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Tablets of highly effective people

It will likely be years before we know how much tablets have eaten into sales of notebook PCs, how effectively notebook PCs have battled back, and if the two device types have effectively merged.

Apple closed the introduction of the iPad 2 with a discussion of what it deems the "post-PC" era. On one side of that battleground, the tablet represents a great market expansion opportunity for handset makers such as Motorola and Samsung rushing in to larger form factors. On the other side is Microsoft, standing firm in its treatment of tablets as yet another PC, albeit one that demands more flexibility in terms of processor support and user interface.

Motorola Xoom
Tablets like Motorola's Xoom are becoming about about much more than simply content creation. Josh P. Miller/CNET

Apple--which introduced the iPad as being superior "for some things," is clearly now looking beyond those tasks. The addition of a faster processor and more sophisticated personal content creation applications, such as GarageBand and iMovie, signaled that the tablet is now about more than simply content creation.

But customers got that memo long ago. NPD found that tablet customers have been engaging in a wide range of content creation tasks with their tablets.

For example, according to NPD's Evolving Technology Trends: PC Activities on Non-PC Devices report, more than half of tablet owners reported that they already use that tablet device for personal productivity tasks such as editing music, while an even greater percentage said they used their tablets for office productivity tasks such as word processing and spreadsheets.

This stood in stark contrast to similar tasks on smartphones, where less than a quarter of smartphone owners said that they engage in office productivity tasks on their handsets and only 17 percent engage in such personal productivity tasks.

The addition of a front-facing camera to enable FaceTime video chat was widely anticipated following the introduction of the app on iPhones, iPod Touches, and the Mac. The addition of a rear camera, though, might not be as critical. There's one on the Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, and forthcoming BlackBerry Playbook, but not one on the forthcoming HP TouchPad. Consumers, though, are taking to imaging and video apps on their tablets. NPD found that 42 percent of tablet owners are capturing, editing, or sharing video on their device, while an even higher number are doing the same tasks for photos.

Of course, NPD found that consumers also engage in a wide array of content consumption tasks on tablets. However, the research shows that tablets--while closer technological cousins to smartphones--are being raised to take on many of the tasks of notebook PCs as their larger screens enable better productivity. We will continue to see more of this overlap.

While Apple has criticized Microsoft for trying to impose a desktop operating system on tablets, it is experimenting with the reverse by moving iPad interface conventions and other features into Lion, the next major release of Mac OS. At CES, Asus showed off the Eee Slate Slider, an Android tablet that reorients itself to reveal a keyboard. And HP has strongly suggested that a WebOS Netbook is on the horizon.

It will likely be years before we know how much tablets have eaten into sales of notebook PCs, how effectively notebook PCs have battled back against them, or if the two device types have effectively merged. For now, though, to the extent that consumers are taking their tablets places where they'd previously not taken their PCs, they are continuing to work as hard as they play.