Why Tablets Will Become Our Primary Computing Device

Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.

They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.

They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop. 

And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.

They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.

All these reasons add up to our prediction that tablets will become the preferred, primary device for millions of people around the world, which is in the just-published report “Tablets Will Rule The Future Personal Computing Landscape.” Note that there will still be lots of personal computers sold and in use — in fact our casual estimate is that there will be 2 billion PCs in use by 2016, despite growing tablet sales. That’s because tablets only partially cannibalize PCs. Eventually tablets will slow laptop sales but increase sales of desktop PCs. That’s because many people, especially information workers, will still need conventional PCs for any intensely creative work at a desk that requires a large display or significant processing power.

So let’s define what we mean by a tablet:

“Touch first” slab computers that weigh less than 800 grams (1.75 pounds), have a 7- to 14-inch diagonal screen area, feature always-on operation, and 8-hour battery life.

These criteria are important because they are the requirements for keeping the individual in flow while using the device. Light and small enough that you don’t have to think about whether to bring it. Long enough battery life that you don’t worry about whether to bring your charger – you just charge it at night. And instantly responsive, so you don’t get irritated or distracted while waiting for it to catch up with you.

So “hybrid” devices, call them PCs or tablets, that feature a keyboard and touch do qualify as a tablet in this definition if they meet the criteria above. Some will get there by using a removable keyboard. Some may qualify by somehow fitting a keyboard into a device this size, though that may be hard. Many of the devices that are trying to be an ultrathin laptop with a touch screen won’t qualify because of greater weight or shorter battery life.

As a result of the compelling user experience of Apple’s iPad and the content-focused experience of the Amazon Kindle Fire, and other tablets, global tablets sales will continue to grow sharply over the next five years. We forecast sales rising from 56 million in 2011 to 375 million in 2016. Given that a majority of tablets will be retired within three years of purchase, we forecast that there will be 760 million tablets in use globally by 2016. One-third of these tablets will be purchased by businesses, and emerging markets will drive about 40% of sales.

We’ve got a detailed model to share with clients, broken down by OS, major OEM brands, and global regions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and inputs on the reasons why tablets become the primary personal computer, the definition of tablets, and the sales forecast.


Having 4 different ones of

Having 4 different ones of these (my line of work) I do enjoy them. They will never replace my PC or Laptop but they do serve for a certain time and place for sure. I do not see them replacing enterprise PCs anytime soon outside of very senior executives and certainly not at the grunt level. For home the quick games, browsing, and email aspects have almost completely removed my need to be on my PC. But when I am working on sites, graphics programs, serious emailing(read large) and so on, there still isn't anything close to the interaction I get with my mouse and keyboard.

I agree - tablets complement, not replace

But I used the word primary to show that among your devices, the tablet will the most personal, intimate and hard to do without. If you need to do graphics, write long emails, and other power activities, you'll still want a PC, or eventually a frame PC that works with your tablet.

digital watch

Digital watches, employing computing power, are also arguably among the most personal, intimate and hard to do without, but they are passive devices. The prior comment made the accurate point that desktops and laptops will not soon be replaced for the most truly productive work, as opposed to relatively passive consumption.

A tablet is an intermediary

A tablet is an intermediary device. Look at the ASUS Transformer: it's just a laptop with a touchscreen. Microsoft, Google, and Apple and all transitioning their OSes to work on convertible devices, and all tablets already have the potential for a physical keyboard.

So your article is either saying, "All laptops will have touchscreens" or "Your laptop will be your primary device". Either way, it isn't new or insightful.

No. In fact, if you ask a

No. In fact, if you ask a person "Either give up your PC or your tablet, I don't think anyone would ever choose to give up their PC. It's simple - whatever you can do on your tablet, you can do on your PC. But you can't use a tablet for everything we use a PC for.

As long as that distinction is there, a tablet will always be a secondary device. Proof - I bought my tablet 2 months ago, and I still come back to my PC even for browsing. It's faster. This comment I'm typing? On my PC.


Hi Joseph,

I agree, well sort of. If we need to look something up on the internet, it is the smart phone we use, since it is usually next to us. We have a computer available for the family in almost every room. Crazy huh?

I really believe these tablets are gimmicks.

Yes there are very useful places for them, any job that you need to retrieve data and are moving about. They are good for playing with the internet. But as a computing tool they are a bit clunky. It is funny to watch the fan boys spending good money to get the latest Ipad and show me how he can look at the stars or control his tv. It is a real stretch to make this thing attractive to me.

