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Through a flurry of fanfare and flops, 2011 had been heralded as the ‘Year of the Tablet’. Originally released in April 2010, Apple’s iPad was the first to hit stores. Since then a slew of brands have been welcomed and rejected in equal measure. Barely two years old, the tablet is still a toddler in terms of technological development and needs time to grow and mature. With continued growth in uptake predicted, broadcaster Sky recently conducted research that suggests up to 8 million tablets will be purchased in 2012. Apple still dominates with a market share of 58%; however, Android is fast catching up with 39%.  Apple boss, Tim Cook, believes the tablet will eventually take over from both the laptop and PC, but as it accounts for only 25% of non-PC web browsing, it still has a way to go yet. Where it’s heading is still unclear and amidst rapid evolution, continues to assert itself.

Research into how tablet usage differs from that of other devices suggests it is more of an ‘at home’ and ‘after hours’ gadget than a work tool. It’s a receptive device, ideal for taking in content, less adept when it comes to being proactive and carrying out tasks. According to analysis by comScore, there is an initial peak in use at about 8am, probably as newspaper apps are read over breakfast, with a drop off during the day, before building up at 7pm and peaking again at about 10pm. Watching video, reading, and playing games are all laid back, relaxing activities and the tablet’s portability means it is easier to take to bed than a laptop. Recent research from the I.A.B (Internet Advertising Bureau) reveals that the tablet is also the device of choice when dual-screening alongside TV, with 51% of users choosing this method over the smartphone (35%) or computer (33%).

With usage peaking first and last thing, it indicates that users are moving between devices as their needs alter throughout the day. Unlikely to become a handbag or pocket staple, the tablet currently fills the gap between smartphone and laptop. Being neither PC nor mobile, it is still establishing its own niche as a unique platform. Due to its touchscreen capabilities and possessing a larger screen than the smartphone, it also has unexplored potential for sharing and interactive use amongst groups. Its smaller size provides a more intimate experience for viewing a screen than a computer, allowing for example, doctors to use the device to share information with patients or teachers with their students. Apple has already made textbooks available through its iTunes store and loading up an iPad certainly beats lugging around a rucksack bulging with heavy books!

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January, new developments showcased included waterproof devices from Fujitsu and Toshiba, the Tablet P from Sony which folds in half, reducing its size considerably and a Vaio prototype tablet with detachable keyboard. Another advance, still at the lab stage, is Samsung’s flexible tablet which is paper-thin, completely transparent and folds up to fit in the pocket. The use of AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology is a potentially game-changing advance in tablet design and provides a device that could have come straight out of a science fiction film. Think Tom Cruise à la ‘Minority Report’ without the flapping arms. There are also plans to release solar-powered slates in 2012, primarily for developing regions where electricity supplies are limited or non-existent.

Tablets could well have a future in retaining their position as a bridge between other devices and there is certainly scope for that within the Connected/Smart TV market. Rather than trying to search the web using a remote control, a tablet could provide a useful accompanying gadget to counteract the fiddly typing. Another industry that could benefit from increased opportunity is advertising. Because of touch screen capability, tablet users confess to clicking on ads more often than they do on a laptop or phone. Then there is the scope for advertisers to create a more interactive experience with the user and perhaps tap into its use as an ‘entertainment’ hub by creating advertising which incorporates gaming or storytelling.

Mobikom, a recent invention from designer Kamil Izrailov, could provide that catch-all device that does away with the need to buy multiple gadgets in the future. Consisting of a series of interlocking flat cubes, each containing its own processor and power supply, they can be linked together or taken apart to create different sized devices from smartphone to tablet; the concept fitting in nicely with the idea that as a user’s needs change throughout the day, so will the gadget.  Whether the tablet remains an appliance unto itself or continues its evolution to a new existence, there are some radical makeovers potentially still in store.

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