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The ultimate tool for the 'me' generation

A Samsung tablet runs a Ustream App during the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.

Steve Marcus / Reuters/Steve Marcus / Reuters

Martin Timusk uses his iPad for everything. From sending e-mails to reading the news, communicating with work and doing work, to following digital threads and playing on Google Earth, his iPad is something of an appendage.

"Sometimes I even use it as a tray to carry tea around the house," the IT professional admits.

When Apple Inc. first released the iPad in the United States, the self-proclaimed technology geek drove to Buffalo and bought two. When the iPad2 came out, Mr. Timusk immediately traded up. When the iPad3 comes out, he will buy it.

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Though the format hit the market only in 2010, its market penetration is remarkable. Last October an Ipsos Reid study found the growth rate of tablets to be outpacing that of smartphones by about three to one, and there are no signs of a slowdown. Tablet sales are expected to rise this year, and projections show that roughly 5 per cent of those sold in Canada in 2012 will go to households that already own at least one device.

Unlike the car, the television, the radio and other big ticket items that took decades before a single household considered owning more than one, tablets achieved this over months.

"A number of things have to come together for a new technology to rise above the fold. Societal consciousness has to be at a certain point," Mr. Timusk says. "The content of traditional mass media has become so lowbrow that people are looking for a new outlet. Content consumption is really what tablets are about."

Unlike the car, the television and the radio, the tablet is a more personal device, Mr. Timusk says, and does not lend itself to being shared in the way that the family desktop computer has been.

"This is the 'me' generation. Look, we have the PVR, which means that now no one is waiting for a certain broadcast to watch TV, we're watching TV when we want to. Same with news.

"The tablet is all about content consumption, but more specifically it's about my content consumption," he says. "And tablets are portable."

Devindra Hardawar, national editor at Venture Beat, a New York-based technology blog, says that when tablets first hit the market, he did not favour the idea. Like a phone that would not make calls, an iPod too large for a pocket and a laptop that could not sit up on its own, the iPad's productive potential evoked skepticism in Mr. Hardawar.

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"Initially I wasn't sure how to be productive on it," he said. "But, to their credit, I think Apple responded to some of those initial criticisms."

Perhaps part of Apple's ability to respond has been its relative monopoly of the market. Competing devices exist, but not all tablets have so far been created equal, Mr. Hardawar says.

"Some of those Androids are just terrible," he says. "With Apple it's just the iPad. Just one product with a couple of variations. There are so many different Androids, and I think part of their problem is people aren't really sure what they're supposed to do with them."

This year Intel will release its tablet, the Ultrabook, which Mr. Hardawar describes as being "super thin and really light, but still can't do everything you can do on a Mac." However, he says the Ultrabook has the potential to be a true competitor to the iPad.

Perhaps the competitors with the most to lose are other computers, however. The desktop, for example, will become extinct, Mr. Hardawar predicts. The netbook, he says, will probably die.

Clare Brett, the associate chair of graduate studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, understands the tablet's appeal. She teaches a course on computer-mediated communication and has been using tablets as a teaching tool since they became available.

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But what interests her more is the evolving uses of the technology.

"All technologies bring something new to the table, but it isn't necessarily obvious what that will be. Sometimes it takes time," Ms. Brett says. "I think with tablets, all the uses will emerge more as we continue to use them more."

Mr. Hardawar describes the tablet's essential use as Web browsing. Mr. Timusk recounts an exhibition he saw recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in which an iPad painting application was used for the entire installation.

Diane Granfield, a librarian and technophile, uses her iPad for news and reading (she subscribes to the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired through their tablet applications) and social media. One of her favourite things about the iPad is its portability.

Perhaps what is more certain is that the obsolescence built into these new devices will continue.

While Ms. Granfield says she "hates, hates that part of it," Mr. Timusk says consumers have come to expect their technological devices to have short lives.

"People have come to expect that Version One is different from Version Two," he says. "I see with my kids that they expect new features and they don't complain, they adapt."

Where experts believe the tablet has the most room for improvement is in its functionality.

"The tablet isn't creator-oriented, it's consumer-oriented," Ms. Granfield says. "I can get more information than I can remember from the tablet, but the word processing function, for example, isn't there."

Mr. Timusk has similar sentiments.

"Let's be honest, it's a crappy content-creation device," he says. "Personally I have a hard time typing on the iPad. Sometimes I see people who add a keyboard to it. But then it's not portable. And that's the whole point."

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