I finally bought one for the house and after 15 minutes of play all of us went back to our computers. It is funny that Frank says we need a flat surface for a "LAP" top. Yes I watch tv and play on my "LAP" top that sits on my "LAP". The tablet really needs two hands. The mouse is a much more functional computer interface than a finger. Leaves my left hand free to eat chips.

But I take it with us to entertain my son in the back seat on a car trip since he lost his gameboy. His sister has a Sony PSP.

Tablets are convenient, not yet full featured

Joe and Joseph, great observations about using tablets today.
My hypothesis is that tablets will advance over the next four years and take over enough tasks from the PC, not all, that they will become our most personal and most used device - the primary device. Many even most of us will still use a PC also, but more likely it will be shared PC, rather than a dedicated PC, as you mention Joe in your comment.

Windows 8

Hi Frank,

I have seen a bit of Windows 8 in operation and it may be the thing that pulls it all together, at least for me.

Windows 8 full functionality would create a new type of tablet with a removable keyboard and basically be a laptop with incredible touch interface. I wonder how the phone would be? The interoperability will be intriguing.

My Android table has 2 usb ports that a mouse and a keyboard can be plugged in.

I have to say for full disclosure I have never had an Apple device. For no other reason than the software (CAD/CAM) I sold and used operates only on Windows. I have really been put off by my Fan boy friends and their devotion to Apple. I was an Atari guy before moving to the IBM pc.

It is funny if they didn't put the computer under the Keyboard in a Laptop the tablet would have come a lot sooner. I suppose that wouldn't have been logical...

By 2016, if forced, people will give up PC not tablet

The debate is great!
Today, I agree, if you had to choose, you would keep the laptop and give up your tablet.

In the report, I predict that this preference will flip in the next few years. Tablets will get good enough at many, not all creation tasks - plus become so important and convenient for every day use and consumption, that they become an individual's primary device, rather than a laptop. They'll still use PCs but not as much, and those PCs will be more likely to be shared or borrowed. And those PCs will more likely be desktops, but a new form with wireless docking, lots of sensors for context and input, and shared processing power.

Hell No

No, Tablet or smart phones will never ever replace pc because you can't replace mouse,keyboard and all those great device that only PC can do even if tablet in the future using a keyboard or a mouse it's probally a Pc-Tablet Hybrid so bassiclly,yeah Tablet can't replace Pc but they Hybrid will Replace both of them

Laptop still preferred

I have one of the new third generation iPads and a MacBook Pro 17 inch. I like them both but prefer the laptop. The MacBook Pro has a much larger screen and supports multiple windows. For instance, I'm typing this into web page window while, at the same time, displaying real-time stock market quotes in another window off to the side. I'm constantly running more than one program and referring back and forth between them. With the tablet, I have to close one window and open another one which is more cumbersome.

A real keyboard is far better for data input. I'm a touch typist and can do about 60 wpm on my MacBook Pro. I have yet to get the hang of touch typing on my iPad despite having owned one for more than two years. I'm basically a two finger typist on the iPad and have to look at the touch keyboard to type. It's OK when I'm out and about but not for everyday constant use. The new iPad does have voice-to-text recognition with a button to activate built-in to the keyboard. It works surprisingly well but does require some manual error correcting.

I don't see these two devices as head-to-head competitors. Both will be around for a long time and both will be heavily used.

Think of it like a sedan and a pick-up truck. You can substitute one for the other to some extent, but not completely.

Will you still prefer a laptop in 2016?

My focus at Forrester is on predicting future scenarios. I agree that laptops are still preferred today, if you had to pick one device. And I too prefer multiple screens on my PC, and prefer a keyboard for input. Though I am experimenting more and more with voice dictation, and watching my middle school son dictate some his essays.
So when I project tablet capabilities out to 2016, and think about the total market for computing use cases, I conclude that tablets will the most important and personal computing device for many people. To use the analogy that you mention of cars, people will prefer the sedan for most activities, and use the truck when they need to. The truck, the PC, will become a shared specialized device that we have at our work desks and at home, but don't carry around as much as we do now.

Agree to a point

I think it will be a generational thing. My four year old grandson already uses the iPad (with great delight I might add). He's not yet able to use a laptop or desktop computer. Kids will prefer tablets because of familiarity. High school and college kids will carry iPads to class rather than books. The iPad will become as ubiquitous as the cell phone is today. There will be tablets in the kitchen, in the car, at work, and at home. They'll be everywhere.


Hi Dave,

I don't agree.

Where fast input is necessary the tablet fails nothing beats a keyboard, even voice. I do think W8 could bridge that gap at least for me. I suspect Apple will move to one system for all of their devices and you analogy will be true.

I don't see it replacing the cell phone like I said before the smart phone is much better for a quick look. Heck my wife prefers Angry Birds on the phone. Who wants to carry a 8' or 11' pad everywhere.

Tablet can be anywhere now and they are not there. Heck I have a computer in the kitchen. I do remember Jobs intro of the Ipad and I did agree that it would be a nice thing laying on the coffee table for quick access.

You could give the four year old anything and he would be intrigued.

I am not being contrary on purpose, I just think tablets today are over rated and more of a gimmick.

Of course if I owned a bunch (even a few) Apple stock my opinion could be changed!!

Computing or accessing device?

Is it not a case that the tablet will drive the seperation of computing power from the access device? Another 'circle' of IT will be completed and we'll return to the dumb terminal scenario. Desktop Virtualisation (in whatever form) with the 'cloud' (hype or otherwise) will provide the computing power and tablets will evolve to provide one of many ways to access the information that is required.

Work is changing and the days of long written reports are (hopefully!) on the way out. Without the need to type long documents the requirement for a keyboard reduces and natural interactions increase.

Why have computing power in my pocket where only I can use it? Pool it and increase utilisation.

I think rich clients will continue to dominate

In the four year time frame of this report, I and other Forrester analysts continue to think that some form of rich client will continue to matter. A rich client combines remote computing power in native, local app interfaces for a responsive, intuitive experience. Full remote processing won't work, even if the nirvana of full available and responsive networks is achieved, which we don't think is possible any time soon.
Check out our research on the "App Internet" for more.

Your thought on how work is changing and that tablets and other technology will help change the types of content we create and consume is interesting - I think that is certainly the case, but I don't think that means that all long reports will disappear. But I do think that new, app based ways of consuming a long complex narrative will appear - just look at the rich and interactive forms of books appearing in Apple's iBooks format/store.

ergonomically not capable

Don’t you think that the lack of keyboard (the spring effect) will present an ergonomically issue?

New forms of input technology will help

Tapping on virtual keyboards on glass isn't great, so that isn't the full answer. It just helps when you use the tablet on the go. Voice dictation helps with longer text entries. But the key is the docking idea - when you get to a desk, dock, and sit down, you'll use a keyboard and high quality dictation to get lots of text in. And you'll see more powerful docks over the next few years that make it seamless to move between your tablet and your PC while at your desk.


I can not give up the keyboard or the MOUSE.

I do CAD and I just need a mouse.

You won't have to give up a keyboard

Even as tablets get better, I don't think you'll do complex CAD work on a tablet.
Though I do believe that tablets will get so good at integrating with desktop PCs that you'll be able to easily refer to your CAD files on a tablet, though not to do extensive changes or design work. When you bring the tablet to your desktop PC/frame, then you'll use a keyboard.
The mouse will endure at least a while longer, but may be complemented by eye tracking devices and other new technology.

Windows 8

I hope W8 delivers across the platforms.

I would love to travel with what are being called tablet hybrids that have a keyboard and a mouse. Yet let the tablet stands alone when you are traveling and pulling out a laptop is a bit of an inconvenience. Having your desktop windows traveling with you would be awesome.

Sad to say all of my software runs on windows. Never was a fan boy. I almost have to apologize to my fan boy friends... Then I am not into deity worship either..

Lies and MOre Miss read data

The Renault Fuego was the 1982 Car of the Year!
Then production stopped in 1983.

Forrester has been notoriously wrong in the past. This the same.
Don't let sales numbers fool the ignorant.
As far as the article - What a complete pile of dirt button mud.
I bought a tablet a couple years ago and took it to a conference. It’s bsolutely horrible to take notes on a keyboardless interface – an exercise in frustration.
Try spending 10 hours coding VB.net on tablet.
Try editing a video on a tablet.
Since my BlueRay theater system has NetFlix, the tablet gathers dust in the closet.
There’s a huge difference between content creation apps, and practical content creation. What you got correct is that a tablet is a consumption device, not a production device. For those of us who "produce", tablets are just cutsie little toys our kids play with.
There is ZERO way these things will EVER replace corporate desktops. Security, power, central management.. Sorry you missed the boat.

Kindle Tablet

Great post ! Tablets are on their way to become the primary personal computing device. Users will continue to embrace tablets and the core tool to pivot among computing environments. Impact of tablets on the technology market is very much these days.

Tablets is not personal computing.

Tablets is not personal computing.

They are good tools when you are out on the road to view or maniputlate data when you are away from a conventional computer. Entertainment, viewing the internet and who watches movies on these things at home. Since I work out of my home the tablet sits in the corner waiting for a long trip to entertain my son.

