One last Tuesday in January, one last look forward.
If you were making general tech predictions for 2012, and wanted to play it safe, the rise of the tablet is rich ground to make some inferences from. I think tablets are at the point cell phones were seven or eight years ago; there is going to be a race to the price floor, and an explosion of features.
The feature-splosion will not look the same as it did on cell phones because “apps” are the real features on your tablet. Sure, maybe you’ll get some solid voice recognition on there, and a few other interface enhancements, but the cool thing about the tablet is that tablet users are the ones who make the features. The device itself is going to cost 100 bucks one day, but the real spike is going to be in the usability.
Consider this scenario. I walk into a store, make my purchase, and am rung up on a tablet, not a register, which has small card reader plugged into it that swipes my debit card. The tablet is offered to me and I sign on it and give it back. The catch here is that this isn’t a hypothetical, this is an anecdote. This already happened. It’s happening right now. The war’s already over. Tablet won.
The tablet isn’t a “real” computer in a lot of ways, but it does enjoy the same open-ended modularity. It’s not really just about browsing the web and throwing some birds at some pigs, it’s about all the little pieces of data in our lives having a nice place to rest. Soon you’ll go to a restaurant and the server will take your order on a tablet, and then they won’t even return to the kitchen because now your order is also on the cook’s tablet. This is already happening somewhere, I’m sure. Within the next 5 years it will be normal, and in within the next 10 it will be in McDonald’s.
The basic advantages of computing can be enjoyed on a tablet, and in a form more digestible by “non-computer people” and so the process by which the tablet will swallow a chunk of the PC market has already begun. We won’t get the same schadenfreude we got with newspapers and booksellers and print in general because PC makers are either already entrenched underneath the Android platform, or they are jumping in quick with something. There will be no toppling of empires here, but we can enjoy the happy irony that Barnes and Noble, a bookseller, might one day be in a position to steal a piece of Dell’s market with the Nook.
Of course, a future of iPad restaurants is both a safe bet and an easy one. The mistake a lot of people make is that they believe technology is something that only other people develop. Apps are going to becoming increasingly varied, increasingly niche, and increasingly cheap and it’s not going to be long before you will need to get your fingernails dirty and research what’s out there. These stores that are already swiping cards and taking orders on their tablets are no different than you. They are business owners who have sought and found these solutions themselves.
Is it so far fetched to think that your office could have a tablet in every room instead of a computer? Yes, an office has large needs, and your database won’t fit on a tablet, and neither will the software that renders your x-rays, and large screens will always be of use to you too. So for now you are free to indulge in the fantasy that, hey, you’ve arrived, you have a nice big practice management suite and a fleet of strong computers and you never need to overhaul how you conduct business again. But a tablet is the perfect window into the cloud; in fact, these usable pocket computers are the perfect enabler of the cloud. Finally there is a platform that demands computation to be done elsewhere. A tablet can’t hold your database but it doesn’t need to because it just needs to give you results through a browser. Imagine showing a patient an x-ray, zooming neatly on that dual-touch screen. Imagine tablets instead of clipboards. Imagine your office looking like the halls of the Starship Enterprise.
It’s really not that far away. If I were a developer of practice management software, I would be racing to figure out how I could deliver my product on three computers and ten tablets. Your employees will like it more, will train to it easier, it will take up less space, require less maintenance, and it will cost you a lot less. The modern computer really can do anything, and a race to the price floor in tablets is a race to the price floor in everything.