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Commentary

Is there still a place for the tablet?

Sales of such devices have been declining but slates still have many useful applications

Almost seven years ago (June 1, 2010), at an interview after the launch of the iPad, the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs talked about the post-PC era arriving.

Fast forward to today and the post-PC era has not really taken shape. In fact, it is showing signs of losing steam.

Global tablet sales are declining after the initial buzz following the launch of the original Apple iPad.

According to research firm IDC's figures, tablet shipments went from insignificant in the fourth quarter of 2009, to 55 million units in Q4 2012.

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IDC's programme vice-president Ryan Reith said: "The rate at which the tablet market grew from 2010 to 2013 was unlike many other consumer-oriented device markets we have seen before."

But tablet sales then started to fall and the trend has persisted. IDC reported an 8.5 per cent year-on-year decline in global tablet shipments in the first quarter of this year - the 10th straight quarterly drop for tablets.

Mr Reith said that consumers are becoming less eager to refresh their tablets, or even buy one at all. The main reason, he said, is "the increased dependency on smartphones, along with rather minimal technology and form factor progression (of tablets)".


The 9.7-inch iPad (2017) is a superb product for those who do not need the "pro" features of its more premium cousin, the iPad Pro (9.7-inch or 12.9-inch). PHOTO: APPLE

True enough. When I received the new iPad (2017) for review three weeks ago, I was thinking to myself that I could probably write the review in three paragraphs.

Don't get me wrong. I am not dissing the new fifth generation iPad. The 9.7-inch iPad (2017) is a superb product for those who do not need the "pro" features of its more premium cousin, the iPad Pro (9.7-inch or 12.9-inch). It does not support the Apple Pencil stylus, lacks the stereo speakers and its display does not have a wide-colour gamut.

It might look like the iPad Air 2, its predecessor, but it is actually of the same 7.5mm thickness and has the same 469g weight as the original iPad Air. Inside, though, the iPad (2017) is upgraded with the A9 processor, also found in the iPhone 6s, and has an excellent battery life of up to 10hr.

Most importantly, the iPad (2017) is very affordable with a price tag starting from only $498. Even its highest configuration of 128GB Wi-Fi+4G model costs only $848 compared with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro base model, which starts from $888. I think the new iPad is the most value-for-money tablet, especially when you are using it for Web-browsing, checking e-mails or word-processing. There you go, review done.

The fact that I think the hardly upgraded new iPad is superb and better than many other tablets in the market speaks volumes of the state of tablets currently.

There is hardly any innovation in the tablet realm that excites consumers and entices them to buy one.

One perk of tablets used to be the screen size. However, with smartphones' size getting smaller but their display getting bigger, the tablet's large screen size is not much of an attraction these days.

And if you really want a large display in a tablet like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, you might as well get a proper laptop with the weight that comes with it.

One can also get a hybrid laptop that can be used as both a tablet and a laptop. And we have a lot of hybrids from the likes of Lenovo, Dell, Acer and Asus.

That said, I think there is still a place for tablets.

A tablet is still a lot more portable than a lot of laptops. I know of many female friends who like small tablets like the iPad mini because they can put it in their handbags. I carry my iPad Pro, instead of a laptop, to conduct interviews.

A tablet is still great for reading - that's where my Kindle ebooks are downloaded and read. I also have my iPad at my bedside to catch up with all the news around the world before I go to sleep at night.

A tablet is especially great when you have aged parents with failing eyesight who want to catch the latest 4D or Toto results.

A tablet is also a great on-the-go entertainment device.

I know of friends who will download all the latest episodes of their favourite Korean dramas or variety shows using apps like Viu, so that they can binge watch during long flights.

So all is not lost for the tablet market. The likes of Apple, Samsung and other mobile-device makers just need to find the right combination of form factor, user-friendliness, capabilities and price for tablets to make a comeback.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'Is there still a place for the tablet?'. Print Edition | Subscribe