The future of tablets: Behind the fold

Sony Xperia Z Ultra ‘phablet’Tablets haven’t been getting much love recently. With the rise of the ‘phablet’ – the combination of a smartphone and a tablet into one device that will render your need for either obsolete – the saturation of the consumer market and less incentive to replace current devices with newer models, the tablet’s decline shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

Above – Sony Xperia Z Ultra ‘phablet’ (image source: Karlis Dambrans via Flickr Creative Commons)

The numbers reflect this general slump: according to a press release from the International Data Corporation (IDC), the worldwide tablet market declined 7 percent this year. Even Apple – one of the most beloved brands – reported that their year-on-year sale figures for iPads and iPad Minis dropped 18 percent during the last quarter of 2014 for the first time ever.

So where do we go from here? Does this spell ‘doom’ for the tablet? Not necessarily: with new technological advancements happening in the field of flexible displays, we could see the tablet rise once more.

We’re learning how to be flexible

Revolutionary developments in the area of flexible displays are opening doors for the tablet to regain popularity again. Sooner than later we will have the ability to completely fold our personal devices, which could rekindle our love affair with the tablet. An example of these innovations happened at Display Innovation 2014 in Tokyo, where research company Semiconductor Energy Laboratory unveiled a flexible AMOLED touch sensor display that can fold down by thirds into smartphone size (watch the demo here).

FlexEnable tablets
Image source: FlexEnable

And then this past February, there came another breakthrough: FlexEnable, developer of flexible displays and sensors, and Merck, the market leader for liquid crystals and organic electronic materials, unveiled a new flexible LCD display demonstrator. According to a press release, this will allow our electronics to be ‘ten times thinner, more than ten times lighter and cheaper than conventional glass-based displays.’

Folding the future

Although the current tablet landscape is rather bleak, there’s a good chance things won’t stay this way for long. According to Forrester Research, tablets are still vital in the workplace: over half of information workers use a tablet at least weekly for work purposes. And as we continue to embrace flexible and on-the-go working solutions with open arms, tablets are the perfect solution, especially if – one day soon – we will be able to fold up our device and slip it into our pocket.

You’re probably thinking, this is all well and fine, but when exactly can I expect to buy this magic folding tablet? Well, the answer is: as early as January. Remember back in 2013 when Samsung announced their plans to bring us a folding device in 2015? It looks like they’re going to make good on this promise, just a little bit later than they anticipated: according to a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, a source in China leaked information that Samsung’s currently testing a flexible device that could be here in early 2016.

Get ready: 2016’s looking like the comeback year of the tablet.