Fast Company

The Future of the Tablet, and It Isn’t the iPad 2

The iPad 2 is here. It will certainly dominate tablet sales this year, but it is not the future of the tablet. The demand for Tablets is forecast to grow exponentially this year and the iPad 2 and its numerous competitors working in copycat mode are all hoping to cash in on this demand. Apple’s domination of this category, along with the historical failures by big-time competitors like Microsoft, has created a mad rush to create iPad clones. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 tablets coming out this year, and most of them seem to have no better sense of purpose than to replicate the iPad. This is a doomed strategy, if it can be called as strategy at all. But the iPad and the majority of its competitors are focusing on a very narrow view of what the tablet can do.

As currently designed, tablets are basically expensive video game consoles used as a means to access the Internet, email, and books. But the true potential of the tablet is not in its ability to replace the video game console or the television. Rather, the tablet has the potential to improve our productivity. While the iPad 2 makes some strides in this direction compared to the original iPad (especially with the stronger processor), the focus of most of the enhancements are aimed at improving the entertainment value of the device.

But it is just stronger processing power along with a mindset towards increasing our capacity to do things--not just playing games--which represents the future of the tablet. Recently, a tiny start-up company has built a tablet explicitly designed for students that just might give us a glimpse of the future. The tablet is called the Kno and it has all of the standard functionality of the iPad, such as a touch screen with the ability to rotate on demand, but it really emphasizes the ability to take notes and seamlessly integrate your own thought with the information that you are reading.

While there are numerous subtle differences in the basic orientation of these tablets, a couple of the Kno's features  are worth noting. First, the Kno comes with a pen, which is too "uncool" for Apple but which is very handy for writing compared to the impractical touch-screen keyboard. More importantly, the Kno has a dual-screen option that really underscores the power of the device. With the dual-screen, users can truly multitask in a way that just is not possible with the single-screen iPad. Users can compare two articles side by side, perform an Internet search and take notes at the same time, and even perform an analysis on one side and document the results on the other. Although the odds are stacked heavily against the Kno succeeding (despite the focus on a clearly defined market), the ideas embodied in the device will likely be used in the successful tablets of the future.

While other companies could try to leapfrog Apple in the race to the "mature" tablet, they face a company that has been wisened by failure. The big difference between Apple today and the Apple that lost to Microsoft in the personal computer market over two decades ago is that Apple allows other companies to create software--now called applications--for its device. This flexibility represents a large barrier to entry for competitors. It also represents a key to unlocking the potential of the tablet to help us become more productive. If Apple would spend more effort improving the functional ability of the iPad, enabling application developers to create apps that truly improve our productivity, then the future of the tablet would arrive that much sooner.

If not, then it is up to a competitor with enough foresight and financial wherewithal to leapfrog the iPad 2 and re-conceptualize the tablet as a productivity tool instead of as an entertainment tool. This is why the Xoom is so intriguing. Motorola and Google are two companies that have proven their ability to see around the corner and they have made it much easier for developers to get applications to market than Apple has with the iPad. However, the Xoom is really built to be another iPad with an emphasis on entertainment--as if two cameras is really the key to success in this category--which is a shame for all of us.

Patrick J. Howie has spent two decades studying the social process of innovation as an economist, head of product development for a venture capital–backed start-up, and creator of the social prediction website ABetterGuess.com. He is the author of THE EVOLUTION OF REVOLUTIONS: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change.

Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Apple and Microsoft

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48 Comments

  • D Hankinson

    The iPad and others are just toys and a stepping stone to the other real tablet innovators like Fujitsu and Motion computing who have had the corner on the the corporate tablet market for years. Ie windows XP tablet edition? Touch screen, office program integration, USB ports, WiFi, Gig Lan connections, cameras and real applications for real world usage have been in these products for years. I would not even call the iPad and Xoom real tablet PCs. They are media viewers or techno-gadgetry with a very short shelf life in the long run. The future is a marriage of the two types in an easy to use form factor that can be integrated into a business/personal computing model.

