Are tablets the next netbooks?

Are tablets the next netbooks?

Summary: Tablets may have received too much credit for reinventing computing. It's quite possible that tablets are an interim device on the way to something new.


The parade of tablets keeps rolling and it's Apple's turn to unveil its latest iPad, the device that has defined a market, ushered in the post-PC era and wreaked havoc on the PC market.


But here's a thought that may count as heresy in the tech world. Maybe tablets aren't the dream device. Perhaps tablets are just a snapshot in technology time. It's possible that tablets may turn out just like netbooks. I desperately want to use a tablet as my sole device, but the reality is I rarely use it beyond some basic content consumption.

Let's face it. Tech product cycles keep getting shorter. The new world order could be characterized by devices that are launched, take the industry by storm, sell hundreds of millions if not billions of units of compute for a few years and then flame out for something new.

Could tablets flame out? Possibly.

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It's hard to miss the buyer's fatigue out there. If Apple doesn't come up with a iPad mini with a Retina display there will be groans from folks who have held out for that feature. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX devices look sharp, but it's an open question whether Kindle Fire HD owners will upgrade. Meanwhile, Android tablets are a dime a dozen. Oh and almost forgot those Windows 8.1 tablets are coming soon.

Also: Apple to reveal new iPads, MacBooks at October 22 event: Here's what we know so far

There are some nuances in the tablet as netbook argument. Tablets can be a great enterprise devices. Tablets can replace cash registers, help sales teams and be used for logistics and supply chain. The consumer use case, however, is lacking enough mojo to make anyone think that people will update their tablets annually — something that would have to happen to make these devices grow to infinity and beyond.

Add it up and tablets may have received too much credit for reinventing computing. Tablets almost feel like a bandwagon that filled up too quickly. Does the iPad really give you much more than an 11-inch MacBook Air? Nope.

The harsh truth is that a tablet still requires a decision when you pack for a trip. Will you take it along on a work trip? Can it replace a laptop? Or do you leave it home to lighten the load since you know your smartphone and laptop will go for the trip?

For many folks, a tablet will do. However, those consumers are going to treat tablets as if they were PCs. And guess what? Those tech buyers will probably upgrade their tablets at the same rate they used to buy PCs — you replace them every two to three years.

Perhaps 2-in-1 devices take hold. There is an argument for those convertible devices. The problem: Those convertibles don't do everything well. If anything those hybrid devices do everything half ass. Running Windows 8 hasn't been much of a selling point either. In Asia, Asus' 3-in-1 Fonepad, which runs Android and Windows, is popular. Perhaps the 3-in-1 device is the convergence device of choice. I doubt it though.

The takeaway: All of our devices today may just represent a product point in time that's getting shorter. In other words, don't get caught up in the iPad as savior device talk. The future consists of hardware agnostic cloud services — in that world every device category may see a netbook-like flameout.

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  • There's a difference

    Netbook screens were too small to display desktop operating systems properly for most people. Microsoft and Intel hated netbooks and killed them off by limiting the specs and making them unpleasant to use.
    I don't think tablets are going to take over in the workplace, only in some service industries. There will be some use for touch as a supplemental function, but the desktop will continue to rule the office.
    Consumers have embraced the 7-8 inch form factor which means they don't really tablets as a pc replacement. Everybody just relax, although pc sales probably have probably peaked.
    • Limiting the specs?

      The difference between the well known netbook and the less talked about subnotebooks or ultraportables is the price. Same size and weight target, but the price difference is what controlled the specifications. Granted, subnotebooks were also always limited compared to full notebooks, but from what I saw (all my notebooks were in the 12"/1kg range) they always tried to pack as much in as was possible. I don't remember any artificial limitations other than trying to keep it small, light and run on a smaller battery and with weaker cooling.
      Matjaž Miler
      • Netbooks WERE intentionally limited

        - Single core processor only, no more than 1 GHZ for XP, no more than 2 GHZ for Win 7.
        - no more than 1 G RAM
        - Hard Drive size limits : 160 GB HDD or 32 GB SDD limit for XP, 250 GB HDD or 64 GB SDD for Win 7
        • Wrong

          My parents had one, and it had 2 GB of Ram, and a 1.5 GHz processor as well as a 320 GB HD.

