Opinion: Tablets are changing the tech you use, whether you own one or not

tablets are changing the tech you use tablets flashIf the computing industry was a stagnant pond in late 2009, the introduction of tablets a few months later was less akin to a pebble flicked from the shore and more like a boulder hurled from 10 feet up. The ripples have been widespread and lasting.

And the rocks haven’t stopped dropping from the sky. With the introduction of compelling new tablets from Microsoft, Google, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon (which just announced new Kindles last week), 2012 is shaping up as the definitive “year of the tablet.” That means that the disruptions we’ve seen so far are just the beginning.

Let’s look back at a few ways tablets have already shaken up the rest of the surrounding tech world, and what those disruptions can show us about the future.

The death of netbooks

Netbooks, which in 2009 seemed to be the computing format of the future, have been one of the biggest casualties of the growing popularity of tablets. Rumors of the “death of netbooks” began soon after the iPad’s release in April 2010, and have continued ever since.

By the second quarter of 2011, just a year after iPad’s introduction, tablets were being shipped at a rate nearly double that of netbooks, with 13.6 million and 7.3 million units produced, respectively. More recent analysis from Canalys suggests that this gap continues to widen. In May of this year, the firm reported that first-quarter 2012 netbook shipments had fallen 34 percent from the previous year. More dire, Canalys wrote that this was “the sixth such fall in succession.”

Besides dropping sales, consumer interest in netbooks has also waned. Cnet’s Dan Ackerman put together a graph on netbook traffic that illustrates this point quite handily. More than 500,000 unique visitors viewed “netbook” pages on Cnet in December 2009, prior to the iPad’s introduction. In December 2010, that number had dropped to 300,000 visitors, while more than 800,000 unique visitors viewed tablet pages.

The decline of Flash and rise of HTML5

Though Steve Jobs described netbooks as “cheap” devices that “aren’t better than anything,” he didn’t necessarily target them for destruction. Their decline was simply a natural consequence of growth in tablets.

Adobe’s Flash, however, was a different story. Jobs’ distaste for Flash was so great that he wrote an open letter on the subject in April 2010 to outline the reasons that Apple had outlawed Flash on its mobile devices, and to encourage adoption of HTML5.

There are many reasons for Flash’s decline in favor of HTML5. Two of the biggest persuaders, however, had to have been Steve Jobs and iOS.

flash on ipad tablet computers changing techFollowing up 18 months after what he described as Jobs’ “essay,” the Wall Street Journal’s Don Clark wrote in November 2011 that “HTML5 is rapidly winning over the Web.” At that time, 34 of the 100 most popular websites were using HTML5.

Analysis from W3Techs.com suggests that HTML5 has surpassed Flash even at that rate of adoption. At the time of writing, 22.8 percent of Alexa’s top 1 million websites use Flash. This is a decrease from about 27 percent from a year prior.

With the ever increasing popularity of iOS and HTML5, it’s unlikely that this decrease in the use of Flash can be reversed.

The rise of cloud storage

Though Adobe’s Flash has taken a hit from tablets, other Web services companies are prospering.

Take Dropbox, for example. To borrow an oft-used metaphor, Dropbox is the glue that keeps my digital life together — especially on my iPad. In fact, Dropbox delivered the outline for this column from my iPad to my MacBook Pro. It did so as it always does: quietly, reliably, and with beautiful simplicity.

Others must agree with my love of Dropbox: The service has grown explosively in the weeks and months following iPad’s introduction. In the early months of 2010 just before the iPad arrived, Dropbox reported only 4 million users. Just a little more than a year later, in April 2011, it had reached 25 million. As tablets hit their stride in November 2011, that number had ballooned to 45 million.

cloud computing tablets changing technologyThere are other reasons for Dropbox’s growth, of course. The company has a highly-successful viral marketing strategy, and their service is vital in a number of use cases beyond tablets. But, what else happened while Dropbox was experiencing its explosive growth through 2010 and 2011? Apple sold millions of iPads — 7.33 million in the first quarter of 2011 alone. Many of those purchasing iPads discovered a need for cloud storage for the first time in their computing lives.

The importance of Dropbox (or one of its competitors) to tablet usage means that tablets will be a big driver of growth in cloud storage. I guess Dropbox CEO Drew Houston wasn’t kidding when he said the company was just getting started.

