Do tablets have a place in professional graphics?

Analysts and reporters are going nuts trying to out-predict each other on the growing size and influence of the nascent market for tablet computers. Jon Peddie sorts fact from fad.

The new iPad 2, a second-generation hype generator (Image courtesy Apple)

By Jon Peddie

Tablets are the rave today, well at least Apple’s iPad is. And its success has caused every analyst and reporter to come forth with a vision, forecast, and warning. Tablets (all 120 of them from 65 suppliers) are an inflection point that will forever alter the computing landscape; tablets will grow to 50 million units. Tablets will kill the PC business.

Tablets – at least tablets that hope to mimic Apple’s model and success – are primarily entertainment devices and need a big brother or sister in the form of a laptop or desktop computer. They are great for consuming data, but limited in use for generating it.

Tablets are being used by marketing and sales people to show off slides and brochures. They are almost like small projectors and may be a bigger threat to the fledgling pico projector market than they are to laptops.

They are used for game playing and eBook substitution (although you can’t read a book from a tablet as long as you can from an E-ink display – something about reflected vs. emissive light). Video watching (once you get the video loaded through the wireless port) is popular; tablets are used with video for show and tell too – kind of like YouTube on the go. Facebook, email, and web browsing are common usage models, as are medical record keeping, and insurance form filling. Catalog parts for knobs, lighting fixtures, and even viewing of CAD drawings can be found on tablets. CAD drawings? CAD on a 1024 x 768 screen? Well yes, and just like the old days when we had 14-inch monitors pan and zoom was used to see the details.

CAD on a tablet, on-site. (Photo courtesy ARTRA)

On a building site, or in a manufacturing or processing plant, plans can be reviewed and annotated. That data is instantly available to the cloud and anyone who is linked to the tablet – collaboration as never before. Someone back at the engineering office can be looking at the same drawing and see the comments instantly. He or she can make corrections and/or answer questions.

So the tablet is used for information sharing and generating as well as entertainment. I’ve also see some damn fine artist’s sketches done on a tablet, the kind one would do on a paper tablet.

Drawing created on a tablet, courtesy Ben Templesmith.

So can we assume or expect to do serious professional-grade design on a tablet? Probably not with this generation of units. The screens are too small, the resolution too limited, and generally speaking the stylus—if there is one—is too blunt. But it’s the early days, this is the first generation of slick tablets, and the second generation of tablets in general. What can we expect from the third- and fifth-gen units?

We all know and love Moore’s Law for what it has done for us as consumers and producers. Screens will get higher resolution, performance will continue to go up, features will be added, and the package and price will stay the same or maybe even go down a bit.

We have already been doing “serious” drawing on Wacom tablets, and I remember drawing on large flat-screen CRTs, so the ideas are not novel, or ridiculous—just a matter of timing.

Line straightening, end-point connecting, fillets, all these little functions have been with us for decades, is there any logical reason we can’t or shouldn’t use them on a tablet? Of course not and we will.

Tablets, in a addition to being delightfully portable with long battery life, are also very affordable, selling for under a $1,000 fully maxed out and with a high-speed internet connection. And with automatic cloud backup systems (I’m using one now writing this) we don’t have to worry about losing the tablet and the work done on it.

Of the 120 different models of tablets that will be flooding the market, some will have larger higher resolution screens, some will have two screens. They will have Bluetooth-enabled lightweight keyboards (the iPad already does) and they will be work as a dongle to the home desktop system, as a second screen and external drive.

Tablets are here, the form factor is right—maybe even what we’ve always wanted and just had to wait for the technology—and they will find their position in professional engineering and graphics applications.

Will they cannibalize laptops? Absolutely. Kill laptops? Absolutely not. Will 50 million of them be sold in 2011? Probably not, but who cares if its 30 million or 40 million. We’re going to use these things, they’re useful, affordable, and functional.

Jon Peddie is CEO of Jon Peddie Research