I know, I know. You've checked out the Apple iPad, and you're not impressed. You think it's a limited, pointless, overpriced unpocketable iPod for gullible trend whores drunk on Cupertino Kool-Aid.
You despise its closed, proprietary platform, lack of built-in keyboard, missing camera, un-removable battery, no Flash support and monthly fee for AT&T 3G access.
Besides, the sudden tablet craze is just an overhyped fad, right?
It's easy to predict that tablets will be huge sellers. After all, even skeptics can believe that other people will get caught up in a marketing-driven trend. But I'm going to make an even bolder prediction. I'm going to predict that you, personally, will be using a tablet within 18 months.
That's bold because if you're reading this, you're probably far more technical and sophisticated than the average user, and you're probably a professional evaluator of computer equipment. Chances are, you're skeptical about hyped new fads, and have far better memory about the Next Big Things that never happened.
1. Tablets will become hobbyist dream gadgets.
Love to tinker? Tablets will be ideal for that. The home automation crowd will go nuts with these things. And the tablet craze will be accompanied by powerful, simplified development tools. People will build tablet cradles into their car dashboards, and will use tablets for GPS map display, audio control, engine diagnostics and more.
Tablets will serve as robot controllers, model airplane controllers and will function as the brains and interface for homemade smart appliances and devices. Why wouldn't you want to build your own Microsoft Surface-like smart coffee table?
2. They will be optimized for specific tasks.
If you do those tasks, you'll want the optimized tablet. For example, aviation companies will use the new touch tablets for their "electronic flight bag" devices, because they can hold all the documentation, charts, tools and so on that pilots need, both private and professional.
Education? Forget about it. Touch tablets are tailor made for K-12, as well as university education. Tablets with cameras will be useful as magnifiers, security-cam, nanny-cam and crib-cam monitors. Solutions providers will take the open systems and build proprietary, optimized applications that take advantage of the touch interfaces.
3. You will be compelled by apps we can't now predict.
When personal computers first arrived, nobody thought we'd use them to do social networking. When graphical user interfaces first took over, few predicted we'd use them heavily for surfing a very graphical Web (since the Web didn't even exist then). When cell phones started becoming popular, we never imagined people would use them for capturing data with applications like Evernote.
The same thing will happen with tablets. Nobody knows what the "killer apps" will be. It's very likely that something will be invented, designed or developed that will thrill you, and make you change your mind.
4. Tablets will have uses that don't involve replacing something you're already doing.
Tablets are viewed now as hobbled netbooks or giant cell phones. In fact, they'll be used for totally unpredictable purposes that currently nobody now does with computers. For example, imagine if a tablet computer could function as a remote control. And image it had "presets" on it for, say, 12 of your favorite channels. Now imagine that instead of buttons with numbers on them, 12 "buttons" show live video of what was currently playing on each of those channels.
5. Tablets will be open.
Touch tablets will come out optimized for operating systems ranging from closed (iPhone OS) to open (Linux) and everything in between. There will be a gazillion Android tablets. We'll see Windows and Windows Mobile tablets, and more. Take your pick.
6. Your company may buy one for you.
While you're busy not buying a tablet for your home, your company will become increasingly likely to purchase them for your use at work. I believe companies like HP, IBM and others, as well as VARs, will add Linux- and Windows-based touch tablets to their lineups of IT equipment, and as part of larger solutions packages.
7. Tablets will become ideal for IT pros.
Data center staff use clipboards and documentation. Help desk staff need remote desktop capability and remote access to network tools. IT executives attend meeting after meeting. Everybody uses laptops.
Tablets will do all this in a single package. Management tools will be optimized for touch user interfaces. And anyone who wants to use a physical keyboard and/or a mouse will be able to do so with the tablets. If you work anywhere in IT, you will be surrounded by tablet users.
8. Tablets will be better netbooks than netbooks.
Tablets will soon be able to do 90% of what netbooks can do, but netbooks will be able to do only 50% of what tablets can do. I'm making these numbers up, but my point is that for most users, tablets will be able to replace netbooks, but netbooks won't be able to replace tablets.
A universe of special purpose tablet apps will be created, while very few netbook-specific apps have been or will ever be built. A rational buying decision means that if you have to pick between buying a tablet or buying a netbook, you'll buy the tablet.
9. Tablets will get huge.
Ten inches today, 13, 15, 21, 27 and more inches tomorrow. They'll be HD TVs you can bring anywhere. You'll use them for board games, arcade games, first-person shooter games.
10. Tablets will be cheap!
It's a foregone conclusion that the tablets of tomorrow will be cheaper than the netbooks of today. It's the Law! (Moore's Law, to be specific.) You'd have to be pretty aggressively anti-tablet to not pay $200 for a gadget that will do so much.
Skepticism is great. You have good reasons for dissing the Apple iPad. But the future is unpredictable, and the touch tablet concept is going to prove absolutely compelling. That's why I believe you'll be using one within 18 months.
Who knows? Maybe you'll even use an iPad.