          Not sure if Intel put a limit on specs as it was a price thing. Microsoft could care less about limiting specs they got paid for the license anyway.
          • Actually....

        • netbooks were not really limited

          the mainstream netbooks were limited but there were the exceptional ones which didn't adhere to the artificial limitations.
          Netbooks were available with CPU that could address more than 2gb (Atom D425, AMD Fusions) and can run 64bit OS. Netbooks were available with hires screens and HDMI like the HP 5102 and Acer 522.
          Once you got rid of Windows 7 starter edition, the limitations were gone.
    • agreed about 7-8" screens

      That leads to 2 implications.

      1) Windows 8.x tablets are tablet *PCs*, so small screens are unlikely to be popular. Hard to see these selling more than 10 times the level of previous tablet PCs. Not bad, but nowhere close to iPads.

      2) Only Windows RT tablets could sell well with 8" or smaller screens, but how useful is RT's desktop going to be on those small screens?

      Re (1), the new docking stations are a good indicator that 10.6" screens aren't big enough to do most types of work. Presumably docked 8" and 10.6" Windows tablets aren't going to be any different as desktops, so I could see most 8" Windows tablets bought with docks. A bit pricy compared to 15.6" laptops.
    • The "Surface Pro" is the New Netbook

      Too small to be a notebook, to heavy for a tablet.
      I hate trolls also
      • Aww

        It's cute that you think that.

        Particularly when 11-13" screens are all the rage right now.

        It shows real insight into the topic, definitely not just another hurting fanboy from some other brand with no actual experience with the product he's questioning.
    • Hindsight is 20/20 vision...

      I'm writing this response in the future, LOL and things here are very different from Oct 2013.

      Tablets are not the next netbook, but rather the end of the laptop.

      With Apple's Continuity and Handoff and--soon to come--low cost Mac Minis, companies and people will start buying desktop devices to be housed safely at home and tablet devices to continue work where mobility is needed.

      What a difference can just one year make.
  • I agree, tablets are probably the next netbooks...

    almost every "review" I've read about any of them follow the same pattern..."paired with brand ABC keypad/cover/dock, you have a device capable of replacing a laptop". I have yet to see tablets in widespread use in my geographical area, maybe it's because of where I am, but still, I just don't see them that often. When I do see a tablet, doesn't matter the make or brand, it invariably is being used as a "babysitter" for a young child...something to occupy the kids with while the adults are busy with something else. I still use an old netbook on a daily basis, an Acer Aspire One ZG5. None of the tablets I've looked at nor read about could really replace this little gadget. Some tablets may claim to be faster, but most lack the onboard storage. Some may match it in terms of RAM, but again, the storage costs a lot more (my Acer has 120 gig HD, 1 gig RAM). When I read various reviews and blogs about tablets that claim this or that tablet would make me as productive, IF I added some keyboard/dock thing, well, it just strikes me that whomever is trying to sell me a new netbook. I can boot my netbook into my choice of operating systems, my current ones used most frequently are Win XP SP3 and Slackware Linux, or Slax Linux (a live CD small version of Slackware). Will any tablet give me that flexibility? I don't know, many of the reviews I've read don't lend much to multiple OS booting capability.
    I don't think netbooks really even died...they just changed form factors...dropped the keyboards and moved the components inside the display top and voila, we created a tablet. But to be "productive", you should add a keyboard/cover/dock to the tablet, and then you have what? A netbook!
    • actually

      Tablets have netbooks as their ancestors. They are the evolution of netbooks. Let's admit, most people in the world do not NEED computers with keyboards, mice, and huge displays. Carrying heavy laptops is an annoyance for them. Early netbooks were just not appealing both aesthetically and specs-wise.
  • Why carry even two devices??

