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.

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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.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech, written by one of our lead editors in Asia, Australia, Europe or the United States. We publish this editorial each Sunday at 6 p.m. ET in the U.S., which is 11 p.m. Sunday in London, 6 a.m. Monday in Singapore and 9 a.m. Monday in Sydney.

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Hardware

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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