  • Justin Pitcher

    "The big difference between Apple today and the Apple that lost to Microsoft in the personal computer market over two decades ago is that Apple allows other companies to create software--now called applications--for its device."

    Ha ha ha ha, what? If you knew anything about the history of either of those companies, you'd know how silly that statement is.

  • mario

    Question - is there a tablet available now that has both the dual screen functionality of the Kno as well as the easy on the eyes E-ink of a good E-reader?

  • Julio C

    The industry IMHO, should take several routes regarding design and scalability. I would like to see different aproaches when it comes to the end user experience and usability. It is true that all manufactures with no exception are palying catch-up with Apple. Not a good thing for the end user. I wish I could do my photogrphy work in a tablet, which is not viable at the moment. Typing is not a big thing for me, but I'd really benefit with faster processors and more powerful video cards.

  • David Fields

    If I may ask, exactly what do you need a tablet to do in your photography? Download RAW files from your camera? The iPad can do it. Transfer those files to your PC? The iPad can do it. Basic image editing of those same RAW files and save them as JPGs? The iPad can do it. The iPad 2 in particular can do it even better and faster than the iPad 1.

  • cris cooper

    This Author definitely has no clue what he's talking about if you define the features and it's ability to "highlight" and "download books online as ground breaking... sad to say he's probably a few years behind technology.
    From what i heard this author was paid by the company to commercialized the idea that their tablet device is the future.

  • Dr. Rick Kirschner

    Maybe the author of this ridiculous article should actually try using the iPad for productivity instead of entertainment. Then all this nonsense would be nonsense to him too. Because clearly he has no idea what the iPad is, does and is used for. Are all the doctors and attorneys and engineers now carrying this device simply reading papers and watching movies? No! They're being productive, creating, caring, adding value. They're also video conferencing, sharing information. Authors are writing books. Musicians are composing. Movie makers are fleshing out their ideas. I'm left wondering why this article was written and published by Fast Company, from whom I expect at least a little effort at accuracy. Unless, of course, the intention was to get hits on the page by telling it like it isn't about Apple, a common writing practice these days by individuals and websites needing attention but with nothing real to contribute.

  • David Fields

    Personally, I think you drastically underestimate Apple's goals with the iPad just as much as most other tech pundits do. I've seen how productive the iPad can be and part of that productivity is due to its mobility. The Kno lacks that one main feature. In fact, with a size physically as large and ungainly as a three-ring binder, the Kno becomes almost unusable when trying to take notes or perform any real work while standing on your own two feet.

    That said, the Kno does have one thing that I've been looking for in over ten years of tablet computing--a true hand-written note-taking capability. What I don't know is if the Kno is capable of reliably turning that handwritten data into text when needed. I do know that Apple has submitted a patent application for software offering that capability. If Apple succeeds here and offers a stylus as an optional accessory, then I think the iPad may leapfrog even the Kno in usability. After all, the old 8.5" x 13" 'legal' pad was the notepad standard for walk-around note taking for almost a century. Anything larger than that pretty much required laying it down on a flat surface to use--and that includes every computer made up to and including netbooks.

  • David Mullings

    This article was so way off it seemed like the author didn't do proper research.

    I strongly recall Tablet PCs with a stylus and handwriting recognition failing miserably in the past. Maybe they were too early and deserve a second chance but PDAs with a stylus died as well. Stylus input is great until you want to share your notes and no one can read your handwriting.

    The on-screen keyboard of the iPad has given me no trouble, I can highlight sentences in the books I read on my iPad, more and more textbooks are becoming available and clearly many people are being more productive and not merely using the iPad for games.

    Dual screens is an advantage? The device is already huge and then you double the size and call it the future? Why would I replace my heavy schoolbag of textbooks with two gigantic tablet? Tablets are supposed to be ultra-portable.

    Lastly, "The big difference between Apple today and the Apple that lost to Microsoft in the personal computer market over two decades ago is that Apple allows other companies to create software--now called applications--for its device."

    Really? Apple DID allow other companies to create software for Macs. The reason they lost the OS war to Microsoft was because Windows was allowed to be installed on HARDWARE manufactured by OTHER companies. Apple did not license its OS so it only appeared on computers manufactured by ONE company. That is a case study taught in every business school.

  • Joel Gaskell

    The Kno may not be revolutionary, but it does appear to be quite useful, unlike my iPad that I hardly touch any more.

  • Trent Auch

    Many people use the word 'productivity' in regards to computers as, "the more tools you have, the more productive you are", which isn't true at all. Productivity is simply a rate of measurement on your output in comparison to your rate of input. If it takes you 10 seconds to lookup and modify "x" on a iPad and takes 20 seconds to wakeup your laptop and do the same, the iPad is 50% more productive. Simple Math.

    Also, a Tablet Device is just a tool. Like a Desktop, or a Laptop, or a Phone, they are all just tools. Also, like a Semi-Truck, or a Car, or a Bike. No one complains that a bike isn't as productive as an semi when riding down a mountain trail. But how to make a bike more productive is by innovation to the bike and how it is used, not by fitting it with a V-8 engine, air-brakes and power windows.

    Note: The writer of the article is just confrontational journalist. More and more have been showing up in the post-blogger journalism world. They write articles with bold claims and sweeping statements to gather in the most views.

  • 程肯

    You wrote, "First, the Kno comes with a pen, which is too "uncool" for the Apple"

    Wow, you do remember the Newton? Yes, it came with a stylus.

    You wrote, "Although the odds are stacked heavily against the Kno succeeding (despite the focus on a clearly defined market), the ideas embodied in the device will likely be used in the successful tablets of the future."

    Yes, the OLPC2 and the Courier concepts have already shown dual-screen designs. I doubt anyone will attribute dual-screen innovation to the Kno.

    You wrote, "The big difference between Apple today and the Apple that lost to Microsoft in the personal computer market over two decades ago is that Apple allows other companies to create software--now called applications"

    One wonders if you have actually used a computer in the last twenty years. Shouldn't that at least be a minimum requirement before publishing, having your facts checked?

    You wrote, ' If Apple would spend more effort improving the functional ability of the iPad,enabling application developers to create apps that truly improve our productivity, then the future of the tablet will arrive that much sooner."

    LOL, what do you think Apple is doing? They already have over 60,000 dedicated apps for the iPad. They have a well-regarded SDK for app development. Have you even been paying attention?

    And then you wrote, "This is why the Xoom is so intriguing. Motorola and Google are two companies that have proven their ability to see around the corner and they have made it much easier for developers to get applications to market than Apple has with the iPad. "

    That's why Android had 60 apps available at Xoom's launch. That's "proven...ability". Motorola's ability to see around the corner was so good they saw that the RAZR was a dead-end and needed another idea. What evidence do you have that they have made it "much easier for developers to get applications to market"? By the number of malware apps that rip off code from legit apps?

    This opinion piece is so lacking in everything from facts to reasoning, FC should be embarrassed.

  • Dave Gilbert

    I think the word "wizened" is misused in the sentence 'While other companies could try to leapfrog Apple in the race to the "mature" tablet, they face a company that has been wizened by failure.' Wizened does not mean made wizer. It means withered, shriveled, dried up.

  • Chris Curry

    I tend to agree, but for for slightly different reasons. I think Android/iOS tablets can be productive, because "productivity" is defined by whatever you're doing at the time. If you're checking email, browsing the web, or creating a simple document then you can be very productive on an iPad.

    However the problem is that although Android/iOS tablets are *useful* in certaint situations they are still not *replacements* for a PC. Until that changes they are a luxury item that can easily replaced by something else.