    "The harsh truth is that a tablet still requires a decision when you pack for a trip. Will you take it along on a work trip? Can it replace a laptop? Or do you leave it home to lighten the load since you know your smartphone and laptop will go for the trip?"
    The harsh truth is that with the right device you only need one. ONLY ONE??!! Heresy you scream!!
    Try a Samsung GT-P6800 or if a 7.7 inch screen is too small then how about a Samsung GT-P5100 with 10.1 inches? Both have full GSM phone capability and can be made to work with almost any wifi printer on the planet. Both can be paired with good to excellent Bluetooth keyboards that weigh much less than a laptop and only a bit more than some cell phones.
    My personal pick is the GT-P6800 since the 7.7 inch will fit in a cargo pants or a suit coat pocket. A Bluetooth headset makes it unnecessary to even get it out of the pocket.
    • exactly

      I want one device that will 'project' the screen onto whatever I have in front of me. I currently use a Windows tablet, with keyboard dock and desktop dock, with external monitor and keyboard/mouse. It runs Windows 8.1, so I have everything I need available all the time. If it could also make calls, I wouldn't need anything else - it might even tempt me to go for a 8" version.

      I only really need the small form factor of my smartphone when walking the dog, so that I can listen to my audio books, in fact audio books and podcasts makes up about 95% of what I use my smartphone for.
    • I need MS Office and statistical package. Tablet will not suffice.

      I'd like to work with only a tablet, but I really do need a lot of the functions of MS Word on a daily basis. I also need acces to a statistical program. Both run on any laptop, but not on a tablet. I now often carry a small 11-inch laptop, but it's heavy compared to a tablet. One or both will soon be at their replacement point and franly I don't know what to buy. The Mac Air ins the onmly 11-inch laptop that runs full desktop progeams at this point, other brands have stopped producing them.
  • not a netbook

    Echoing.. netbooks simply didn't have the resolution to work with the software. I have one, replaced it with an 11" ultracompactwhatever. I do still have the netbook in service, I put it in the kitchen for recipes,etc.

    Tablets though, especially the hi-res ones like the new Note coming out, DO have the resolution to display whatever process you might need. Coupled with a BT keyboard and they substitute for a laptop just fine; and are easier to drag with you into an office, warehouse, or store by leaving the keyboard behind. RDP to your workstation when you need real muscle, local when you don't.

    I don't think you get a once a year upgrade process with these things, especially with the cloud/remote backend; at a certain point its just a dumb terminal, and at 2500 x 1400 resolution its hard to see where improvement could be made. I'll be getting the new Note this year... I don't expect to replace it till it fails.
    • Netbook VS Tablet

      I have two netbooks. the Win 7 one is now plugged into an external HD, a monitor and an external cd/dvd r/w drive and serves as my "desktop". The other has XP on it and I am looking at putting Ubuntu 13.10 on it.
      My major problem with both netbooks was short battery life. Even with the biggest battery I could find for the XP one, I could barely get 7 hours. The Win 7 croaks in under 4 hrs.
      I regularly get 9+ hrs on my GT-P6800 with the screen (Super AMOLED Plus 16M colors Size 800 x 1280 pixels, 7.7 inches ~196 ppi pixel density) on most of the time using Maps/Navigator and HandiBase.
      I am now past one year with it and the device is now over 2 years since release. If Samsung keeps upgrading the OS ( I started with 3.2 and now on 4.1.2) I will likely stay with it for a long time.
  • I am certain that Apple and Google hope that it is not

    What would they do without their "cash cows"?
    John Zern
    • Cook's Defining Moment

      If iPads, or even iPhones, became only-for-a-short-while devices, Cook would have to prove he can come up with a new category-defining device. That would prove whether he can take Apple to the kind of success Jobs enjoyed. Right now, he's still riding Jobs success, even if so far fairly successfully.
  • Agree tablets don't do everything

    Everytime I travel i have the same question. Do I take my tablet or my laptop.

    Now bear in mind I'm a photographer and i like the high resolution screens. I've tried tablets, but found I wanted to take a keyboard too so there was no real advantage. If 7" and 10" tablets can get high resolution screens and 13-14"+ laptops can then I can see no reason why they can't make a 10-12" netbook/ultrabook. Its the feature i need the most and why I ended up one daying buy a 15" macbookpro despite not owning any apple products other than an ipod.
    Justin Watson