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Tablet completes a decade with uncertain future

For Steve Jobs, tablet would be an intermediary between cellphone and computer

For many people, Steve Jobs was a kind of technology prophet. Tomorrow, ten years ago, he showed the world his latest great invention. As a Moiss from Silicon Valley, Jobs brought up a new board. Instead of commandments, applications. Instead of stone, it's a 9.7-inch touchscreen. The iPad was born there and, with it, a market for electronics: tablets. A decade after its emergence, the category experienced boom and bust in sales, but never managed to demonstrate its purpose exactly. The debt that remains if the iPad and its rivals will have the will to survive for another ten years.

At the time it was launched, the iPad was described by Jobs as a third way of personal computing, between smartphones and notebooks. More than that, it was an old dream of the founder of Apple. In a 1983 speech, he gave the first hints of his ambition. We want to launch a great computer, in book format, that can be loaded and learned to use in 20 minutes, he said. The inspiration foresaw until the web, which would come years later. We want to do it with a radio link, so that it does not need to be connected and is in communication with large databases and other computers.

The project took time to come true. One of the first patents that describes something like the iPad from 2004. In addition, several of the technologies idealized for it ended up being loaned to the iPhone, whose first version came to the world in 2007. Among them, the touch screen, a great novelty of the company's smartphone. Jobs narrowly missed the tram of history: between 2008 and 2010, Microsoft flirted with Courier, a two-screen tablet, like a book. The project was announced, but did not succeed.

Upon reaching the stores, the iPad it went through the cycle of reception and expansion in the market, with new models being announced year by year. Naturally, he was not alone: ??manufacturers like Samsung and LG started using Google's Android operating system to create their own devices, riding the wave.

The pice for the category was in 2014, with more than 220 million tablets sold, according to consultancy Gartner, being one third for the Apple. At the time, everyone was expected to have a cell phone and a tablet, says Gustavo Camargo, a marketing analyst at the Sidi technology institute in Campinas. It was quite a plan for a device that did not respond exactly to what it served, although it worked well for reading, watching videos and surfing the web.


What Jobs did not predict, however, that the tablet would end up cannibalized by the smartphone. Throughout the decade, cell phones began to get bigger and bigger screens, something that made the founder of Apple hate. At the beginning of the decade, the average screen on a tablet was 8.5 inches; the cell phone was 3.1 inches, recalls Fernando Baialuna, director of the market consultancy GfK. In 2019, the tablet dropped to 7.4 inches, while the smartphone grew to 5.8 inches.

The approach made the device lose its appeal after all, it was already possible to have a big screen on the cell phone. As a result, companies reduced the pace of launches. The tablet ended up becoming a kind of family electronics, serving the various members of a household, instead of each person having a device to call their own.

In addition, tablets have also failed to be a lightweight alternative to notebooks. They were not powerful enough and their operating systems had limitations, says Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at consultancy Gartner. With the disenchantment, the tablet started to suffer sales drops from 2015. In 2018, it reached 134 million units sold, a reduction of 36% in four years.

Which does not mean that the category has not found niches to please, as children today, according to GfK, Children's Day is the main sales date for the category in the country. About 30% of our demand today comes from children, says Fabiano Favero, product manager at Multilaser, one of the leading tablet manufacturers in the country. what the mining company DL also says, also present in the segment. We serve an important children's audience, which demands a simple-to-use device, stresses Luciano Barbosa, DL's product director.

In addition, tablets have also found space in the corporate and educational sector, while Apple is betting on content creators looking for mobility with the professional version of their tablet, the iPad Pro.


About to complete a decade, the future of the tablet is threatened by another fold in the world of technology. Since 2019, the technology industry has been betting on smartphones with flexible screens, devices with cell phone body and tablet surface, completing the fusion between the two devices in a single format.

The Huawei Mate X foldable, for example, has an 8-inch screen when fully open, surpassing the 7.9-inch iPad mini. Prices are still high: outside, the Mate X sold at US $ 2.4 thousand (about R $ 10 thousand). But that can be a matter of time. The tablet will not resist if the prices of folding devices start to fall in the coming years, says Baialuna, from GfK. The technology of folding screens has also reached notebook computers in the last edition of the CES fair in Las Vegas, the Chinese Lenovo showed a foldable PC that could be mistaken for a mega tablet.

For specialists, the future of the tablet is reinventing itself, even without the previous identification, but with the mark of the technological impact of the category. Today, they are embedded in several places: in connected refrigerators, alarm clocks and even in the dashboard of the car, enumerates Camargo, from SiDi. Thus, even if it dies in its current form, the tablet is spiritually incarnated in other devices. Steve Jobs' tablet may even be in the Old Testament of technology, but his lessons may remain forever in the world of electronics. Not bad for a third way.