Although Microsoft can be thought of as coming late to the tablet market, the tale of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind. Microsoft Windows 8 based tablets could easily be one of the top choices for students in the coming year. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013 in Las Vegas had plenty of vendors showing off the future of the new tablet market. Intel processors are clearly moving into the space which will offer much more powerful functionality. The gap between tablets and PCs will narrow or close in the foreseeable future, perhaps even by the end of this year. By the spring of 2013, there will be many tablets on the market from Microsoft, Lenovo, and Acer that will use processors from Intel.
The new generation of chips from Intel is the Core i5 and i7. While they are not quite as power-sipping as ARM chips found in Android or iPad tablets, the Core chips are becoming much more power efficient. Intel is making significant progress in offering chips that rival the power of PC chips, while supporting a reasonable battery life. The benchmark for tablets seems to be around 10 hours of battery life before having to recharge. The Intel based tablets are not quite there yet, but are getting closer. Because the Intel based tablets have not yet hit the market, it is difficult to verify performance, but reports are somewhere around 5 hours. For tablet models that support a detachable keyboard, the life is 10 hours. The keyboards have an additional power supply built in; hence, the extended battery power.
While battery life is not the key benefit of Intel processors, few would want a tablet with only a couple of hours or so of power before having to plug in. Now that the power issue is resolving, one can focus on the real benefit of Intel based tablets; software. As many might be aware, Android and iPad cannot run traditional desktop software. One is limited to the selection of apps, which are usually small, single purpose type of programs. Apps were created originally for phones with little processing power. Tablets followed suit because of low power ARM based chips, which cannot run large applications. Intel chips will change all of that. A tablet with a genuine Intel processor will have all of the processing power found in laptops, and long enough battery life for a day’s work. The ability to load software programs onto a tablet will be a big step forward in tablet computing. The full version of Microsoft Office can run on Intel based tablets, and any other program one might desire. There will be no limitation on a tablet device because of the lack of processing power.
There will continue to be a huge market for the iPad and Android tablets, but likely they could be relegated to more entertainment based use, and targeted use in education. For more intensive productivity software applications, the Intel based tablets could dominate the market sooner than one might imagine. Students in higher education particularly have been slow to adopt tablets, largely because they lack the compatibility with PC software. Not having Microsoft Word and Excel on a tablet in one of the biggest limiting factors that turn college level students away from tablets.
Moving forward, the Intel processing power will also pave the way for improved interface functions, including a much more natural writing experience. The Microsoft Surface Pro, for example, will have two screen digitizers. The result is a much more fluid and responsive on screen writing experience that will rival the efficiency of writing on paper. The current screen technology in tablets is not very efficient when writing. The ability to write effortlessly and smoothly without lag will no doubt be a welcomed aspect of the new generation of Intel based tablets.
New technology is always comparatively expensive at first. The early adopters of Intel based tablets will probably not be students because they will be close to the $1000 mark. As competition increases, those prices will drop quickly. Students will undoubtedly be interested in the new possibilities of tablet computing, even if not able to afford it as early adopters. This year, the cat will be out of the bag, and the market will expand to the eventual benefit of students.