Tablets – How Did We Get Here?

I think most people who are watching the world of digitalzoa would agree that tablets are the hot item these days.  For some people, the iPad may be the first tablet they have ever really handled, and although iPad was the first to make a mark in the minds of the average consumer, these types of gadgets have been around for a long time.  Prior to the iPad, only Geeks were dabbling with tablets. Today, it is not only socially acceptable to play with your digitalzoa in public, but other people will stretch their necks to try and see what kind of gadget you have, if it’s anything new.  That’s true with not just tablets today, but all things digital.

Prior to the iPad, tablets weren’t really called “tablets”.  We called them PDAs (personal digital assistants) or Tablet PCs (the ones that ran Windows) – us “early adopters” (aka geeks) started sporting these in the late 90’s or early 2000’s.  People who used them were stared at, but not because everyone thought they were so cool.  Those owners seemed to be never paying attention to the real world – always fawning over their little digital pet.  Actually, we were often struggling trying to correct the poor handwriting recognition or scrolling around the calendar trying to enter a date weeks away.  Meanwhile, the normal people around us were writing with flawless ease using pen and paper, jotting down a date or phone number in a blink. 

Flash forward to today and now it’s generally considered “cool” to have digitalzoa in your hands or in your ear all the time – what has changed and how did we get here?  There were many factors, but I honestly think it was Apple’s marketing campaign that pushed social perception over the top.  First of all came the MP3 players in 2000 – I don’t recall who’s product came first, but I know the Creative Labs Nomad was released in 2000 with 32MB of space.  In October of 2001 was the birth of the iPod, holding an unprecedented 5GB of music on an internal hard drive.  Apple’s TV ads showed everyone just how cool it was to be a psychedelic silhouette jammin’ to your iTunes with the iconic white earbud wires connected to your iPod.  Thus began a revolution of sorts – not just of the portable music player, but of the whole recording and music industry.

Shortly after the MP3 players won our hearts, the next gadgets to grow in social acceptance were the cell phones.  Sure, we made calls on them for years before that, but suddenly, they became smart and useful for more than just phone calls.  People put their address and calendar in them and sync’ed with their computers; they could put their music on them just like an MP3 player, and even take pictures.  The cell phone industry did an amazing job at selling phones to us – even ones for little kids and others for people who used to dance the jitterbug.  The smart-phone evolved and matured, but once again in 2007, Apple turned the consumer market on its ear with the iPhone.  Just like the iPod was the ultimate MP3 player, the iPhone became the coveted smart-phone to be flashing around.  And if you already had a cell phone or didn’t want to switch to AT&T, Apple would sell you the iPod Touch, which made you look and feel like you had an iPhone.

Now I think it’s noteworthy that the most popular tablets – iPads and Androids – evolved from the smart-phones. You may wonder what happened to the Tablet PC – why didn’t today’s tablets evolve from the PC?  Aside from the fact that there are still Tablet PCs, the answer to the question is 3G.  When Verizon started offering 3G services to cell phones in 2002, that opened the door to a whole new concept – cellular data devices.  Sprint and AT&T were also up with their 3G by the end of that year.  These vendors would sell you a card to plug in your laptop which would connect you to their 3G network, but eventually you could get it built into your smart-phone, and then your smart-phone could browse the Internet.  It was redundant and expensive to buy a 3G card and data plan for your PC and also for your phone, though. As smart-phones evolved to all have some 3G data capability, it became convenient to just take your phone everywhere and surf the net from anywhere – always on the network.  But the iPad took it one step further – introducing WiFi, which is preferred over a 3G network when available.  So the favored model for the tablet was born: WiFi where you have it and 3G where you don’t.  This is what the cell phone derived tablets deliver.

So that brings us to today’s barnyard of digitalzoa and the two lead contenders for the tablet-to-crave: the new iPad 2 or the Motorola XOOM.  I myself have been using both of the predecessors of these for several months: the original iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  More on this subject in the next post…

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