The Apple iPad and the numerous tablets that are springing up to compete with it-or at least address the market it created-will have "massive implications" on the technology world, research firm iSuppli said in a Dec. 14 report.
The devices represent a convergence of computers, consumer devices and communications that's expected to spur competition among not only various product types but entire industries.
"The definition of convergence has changed over time, with the latest version describing it as voice, video and data services being delivered to the home vis-??Ã-vis broadband networks and the new services that would result from this confluence," William Kidd, director and principal analyst of financial services for iSuppli, said in a statement. "While that trend still exists, the convergence of consumer electronics devices and industries are now coming together at a fast pace, with the tablet form factor serving a tangible representation of that convergence, since it is part smartphone and part notebook."
The popularity of tablets comes just as mobile operating systems are also growing in importance and being featured in devices where previously there wasn't an operating system-or the OS wasn't a big draw. This reality, said Kidd, creates "great risk and opportunity" across the electronics value chain and explains why so many manufacturers have rushed to deliver tablets, smartphones or both to market-while notably keeping the design open, as the timing is still early in these products' life cycles.
Additionally, with the popularity of mobile operating systems will come the blurring of previously distinct product categories, according to the report.
"For example, note the similarity both in external functionality and internal electronics between Apple's tablet, smartphone, MP3 player and set-top box product lines. Not only do they run the same OS, but all these Apple devices are internally similar, plus or minus a screen and touch interface," said Kidd. "Industries likely to face the impact of convergence through the proliferation of mobile OSes include televisions, cell phones and notebook PCs."
Further driving the proliferation of mobile OSes, Kidd added, are that they create a framework to cheaply and easily create custom use cases, they enable developers to easily monetize applications, and they enable interconnectivity between connected devices, which creates still more use cases. While over the long term iSuppli expects tablets to reshape the computer market, the next major trend in unifying consumer platforms, says the firm, will likely be the television.
"Despite challenges and past failures in this area," states the report, "iSuppli expects mobile operating system providers will get the formula right and transition televisions into a new paradigm."
The mobile OS market has of course seen the dramatic rise of devices running Google's Android OS, as well as Apple's iOS. Market leader Nokia, however, has made a show of standing behind the Symbian mobile platform, while simultaneously developing a second mobile OS with Intel, called MeeGo. And while Samsung has been well-rewarded for its investment in Android, it's additionally developing its own OS, Bada-"ocean" in Korean-which is currently running on its Wave smartphones.
Even Research In Motion is doubling up on mobile operating systems. Soon after launching its redesigned BlackBerry 6 OS on the BlackBerry Torch, it introduced the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which runs an OS based on QNX software, which-to underscore the growth of operating systems in new locations-has been used as a popular in-dash system in millions of vehicles.
The transformation of tablets into media creation devices, said iSuppli, will require the development of even more advanced mobile OSes, and it expects Microsoft to "figure out how to design a functional tablet operating system" as well as Apple to evolve iOS and create an iPad that's "100 percent compatible with the Windows-dominated PC universe." Also "logical" would be the combination of iOS and Mac OS.
While iSuppli's current forecasts for the tablet market are based on the remaining content consumption devices, states the report, "growth in the tablet segment starting in 2012 could be much higher than now anticipated as these devices take on the kind content creation capabilities now offered by notebook and netbook PCs."
In an Oct. 18 report, iSuppli raised its tablet forecast from July's estimate of 12.9 million units to 13.8 million. In 2011, shipments are now expected to reach 43.7 million units and continue climbing to 63.3 million in 2012.