In a market that seemed to have stagnated around a couple of different screen sizes and virtually indistinguishable slates, Dell recently shook up the tablet market with the announcement of the XPS 18. Rather than another slate somewhere between 5 and 10 inches, the XPS 18 is a monstrous 18-inch device. While this device is obviously not something that you'll slip into your pocket, the XPS 18 presents a rather intriguing use case, especially in the office where most workers' mobility consists of moving between meeting rooms rather than traipsing across continents.
The XPS 18 will apparently ship with a docking station that, unlike most other tablet docks, acts more as a monitor stand that allows the tablet display to function as the primary display rather than allowing the tablet to connect to an external monitor. The five-hour battery won't set any records, but in the context of taking the device between meetings, with visits to the dock to "top off" in between, it's serviceable.
Tablets thus far have been primarily personal devices, their diminutive size and mobile-based operating systems making them perfect for email, calendar, and note taking. Yet the XPS 18 runs the full version of Windows 8, and its large size could make it ideal for collaboration. Assuming a functional stylus, the device could be perfect for design or engineering roles, where a designer could sketch away during a meeting or tweak an engineering diagram, all on familiar software and on a screen large enough to actually be useful.
Assuming reasonable success, Dell's large format tablet will likely be imitated by others, offering users choices that range from smartphone-sized devices up to large "luggable" screens. What's still missing from the equation is a way to seamlessly link the expanding array of mobile devices. I still carry a traditional laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet, and despite all being from the same manufacturer, these devices exist independently and don't share information or status. Aside from a few cloud services that enable basic file sharing and messaging, they're essentially completely independent devices.
I believe cross-device communication will be the next big innovation to hit tablets and mobile computing in general. There have been some small moves in this direction, with Google sharing information between its services and Android-based devices so that you can continue web browsing on your tablet where you left off on your desktop. However, this is rather minor. Why can't my desktop inform me of a missed call on my smartphone or my tablet allow me to respond to some text messages? With moves to make the smarphone the payment method of choice, shouldn't I be able to log in to secure applications on my desktop with a device that's supposed to act like my wallet?
One of the trends that will push us in this direction is the recent focus on wearable computing devices. There's a great deal of hoopla about an Apple iWatch, and several other companies have or are planning a watch-like device. Without integration to a phone or tablet, such a device isn't particularly impressive. Early models seem to have some success, so once consumers begin to expect their watch to talk to their phone, they may start demanding the same from their other devices.
Further down the road, innovations like Google Glass, the eyeglass-like device that projects information onto one lens, will likely rely on a phone or tablet for computing muscle, acting more as an input and presentation system than a standalone computing device.
It's great to see a company like Dell pushing the tablet envelope in the short term. Hopefully, industry leaders can leave the safe harbor of the standard slate and innovate on the connectivity front rather than just design new twists on the same old slate.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.