Replacing the PC

May 06, 2014 - ipad iphone post-pc smartphone tablet

Dustin Curtis came out recently with this piece, subsequently picked up by Marco Arment. The gist of it is that the tablet market will eventually be replaced by smartphones, backed up by demographic figures from Pew Research:

Younger people, on the contrary, simply do their computing entirely on their mobile phones. That’s what they’ve grown up using. Older adults use laptops and tablets to access the internet. Teens and young adults use their phones.

I have to disagree with this statement. It may be true for tweens & teens, but in my experience, primary & early childhood kids pretty much exclusively use iPads (NB: not tablets, iPads specifically). If it’s true that each generation will attach themselves to the specific form factor they first used, the smartphone’s day in the sun is going to be brief.

However, things aren’t so simplistic, and I have some problems with the entire hypothesis. In particular, we need to consider what it is that differentiates a smartphone & a tablet, especially as the hardware is almost identical nowadays. Is it screen size? Not exactly, we already have enough problems drawing an invisible line between the categories that we’ve invented an entirely new one. It can’t be cellular connectivity. Could it be the label applied by the manufacturer? If Apple’s 4.7" iPhone is branded the ‘iPad Nano’, does that change the category?

No, in my mind, the key defining attribute that makes a smartphone a smartphone, is whether or not it’s capable of traditional (carrier) voice calls*. By that definition, I’m quite confident in predicting that the smartphone market will be completely replaced by ‘tablets’† (of various sizes) within the next 5-10 years.


* Thought exercise: if Apple announced a 4G iPod touch (with no Phone app installed), would it be categorised as a smartphone?

† Yes, I’m aware we’re likely to end up calling some of these devices ‘phones’ anyway.

Update - I asked the expert himself on Twitter and got smacked down: