Sunday, September 12, 2010

A hornet's nest - what a difference a year makes

You have to give Apple credit for one thing - they've really stirred up a hornet's nest in the tablet computer business. Think back just one year - does anyone remember a single mention of "tablet computer?" Probably not unless it was an historical reference to Alan Kaye's Dyanabook design (1968), the Apple Newton (1993) or Microsoft's tablet announcement (2000). With the exception of "convertibles" and other variations on the PC notebook theme, major computer companies did not appear to have a tablet device under consideration - much less development.

Fast forward to the present. Technologizer just published a list of 32 tablets from 26 companies. A few are available; most are "coming soon". Vendors include the big names - HP, Motorola, Dell, RIM, Samsung, Sony, Cisco, Lenovo and Toshiba - but others are really a stretch - Nefonia and Fushion Garage for example. Very few are direct competitors to the iPad; some are aimed at students with very low cost and others are directed specifically toward businesses. Some are as small as 5 inch screens; the iPad is 9.7. CIO has a discussion of 15 Apple iPad Rivals as well. It's phenomenal that a category of product that did not exist a year ago is all everybody is talking about - not just a gadget but a whole category of gadgets. Certainly the personal computer was a new product category but it took ten years to catch on (1975-1985).

A look back at the Internet
This situation reminds me of the time way back in 1995 when I wrote an article on the "new thing" called The Internet ("The" was capitalized in those days). Now the Internet wasn't really new then; it had been in wide spread use in the Defense Department, universities and research institutions for years. In those days mere mortals could search specific locations on line using Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy. You couldn't Google or search Web sites since Google and the Web had not been invented.

I did search the archives of the Minneapolis Star Tribune using Compuserve and saw that three years earlier there was only one mention of the Internet; a year later it was less than a hundred; from then on it exploded into the thousands. That's the trend I see happening now - not just due to the iPad - but the Mobile Internet in general which includes smartphones and other devices yet to be named. I predict that in three years most people will find it hard to imagine a world without tablet computers.

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