Moving from consumption to create, tablets are growing up

Posted: 06.18.13

This generation of x86 tablets changes the game

Tablets often referred to as “media tablets” saw usage for the most part as content consumption and display devices. They have been used for lightweight content creation in email and Facebook, but not serious mission-critical applications—how could they; they only ran Android, or iOS.

That was then, and this is now.

The latest wave of tablets with x86 processors from AMD and Intel running real Windows 8 (as crappy as it is) usher in a new paradigm of content creation capability and productivity platforms.

Some clever artists have created some impressive images with iPads, and I know folks who have actually written 500-word reviews of a conference on an Android tablet with their thumbs.

I’ve been playing with a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 PC, and it works.  

The Tablet 2 has a 10 in IPS panel touchscreen display with 1366 x 768 resolution and an active stylus, which almost makes Windows 8 bearable. It also has a USB port, hidden under a plastic flap so you can use this tablet like a real PC – a small PC, but functionally the same as a PC.

However, as good as the Lenovo tablet is, it’s still a 10-inch display with a Bluetooth 10-inch keyboard (but, with full-size keys, how about that).

So the main issue is physical size. How much are you willing to compromise comfort for convenience? A tablet PC is very convenient; you can take it anywhere. A tablet PC is this decade's Netbook. Like a Netbook, it has a low power and low-performance CPU (but more powerful than the original Netbook). It is a small form factor, it has a small low-resolution screen, and it is not too expensive—although there are some low-end PCs that will challenge it on price.

But we’re adaptive creatures and if there is enough reward we will change our tastes, behavior and almost anything we can to accommodate the new environment. And let's think back. For those of us who have been in the computer industry before the PC revolution, we compromised a lot more.

So can a tablet PC be a content creation device? It has full Windows compatibility including DirectX and other APIs and even an emulator for Android so a dual boot or maybe even a virtualization capability is possible.

Could I, would I, run AutoCAD on the tablet PC, or Photoshop, or PowerDirector video editing? Maybe, but in a restricted way, I’d have to turn things off because even though it is Windows, it’s still just an Atom processor. So the conclusion is yes, the x86 tablet is a content creation device, but with limitations. You could say it was a lightweight content creation device.

X86-Windows tablet PCs will be the vanguard of using tablets for content creation. Soon, in maybe two years or less we will start to see professional graphics tools show up in Android/Apple land. The developers of the tools are going to be surprised at how much bang-for-the-buck there is in AA land. Already today, the SoCs inside the AA tablets are surprisingly good, and highly underutilized. Part of the power, the strength, that the AA tablets being released today have is due to OpenGL ES 3.0 which exposes all the CG features in these amazing SoCs. Once the ISVs realize that, they will begin porting more content creation tools to the AA tablets. 

And then there are the 13- to 20-inch tablets by Asus, Dell, HP, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Wacom, and battery powered AIOs. Now these are real content creation devices if they run Windows, and soon will be content creation devices as AA developers get working.

The large format tablets, on any OS, are going to be the next big thing (no pun) in portable content creation. They will be another threat to notebooks, and eventually even entry-level workstations. Sempiternal creation.