August 01, 2014, 2:23 AM — Remember netbooks? They hit the market around 2007 with screens measuring five to 10 inches diagonally, much smaller than a laptop, but also much lighter. They were usually Atom or ARM-powered, running scaled down Linux or Windows XP.
For a while, people gobbled them up as a lighter alternative to laptops. Then came the crash. Battery life stunk and the lack of apps made them unappealing. By 2012, Acer and Asus, the two biggest netbook supporters, have ceased production in favor of tablets.
The reasons were many: laptops came down in price to match netbooks; tablets exploded on the scene; whatever support and apps netbooks had quickly jumped to tablets; the economics of netbooks, and the price points they demanded, made it impossible for makers to turn a profit.
Well, it's déjà vu all over again. Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly tells Re/Code's Walt Mossberg that PC sales are up and tablet sales have gone south.
"So, we've actually had a revival of the PC business at Best Buy [in the company's first quarter]," Joly told Mossberg. He attributed the PC bump to Microsoft ending support for Windows XP. So people are holding their nose and buying a Windows 8 PC, although in fairness, the changes in 8.1 and Update 1 make it much more user friendly.
Tablets, on the other hand, are now crashing. "The volume has really gone down in the last several months. But I think the laptop has something of a revival because it's becoming more versatile. So, with the two-in-ones, you have the opportunity to have both a tablet and laptop, and that's appealing to students in particular. So you have an evolution. The boundaries are not as well defined as they used to be," said Joly.
I for one am hardly surprised.
This was obvious. Tablets were the shiny new thing four years ago when Steve Jobs showed off the iPad. After years of trying to get it right, someone did it. Someone got a touch-screen tablet right, and of course it was Apple.
But there were obvious flaws, not the least of which was the unreplaceable battery. That was an obvious problem and right about now, the first generation of iPad owners should be realizing it.
The lack of decent input was the second problem. Tablets are great in restaurants where you tap what items you want and the order goes back to the kitchen. Typing up a lengthy report? Not so much. Surface addresses that with a fairly nice keyboard, but who uses Surface?
And then there's just the fact that they are simple-use devices with simple apps. With 1GB of application memory space and at best 64GB of storage, it's just too limited for advanced use. Major apps never emerged for it.
Joly also offers his own perspective, saying that there really haven't been any great advances over the last few generations of tablets to warrant upgrading. "You need a reason to replace," he said. He's right about that. I have a Retina iPad and will keep it until it dies. There's no reason to upgrade.
Tablets have plenty of uses. I particularly like how pilots have replaced those monstrous manuals they carried on board the plane (often weighing 40 pounds or more) in favor of tablets. But all these people who predicted tablets would replace PC – and there were a lot of them in the last four years – were really blowing smoke.