No one will replace their computer with a tablet.

I feel Microsoft W8 will bring the capability to easily add a functional keyboard and mouse to the Tablet but then it becomes a conventional computer with the tablet being utilized as a monitor.

If they would have put the computer in the monitor side of table we could have had this years ago. But then it would have fallen over .. lol

Tablets rule!

I agree seeing the evolution of my own personal computing style:
100% PC (2006) -->
50% PC / 50% iphone (2009) ->
40% Mac/10% iPhone/50%iPad (2012)

I haven't found any studies that compare what people do on PCs (large form factor) vs. iPad (medium form factor) vs. iPhone (small form factor). I personally browse more on the iPad and use apps more on the iPhone. Wonder if that is consistent with how other people use it.

I also think tablets are more important than smart phones for the enterprise because most existing apps can be re-used without any need to modify form factor (http://manydevices.wordpress.com). There are no good ways to correct form factor, other than re-writing apps.

Many Devices Blog (http://manydevices.wordpress.com)


seriously sorry for disagreed with you.
but if you think tablet will replace the PC how in the world they can create games,apps,etc much more so please if you think all those great apps,etc that can be used on Tablet,Smarthone or phone was created in their own device it's impposible as ****!!!

Tablets for business presentations

I am just reading your blog while writing a talk entitled "how game changing is iPad?" to be delivered at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen in July to a business audience. Your sales forecast does validate other predictions that I am referencing. So that's tablet sales of 147 million globally in 2015 with 30% bought by business. I am particularly interested in the adoption of tablets by businesses and especially for customer presentations. We have launched a cross platform product catalog app called aWorkbook which conveniently works on MAC OS, iOS, Windows and Android. http://www.aworkbook.com One of the issues and barriers to adoption is how devices and software are supported by the IT policies and personnel in companies. Some research on attitudes amongst CIOs and IT Directors to iPads, android tablets and what impact Windows 8 will have would be interesting. If my sources are correct, then in iPad launch year 2010 a million iPads were bought for business. In 2016 123 million tablet computers will be bought for business and if a third of the installed user base is business then that's 250 million.

PC's only required for "intensely creative work" - wrong

"That’s because many people, especially information workers, will still need conventional PCs for any intensely creative work at a desk that requires a large display or significant processing power."

In reality a PC is required to do any useful work at all (and not just 'power user' mambo-jumbo) since touchscreens are terrible for anything other than playing games, farting around the web or checking email in your spare time. This may indeed be what most people do at home, but that's not going to magically make the need to do everything else go away.


Why is WiDi not more mainstream at this point? I'm just surprised given how long it's been around and it's value proposition to customers.

Future of the paper notebook?

I got a comment from Jose Alberto Diaz of Industrias Nigua in the Dominican Republic (http://indusnig.com.do/app/do/frontpage.aspx) but our publishing system won't let me approve it - so I've copied and pasted it below.
I replied in my partically competent written Spanish, but here's my take in English:

I think paper notebooks will continue to be important in schools for a some time, even in the United States. Tablets are still too expensive and don't do well at sharing among multiple users. There are inexpensive tablets, but so far they make severe usability compromises.

So believe that paper notebooks will continue to be important though they may gradually decrease in sales volume. I think schools will continue to emphasize handwriting for a long time.

Buenos dias.
Hablo español, pero no tengo mucha practica escribiendolo.

Yo espero que cuadernos seran importante en escuelas para mucho años todavia, incluyendo en los Estados Unidos. Pero el volumen de ventas probablemente bajaran poco a poco.

Una possibilidad es que papel especialidada para trabajar con tabletas sera popular.
Revisa el producto de Livescribe en el sitio web www.livescribe.com

Lo dificil de tabletas is que todavia son caros, y solamente duran unos tres or quatro años. No se pueden compartir con otros con facilidad, but esto probablemente mejora poco o poco en los años proximos.
Los tabletas baratas no son de buena calidad, but esto mejora poco a poco tambien.

I hope my Spanish gives you enough feedback,



Comment from Jose Alberto Diaz (not verified) (jose.diaz@indusnig.com.do) on Mon, 12/17/2012 - 11:45
Trabajo en una empresa que fabrica cuadernos estudiantiles, entre otros productos, y estamos estamos en una etapa de planeacion estrategica. Asi que nos preguntamos si nuestra linea de cuaderno tiene futuro o si sera devorada por las tabletas.
Se puede asumir que los ninos pobres del tercer mundo tendra la oportunidad de usar una tableta como cuaderno? Dentro de cuantos anos?

Gracias por sus opiniones.