    I have yet to hear the argument that someone should buy an iPad instead of a PC. No one, except maybe children, are going to have *just* an iPad, because they are toys not necessities.

    The next wave is combining the small multi-touch fad with real computing. Even Apple has started to include iOS-like functionality within some of the interface elements of Mac OSX. The realization is coming that iOS and Mac OSX should not be two separate things.

    Windows 8 and Nvidia Tegra is the software/hardware platform to watch, because Windows 8 will be part full fledge OS and part multi-touch tablet capable of running on ARM processors. Which of course includes stylus input.

    It's not just the fact that you can now run Windows on a small fast tablet/slate It's the fact that it brings multi-touch capabilities to many different form factors that we can't even imagine now (desktops, laptops, tables, walls, phones, watches, etc). Simply because ARM based processers are getting insanely fast and small and hardware manufacturers will be able to install windows everywhere just as they can with Android.

  • David Fields

    I think, and I believe Apple thinks the same way, that tablets should be supplemental devices to a desktop computer, not a complete replacement. I've used laptop computers in the past when I needed mobile capability, but they were always clumsy, awkward and too limited in battery capacity to use the way I needed for photography and reading/writing (I've yet to be published commercially, but I do have several pieces in various stages). Quite honestly, I never even pulled out my laptop unless I intended to be away for more than a day or two and knew I'd have a place to plug it in.

    On the other hand, since I bought my first-gen iPad, I almost never leave on a day trip or to a meeting or conference without taking it along. It serves so many purposes so much more easily than my laptops that I've effectively retired the laptops. Photo shoots, presentations, almost any purpose I needed my laptop for is now handled by my iPad.

    And that's the point. Yes, fully capable desktop OS tablets have existed for over ten years now, and yet a supposedly crippled device with far less OS power has sold more in a mere 8 months than all those desktop OS tablets together in that ten-year period. It's not power that users want, it's simplicity combined with truly useful software in that form factor. Whether you speak of Windows, Linux or even OS X, those desktop operating systems were just too much power for what people wanted because the applications/programs simply didn't adapt to a touch/stylus interface.

  • Marius French

    Kno has abandoned it's hardware strategy for a software approach and is still unable to ship units in any volume. That aside, Mssr. Howie seems to miss that the form of the device and incredibly tight software integration is were the innovation is taking place, matched with new services and infrastructure that changes how we use 'computers'. The iPad variants will support fingers and styluses (you can already use a Bluetooth keyboard; the iPad 2's gyro will enable pens to work beautifully); Apple's trackpads are being given more and more 'touch' capability. The device is moving in cool directions and I also like what the Xoom portends. As for Kno, I think they fall down by not completely re-imagining textbooks and how they can be used by new devices but have tried to replicate the book on a screen (albeit a lovely one). That they are going software only is perhaps a wake-up to this reality (I suspect it's a requirement of Andreesen).

  • Scott Weidig

    Regardless of the thoughts of the author on the iPad, He should really keep up with the industry... I struggle working to take a viewpoint seriously when you take 2 paragraphs praising a product that may not even come to market... and no product or analyst should be calling something a competitor until it actually exists as a mass volume consumer production model... http://kara.allthingsd.com/201...

    "Sources said Kno execs have recently decided that the quicker-than-expected uptake in tablet production by a multitude of powerful device makers had made its efforts to package a seamless offering less critical.

    Instead, the company will focus on its robust software and services to offer students on the Apple iPad, as well as upcoming tablets based on Google’s Android mobile operating system and others.

    BoomTown could not determine which two companies Kno was in serious discussions with about unloading its hardware business, but the company has signed an NDA with one of them.

    But, if a deal is struck, the move would be a dramatic shift for the company, which has yet to ship significant numbers of the student-focused touchscreen device as it has long touted"

    Seriously, the Kno company will most likely be developing applications for the iPad and Android based tablets... as opposed to competing with them...