The Generation Gap in the Tablet Creation/Consumption Debate
The iPad launched in March of 2010 starting the modern tablet era and the debate about what tablets are best for: creation or consumption. While the iPad dominated tablet sales through 2012, in the last couple of years Android- and Windows-based tablets have eaten away at Apple’s dominance. As the tablet market grows, the creation versus consumption debate rages on and will continue into the future.
My company launched our presentation creation tool, Flowboard for iPad, in April, 2013. At launch, I was quoted as saying, “There has been a myth—and we’re one of the people trying to debunk the myth—that you can’t create on these devices.” I still think that we were and are right; people can and do create on these devices. We have seen huge adoption of creation on iPads by K-12 students all over the country and world. But, after a little more than a year on the market, we have also seen a lot of resistance by “professional” presentation creators to our iPad app. It’s not a question if a user can or can’t, but if a user will or won’t.
Students who have been using iPads in schools, in iPad 1:1 or similar programs, have no problem or reservation creating on the iPad. They don’t need a keyboard or mouse. They are more open and accustomed to using touch screens, having been exposed to them for much or all of their computing lives. People who have keyboards for their tablets are also more open to creating on them, and are actually using the tablets as a true desktop replacement. This hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, and therefore, companies need to continue to build productivity software for the desktop or Web to capture the majority of users.
There is no question that tablets are great for consuming and interacting with content and apps. Their compact size, touch screen, long battery life, and great apps have enabled them to capture a big chunk of the overall Web browsing market. People love to watch movies, play games, and do “light” e-mail on their tablets. They are not quite “mobile” and definitely not desktop. Apps made for tablets can also aid in the workflow of reviewing and signing documents, showing presentations, and dozens of other specific enterprise uses. Tablets are also great at events, conferences, trade shows, or as touch-enabled kiosks in public places.
What are the advantages of smartphones, laptops or desktops over tablets? As smartphones get smarter and their screens get bigger, while tablets get smaller (I love my iPad mini with a 7-inch screen), some of the distinction between the two device categories starts to blur. Meanwhile, most people who have been working on laptops and desktops for years are going to have a hard time being as efficient on a touch screen tablet. But tablets, with their compact size and weight and instant on are so convenient that real work can be done on them, and it is, even by older users.
When it comes to creating, why would the younger generation want to go back to laptops and desktops with keyboards and mice? The answer is yet to be determined, but we think that as tablet software and hardware improves, a growing percentage of people might find they do not need laptops or desktops with mice anymore. Tablets with attached or add-on keyboards already enable more creation and productivity, making it easier for people to dump the traditional laptop or desktop configuration.
We just launched a new version of our presentation software, Flowboard for Mac. While the Mac ecosystem and audience is not growing nearly as fast as the iPhone, iPad, Android or insert almost anything that is growing here, we know that most users older than the “touch” generation are more comfortable creating on a machine with a keyboard and mouse, and access to keyboard shortcuts. We are not giving up on iterating and innovating on our iPad version, and we have made great efforts to make it intuitive and easy to use, but we think that it’s going to be an ongoing challenge to convert certain segments of users to become active and enthusiastic creators on tablets.
There are no right or wrong answers to this debate, and time will tell how the tablet space will evolve. For now, companies need to make the best possible user experiences for each platform and device and, if possible, be on all devices with a unified user interface that is optimized for each. Like most new technologies, younger users and early adopters won’t have a problem embracing new methods, but we will have to see how creation on tablets makes its way to the mainstream.