So much for the prevalence of movies, television, and DVDs that were only a few years ago the leading aspects of after-dinner activity, aside from the continuing mainstays of beach fires (and amateur fireworks), cookouts, and a round of evenings with relatives and neighbors.
This was the summer when, at least in our house, the tablet came fully into its own, achieving dominance among the array of gadgets that we had assembled. It isn't that the iPad is necessarily preferable to competitors from Kindle, Nook, or the Android-based systems, but if you own one and load it up with a selection of favored apps and bookmarked websites, the sheer range of what you can do on this wireless, portable apparatus has to astound even seasoned consumers of digital paraphernalia. At the risk of turning this piece into an Apple commercial, here is some of what we used the iPad for on this vacation (I should point out that our local post office has closed and we do not have a mailbox, so digital access was essential for publications we might otherwise choose to read in print).
The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal. We used The Atlantic app, as well as the updated NPR app, which carries every program and direct access to local stations and their major shows. The PBS app had American Masters, American Experience, Frontline, and scores of other features. C-SPAN has multiple sites. On iTunes there was a tremendous array of films and television shows. Amazon's instant video also had an extensive list for sale or rent. Pandora provided an irresistible musical cornucopia. And we had HBO Go and YouTube, and of course Kindle books and iBooks to choose from. For tablet users, there are, of course, hundreds of thousands of additional apps, and a seemingly infinite selection of websites.
To appreciate what a remarkable impact the iPad has had, consider that it was only in April 2010 that the first models were released. At last count, according to figures compiled from several sources, including The Verge, a leading technology web daily, there have been more than 100 million iPads sold.
The rise of the tablets and mobile phone devices (which have many of the same features) has had a significant downward pull on personal computers. An Economist account of the impending retirement of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reported that, despite the long preeminence of PCs, "people increasingly prefer to buy mobile devices made by Apple or running Google's Android operating system. Sales of PCs have been falling at double-digit rates.... Microsoft's own tablet, the Surface, has been a flop, forcing it to make a $900 million write-off in its latest results." Microsoft is still hugely profitable, but in its inability to capture the apparent magic of the tablet is a problem the next leadership of the company will have to solve. The announcement this week of the $7 billion cash acquisition of Finland's Nokia is clearly a major move toward establishing a leading position among mobile providers.