Are Tablets the New Personal Computer?

While tablet sales are on the rise, they currently pose little threat to the traditional PC, according to a survey conducted by Baird Equity Research. Of 1,114 consumers surveyed, only 6% said they could do without a PC, exclusively using their tablets. Another 11% said they could see that being the case some time in the future. But 83% said they couldn’t foresee ever going without a PC.

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Despite the popularity of tablets created by companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung, Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), statistics show that “tablets today are largely incremental devices,” according to the Baird report. People aren’t buying tablets instead of PCs, but rather in addition to PCs. There are still too many features unavailable on tablets that PC users aren’t ready to give up.

However, that could change, depending on the direction tablet makers take in designing future models. One has only to compare the iPad to the iPad 2 to see how tablets could evolve, and how quickly. The first iPad, released in 2010, incorporated a multi-touch document editing with Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The iPad 2, released the following year, added audio and video editing in the form of GarageBand and iMovie, both of which have come pre-installed on Macs for years.

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But to replace PCs, in many ways tablets will have to become PCs, and is there really an incentive for them to do so? Apple currently has the most popular PCs on the market, as well as the most popular tablets. Wouldn’t it do better to maintain the market for both rather than replace one with the other? Many tablet makers are also PC makers, and still rely on PC sales for the majority of their revenue. But if Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) continues to develop its iPad to more closely resemble a PC in function if not style, then others will follow, pressured to evolve a computer-like tablet before the iPad, which already accounts for roughly 93% of the tablet users surveyed by Baird, completely takes over the industry.