The rise of streaming video

Dropbox isn’t the only cloud service making hay as tablets come to dominate. A combination of small solid-state hard drives and abundant wireless Internet connections has seen several streaming media services positioned for major growth in the tablet economy.

Take Netflix, for example. Netflix is a magical experience on iPad. Its design is fantastic, and the app is so responsive during use, that it’s easy to forget that it’s a Web application.

netflix on ipad tablets are changing technologyNot surprisingly, Netflix subscriptions have boomed alongside tablet growth. Netflix reported 23.9 million streaming customers in the second quarter of 2012, up from 21.5 million less than one year earlier. The availability of great Netflix apps for most tablet platforms (sorry, Blackberry Playbook) indicates that Netflix sees a major opportunity in this segment. The strength of its brand and quality of its execution have Netflix poised to make a fortune from tablets.

That Netflix hasn’t seen more growth from tablets may be due to the strength of its competitors. Hulu Plus has grown rapidly since its release in November 2010. In April, Hulu announced that its subscription service had reached 2 million subscribers, double the 1 million subscribers number that Hulu revealed in a blog post from October 2011. Though Hulu doesn’t offer an experience as polished as Netflix, it does have content that Netflix lacks. Due to this, Hulu will continue to see growth from tablets, and will continue to be an important player in the video streaming space.

The future

These aren’t the only ways that tablets have changed the computing economy. Desktop operating systems are now borrowing design elements from tablets — Apple’s Launchpad and Microsoft’s Modern UI interfaces both reek of “tabletification.” It’s clear that both Apple and Microsoft view tablets as the future, and are doing everything they can to move consumers towards that future.

In that future, tablets will continue to have more and more surprising effects on the industry. These effects may be worrisome for companies like Intel that make their profits on desktops and laptops, but for the rest of us, tablets will continue to make using tech more convenient, affordable and entertaining than ever before.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Computing

USB4 will be the fastest and most uniform USB standard yet

USB4 is on the horizon and alongside a massive boost in speed it's also unifying with the Thunderbolt 3 standard to help finally create a singular wired connection protocol that all devices can enjoy.
Computing

Need more from your conference white board? The Surface Hub 2 should have it

The Surface Hub 2 could be the most expensive whiteboard ever made, but it should be a powerful and capable one. With the ability to connect several of the 50-inch displays together, the picture at least, should be gorgeous.
Computing

The Edge browser is dying. Here's what we know about its replacement

There's a new Microsoft Chromium browser coming, and it looks like it will be replacing Edge for most people. Here's everything you need to know about this new browser, how you can use it, and when it's expected to come out.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Wearables

Spring is here, and Apple’s beautiful new Watch bands will help you celebrate

Apple knows that seasons matter in the fashion world, and has refreshed its most popular Apple Watch bands to celebrate the arrival of spring. See them all, including our new favorite teal versions, here.
Mobile

Google hit with another fine by the EU, this time for $1.7 billion

Google has been fined for the third time by the EU, this time for breaching antitrust laws by requiring third-party websites using its search function to prioritize its ads over competitors.
Mobile

Google Fi: Phones, plans, pricing, perks, and more explained

Google's wireless service, formerly Project Fi, now goes by the name of Google Fi, and it's now compatible with a majority of Android phones, as well as iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Google Fi.
Deals

Get your hands (and ears) on Apple’s new AirPods — here’s where to find them

Apple's new AirPods with wireless charging are the latest version of the much-loved wireless earbuds. Unfortunately, they aren't widely available yet. Here's where you can find them right now, and where they will show up soon.
Mobile

You can now use the innovative Red Hydrogen One on Google Fi

The Red Hydrogen One was first announced in 2017 and has been delayed a few times since then. Now, the Red Hydrogen One is finally available, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.
Mobile

Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat may be coming soon

At its September event in 2017, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Deals

The best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods might be new and improved, but they aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, with attractive features. These are the best AirPod alternatives on the market today.
Product Review

There’s almost nothing bad to say about the Mi Mix 3, but you still shouldn’t buy it

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is good-looking, really well made, packed with features, and is a powerful, modern, desirable smartphone. But you probably shouldn’t buy it. Why? Nothing wrong with the device itself, but Xiaomi itself is mostly to…
Deals

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.