“Are you getting a lot done on the grandpa box?” asks the intern character in the “Dilbert” comic strip. Taunting the strip’s eponymous engineer, who is sitting at a PC, the intern goes on: “The people in my generation do our work on our phones and tablets.”
“I also have a laptop,” Dilbert puts in, deadpan as usual. The intern is unimpressed. “I will text the ’90s,” he says, “and let them know.”
The tablet revolution, which drove the rise of the iPad and the introduction of the relatively unpopular Windows 8 operating system (which works well on touch-screen devices like the Microsoft Surface, but is ill-suited to desktop computers), continues to affect and even shape society. Tablet technology is taking over. How many people do you know who don’t even own a “real” computer anymore? Chances are good that your bank has switched, or is switching, to a paperless electronic model in which you swipe your card on a touch station rather than fill out paper slips. Popular restaurant chains, including Applebee’s and Chili’s, are introducing tablets table-side to take orders and make splitting and paying bills instantaneous.
According to Sam Colt, tablet-maker Ziosk has sold 45,000 units to Chili’s for 800 restaurant locations. The inexpensive tablets run the Android operating system and incorporate cameras and optional receipt printers. As you might expect, with the exception of someone physically conveying your food to your table, these devices make severs obsolete. Applebee’s, meanwhile, has announced the installation of 100,000 tablets powered by Intel chips and manufactured by E la Carte.
“Some major chains have already [moved to tablet technology],” Colt writes. “Buffalo Wild Wings announced a big tablet push in March, promising to have them in all North American stores by the end of 2015. … Applebee’s has hinted toward adding [more] functionality down the road, suggesting that tablets are more than just an industry fad.” One of the ways the tablets help servers (rather than replace them) is provide greater precision in ordering and much more efficiency when it comes to splitting bills. The devices also suggest a tip amount, which helps increase the compensation servers receive.
Phone companies, too, are turning to tablets as a means of increasing profits in a market saturated with smartphones. “Wireless companies have been jockeying for new subscribers,” writes Ryan Knutson, “in a market where there are more active cellphone plans than there are people, a predicament that led to slowing growth and increased competition. Carriers have found the answer in tablets, which represent one of the few places where the industry can wring out a new source of revenue after the companies have nearly tapped out smartphone upgrades. The companies are offering aggressive promotions to get customers to sign up. But the new tablet connections aren’t as attractive as smartphones for two reasons: they don’t generate as much revenue as smartphones and they aren’t bringing in new customers. Rather, the majority of tablet sales are upgrades to existing customer plans.”
Knutson explains that the “lifetime value” of a tablet buyer is only one-third that of a handset buyer. Where once, subscription figures among wireless carriers could be used to signal shifts in subscriber market share – in other words, to assess which company was dominating the market – those subscription numbers now better reflect a company’s success in terms of selling tablets to their customer base.
“[Verizon] is giving away some tablets free,” Knutson points out. “The devices led the company to add 1.4 million of the most lucrative postpaid customers in the second quarter, the vast majority of which … were for new tablets. During the first quarter, tablet sales at Verizon offset a decline in handset connections.”
Knutson goes on to explain that most tablet customers don’t buy data plans for their tablets. Instead, they rely on free WiFi networks (which, like tablets themselves, are increasingly prevalent in society). “More than 70 percent of all tablets shipped globally in 2013 were WiFi only, according to research firm IDC, which expects there to be some growth in tablets sold with cellular connections.”
Interestingly, the device that (arguably) brought the tablet to the nation’s consciousness, the iPad, is seeing a strangely incongruous decline in popularity. “[The company] said the three-month period ending June 28 was Apple’s best ever fiscal third-quarter return,” writes Shaun Nichols. “The $37.4 billion revenues, up 6 percent year on year, led to a $7.7 billion net income up from $6.9 billion a year ago. … Though iPhone and Mac sales were strong, the iPad had a rough quarter as tablet revenues at Apple were down 8 percent, year on year, to $5.8 billion from 13.2 million units sold (down 9 percent). … [Apple CEO Tim Cook] also expressed hope that the iPad business will be bolstered by the recently announced mobile mega-deal with IBM. He noted that the partnership with Big Blue will allow for tablet-specific apps to be written rather than just adapted from desktop software.”
There’s no doubt that, despite the specifics and vagaries of the market, tablets and touch-device technology will only become a greater part of our lives. As in all technological advances that drive cultural behavior, whether this is “good” or “bad” depends largely on whether you believe the risks outweigh the rewards. Yes, tablets are devices of convenience. They are also used for entertainment as much, if not more, than for actual work (although that is changing). The problem with the integration of touch-screen tech in every waking and sleeping moment is the question smartphone saturation also raises: Just how much communication will there be among the networks on which these tablets run?
Already, you create a voluntary data footprint of your travels, buying habits, opinions and preferences by using your smartphone and posting to social media. Now picture a world in which every place you go, everywhere you shop and everyone with whom you interact is a link in a data network integrated through touch-screen tech. Opportunities for you to “opt out” of this network diminish rapidly the more these devices seep into commerce and public infrastructure. Like it or not, the tablet revolution will envelop you – and your reluctance to embrace it will be quite irrelevant.
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