Regarding the longer-term view, Mawston said that if bendable and rollable screens are coming, "then the business case for tablets does become a little shakier."
Mawston points to the NEC Medias W as an early example. "It's basically a 4-inch smartphone that becomes a 6-inch tablet—two devices in one," he said.
In January, NTT Docomo announced the Medias W in Japan, and in February it showed it off at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain.
The Medias W features two 4.3-inch qHD fully color displays that can fold back-to-back, for a traditional smartphone size, but also be folded out to use side-by side. When watching a movie, the image can use both screens (it reportedly takes a few minutes for the eye to stop noticing the seam in the middle). When emailing, users can preview emails on one side and see their inbox on the other; turn the phone around, and a new email message can appear in the top screen and a keyboard on the bottom.
The phone can be folded tent style, so a user can watch a video hands-free. Press a button, and the video can also play on the opposite display, so someone sitting across from the user can watch on his own screen. Clearly, it presents a lot of options and a lot of screen real estate.
Apple is rumored to be working on flexible displays, and Samsung has already showed off its Youm line of smartphones and tablets, which feature displays made of thin plastic, rather than glass. While, like a photo negative, the plastic can't be folded, it can be rolled.
But those developments are still years off (at least three years, according to the president of Corning, which makes Gorilla Glass for smartphones and has developed an ultra-slim flexible product called Willow Glass).
That leaves plenty of time for tablet deployments—and developments. Forrester expects three-quarters of a billion tablets to be in use by 2016, and for tablet makers to sell more than 375 million units that year—one-third of which will be purchased by businesses for employees.
Tablets enable workers to connect from more locations at more times, giving them access to the apps and relevant information they need, says Forrester. In this way, "tablets accelerate the rise of the anytime, anywhere information worker."
Gownder even disputes the idea of tablets as "consumption" versus "creation devices," pointing out that consuming, or accessing, the right data at the right moment has a deep impact, from sales associates being able to interact with customers from out behind a counter to doctors accessing patient health records for a more accurate diagnosis.
"Tablets are being used dynamically and deeply for a wide variety of work-related applications," Gownder has advised. Among those who can take advantage of tablets' best features, "tablets hold their own (and better) compared with traditional laptops in app usage. All of these activities, whether 'creation' or 'consumption,' are driving worker productivity."