Are Tablets the Next Netbooks?

Remember when the future of computers was all about netbooks? A couple of years ago you couldn't go past a tech site without reading a story about how netbooks were the future of computing. When the class of hardware quickly reached 20% of the laptop market in 2008, some proclaimed the death of the desktop. A more recent set of statistics suggest that netbooks have dropped to under 5% of the market.


We hear "death of the desktop" often. I'm not sure if it's ADHD tech journalism or not, but the desktop has been declared dead more often than Dracula.


The current prophesized "Desktop Killer" is the tablet. Will the tablet kill the desktop? Did they even kill the netbook?
It's interesting to speculate whether tablets "killed' the netbook or if there was something else at play. I've owned a couple of netbooks and a couple of tablets and find them similar in important respects. The main similarity is that while both make perfectly serviceable machines to browse the internet and interact with social media, they become infuriating if you want to perform a more complicated task, especially one that requires tabbing between different programs.


It's all about the form factor. Screen size and keyboard size also become an issue after prolonged use. Netbooks almost all suffered from compact keyboards. Tablets don't have them. You could use the compact or onscreen keyboard to perform minor tasks, but if you were sitting down to write a couple of thousand words, you went in search of a full sized keyboard to plug in.


The same applies to the size of the screen. The average screen size on desktop computers today is between 15 and 17 inches, running at a resolution of 1366x768. Average tablet screen size is rarely above 10 inches. Average netbook screen size is somewhere around 8. These sizes are adequate for casual work, but working 9 to 5, 7 days a week in front of an iPad or netbook screen is going to be something that only a few people are comfortable doing.


The desktop isn't going anywhere because it suits a particular form factor. People need a keyboard that is a certain size to type comfortably and a monitor of a certain size to interact with the computer effectively. The monitor has to be at a specific height with respect to the keyboard to be comfortable for long term use. That's not something that a netbook or a tablet can accomplish - which is why tablets (and netbooks before them) aren't desktop killers.

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