Will tablets become our primary computing devices?

A prominent industry analyst believes that tablets – rather than unwieldy PCs or traditional laptops – will one day serve as our primary computing devices.

Indeed, according to Forrester’s Frank Gillett, tablets are currently the most convenient computing devices in the market, offering longer battery life and superior always-on capabilities.

”This makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop,” Gillett explained in a blog post.

“[Plus], tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.”

The analyst also sought to assuage concerns over the role of tablets in a corporate or work environment, noting that devices such as Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle Fire are “even better” for sharing and working in groups. 

Indeed, says Gillett, there is no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it “just feels natural” to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper – compared to spinning around a laptop.

“All these reasons add up to our prediction that tablets will become the preferred, primary device for millions of people around the world,” he claimed.

However, Gillett also emphasized that that there will still be plenty of traditional personal computers sold, totaling approximately 2 billion PCs in use by 2016 – despite the growing popularity of tablets.

“Eventually tablets will slow laptop sales but increase sales of desktop PCs,” he predicted. “That’s because many people, especially information workers, will still need conventional PCs for any intensely creative work at a desk that requires a large display or significant processing power.”

According to Gillett, a tablet can be defined as device that weighs less than 800 grams (1.75 pounds), has a 7- to 14-inch diagonal screen area, features always-on operation and boasts an 8-hour battery life.

As such, “hybrid” devices – PCs or tablets – that feature a keyboard and touch manage to qualify as a tablet if they meet the criteria above.  In contrast, many of the devices attempting to masquerade as an ultrathin laptop with a touch screen don’t qualify because of greater weight or shorter battery life.

In any event, says Gillett, global tablets sales are projected to grow sharply over the next five years, with sales rising from 56 million in 2011 to 375 million in 2016. 

“Given that a majority of tablets will be retired within three years of purchase, we forecast there will be 760 million tablets in use globally by 2016. One-third of these tablets will be purchased by businesses, and emerging markets will drive about 40% of sales,” he added.