. Much of the personal technology made and sold today fall into the category of products. A desktop is a product, notebooks are products, and even smartphones are still largely products. Apple, I believe, has a more solutions-based product mentality then most, but still sells mostly products. The opportunity in the future, as I see it, is for manufacturers of personal technology to sell solutions instead of products.

What is a solution? By a solution I mean a set of products working together as a comprehensive whole. iPhone and iTunes on a PC is a solution. Xbox 360 and Windows Media Center on a PC is a solution. Solutions require tightly integrated hardware and software to be successful.

The reason I believe tablets may bring new life to the desktop market is because the two together could comprise of a complete solution for personal computing. Now I will admit from the outset that what I am going to propose is not a solution for everyone, however I do believe it is a solution that will appeal to a mass market.

If you look deeply at the advantages and disadvantages of desktops and tablets you will find that where one fails the other excels. For desktops the major disadvantage is mobility yet the advantage is screen size and performance. For tablets the disadvantage is screen size and performance but the advantage is portability. For the desktop the advantage is productivity for the tablet the advantage is consumption, etc. I argue that the notebook is good at all these things and perfect for those types of consumers who need, mobility, performance and productivity in one machine. I do however believe that there are others who prefer a different model, which is why I think desktops and tablets are the alternate solution. Keep in mind that is not to say that the notebook doesn't also fit into this solution, however for a growing number of consumers I feel that may be overkill.

At my house I have a MacBook Pro 15-inch and an iPad. I do all the "heavy lifting" like creating and editing home movies, editing digital photos and extensive writing on the notebook. I have noticed at least 90% of the time I do those sorts of things I do them while I am at home. With my notebook, I am not necessarily benefiting from the advantage of mobility with the exception that I can do these sorts of "heavy lifting" from anywhere in the house. I used to use my notebook to browse the web and other sorts of simple tasks from a couch or bed setting, but that has all been replaced by using the iPad for most of my "consumption of content" needs. In my case I really have segmented the notebook to the creation and productive tasks and the iPad for the more consumption-related tasks.

I firmly believe that in my home setting I can very easily replace my notebook with an iMac and have the exact same experience as I currently have with a notebook and my iPad. This is why, if the two could work together as a whole solution, I think the desktop can re-claim its role as the hub of the digital home.

The Software Solution

What is genuinely missing in all these products and soon to be solutions is software that keeps all of a consumers data consistently in place no matter which machine they create or consume it on. For my desktop + tablet solution I would need to know that both machines always have what I need on them at all times. They both need all the same software, data, media etc and would need to always be in sync. If I create or download a file or picture on one machine I need to know that it is there on the other device without having to physically move or manage the process.

Solutions like SugarSync and DropBox do this to a degree, however if this was woven into the operating system or embedded into the actual applications, I think, it would be a much more elegant and seamless solution.

The real question is whether or not consumers could grasp on to this idea or not. Another question is whether or not manufactures could build and sell and elegant all-in-one/desktop + tablet solution.

I think the potential of packaging an all-in-one/desktop with a tablet and selling it as a packaged solution would be quite attractive to consumers once they wrap their brains around the concept. Which, if true, could give some new life to the all-in-one/desktop segment and position it again as the hub of the digital home.


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