Monday, January 9, 2012

Ultrabooks "Versus" Tablets? Sorta

I might be a complete contrarian, but I don't believe notebooks and tablets are "product substitutes." Most people do think about it that way, and there is a clear logic for doing so.

Will people spend incremental cash on a tablet or a PC? Yes. Will tablets displace many PCs in the workplace? Yes. Will tablets displace many PCs in consumer environments? Yes.

Given my agreement with all those propositions, why do I think tablets are, in fact, not replacements for PCs? For the same reason a high-end Lexus is not a product substitute for a SmartCar. It is true that both provide "transportation," but so do skateboards, bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, buses, airplanes and trains.

My point is that we have had, for decades, a multi-purpose device, the PC, that has gotten more portable, and now mobile form factors over time. There are some instances where some users have considered even a BlackBerry smart phone a functional substitute for a notebook PC.

I know a few people who claim that, on business trips, they compose articles on BlackBerries. I wouldn't. Most people probably wouldn't, but some do. Smart phones as content consumption devices

Still, there will be many more people who routinely use a tablet as a substitute for a PC, some of the time, most of the time, or nearly all the time. But the notion of "substitute" implies, rather directly, than one product provides equivalent satisfactions for some problem or need.

It might be viewed as a technicality or just "semantics," but I'd argue that, for decades, the ways people use PC devices have changed, though our portals have not, quite so much.

If you at the "birth" of the PC, you will discover that a particular application, namely the spreadsheet, lead to rapid adoption of PCs as ways to enable scenario and modeling exercises by accountants and financial personnel. That generally remains the case: it is applications that create the demand for devices.

What some of us might say is that the tablet starkly illustrates the principle that devices get used because people want to use applications. And what tablets illustrate is the massive shift of application consumption from "work" or "content production" to "entertainment" and "content consumption." Content consumption

It's just that, up to this point, we have not made attractive content consumption devices available. To be sure, most tablet users do some amount of content creation on tablets, but it mostly takes the form of answering emails. Most of the other activities are one form or another of content consumption.

It's a matter of latent user behavior being "uncovered," more than the creation of a new product category, though clearly, that also has happened. As it turns out, most of us, most of the time, seem to use connected PCs to consumer content, and little time "creating" it. Ultrabooks vs tablets

The point is that PCs increasingly get used for content creation ("work"). Tablets get used for most of the other things people do on the Internet, which is consume content. 

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