Small tablets will take over the office and the classroom in 2013

Credit: Brad Flickinger via Flickr

In taking a look at the technology trends for 2013, research firm IDC makes some interesting predictions about how smaller tablet form factors, which IDC refers to as mini tablets, will impact the overall mobile technology market as well as the education market.

IDC predicts that the overall tablet market will grow by at least 42% -- accounting for an additional 170 million devices. The majority of that growth will come in the form of tablets that are eight inches or smaller, which IDC expects to account for 60% of all tablet sales.

That's almost a complete reversal of the tablet market today, where smaller tablets make up just 33% of the market. IDC acknowledges that the iPad mini will be one of the major drivers of what it calls the turbocharging of the tablet market by smaller and less expensive devices. However, the company noted that the shift to smaller tablets won't be solely as a result of Apple's decision to build the iPad mini. IDC also highlighted Google's Nexus 7 Android tablet as well as updated offerings from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as also helping to drive interest in smaller devices.

Perhaps the most interesting point of this shift towards smaller devices is that it illustrates a shift in the perception of smaller tablets. The early perception of the iPad when it was initially announced three years ago was that it would be a content consumption device rather than a potential business tool -- an assumption that was proven wrong in very short order.

A similar assumption eventually became commonplace about smaller tablets. It was easy to assume that a smaller tablet is less capable, particularly when you consider that the earliest small tablets tended to run a re-sized version of Android that was designed for smartphones. That the two most well known smaller tablet lines -- Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook -- came from the e-reader space didn't help. As a result, the iPad and larger tablets have come to be seen as more serious tools than their smaller cousins.

IDC's numbers seem to indicate that consumers and business users are beginning to see past that initial assumption and consider smaller tablets as viable choices for home and work.

There are, of course, some serious advantages to smaller tablets including lower price points, a broad range of devices and device ecosystems, and greater portability -- all of which are likely to drive adoption across the board in the consumer and business spaces.

All of those factors are attractive to one of the biggest and relatively untapped tablet markets -- education. IDC predicts 2013 will be the year of "explosive growth" and "viral expansion" of small tablets in schools. As such, they will be responsible for one of the greatest changes in education in generations -- the shift from textbooks to digital learning tools.

Those digital learning tools include electronic textbooks, but also encompass a range of capabilities beyond them. With access to education videos, apps, and the entirety of the Internet, tablets -- led by Apple's iPad -- have become a driving force behind the flipped classroom concept. This concept upends the traditional lecture--style teaching that most of us grew up with in favor of class time that is devoted to discussion about concepts, critical thinking, and work on projects. Students rely on video and audio materials (produced by teachers and/or selected from source like Khan Academy) viewed or listened to outside of class on their devices.

Tablets also offer access to subjects beyond the ability of even the most well-funded school. The explosion of massive open online courses (MOOCs), course libraries like Khan Academy and Apple's iTunes U, and skill-focused training sites allows teachers to tailor programs of study to the specific needs and interests of their students. Many of these tools also offer education analytics that can help teachers assess student progress with much greater specificity. In fact, these new analytic tools offer new insights in many of the same ways as today's business intelligence solutions.

While the iPad has a lead on the competition when it comes to the education market, it isn't the only option. Apple may have made headlines with its education event in January, where it announced its electronic textbook initiative, but both Amazon and Barnes & Noble already had electronic textbook programs at that point -- though Barnes & Noble's Nook Study program remains PC or Mac only at this point. Kno, an electronic textbook startup that has traditionally focused on the college market, has also begun to offer K--12 content that can be viewed on iPads and Android devices.

Of course, the biggest gains in education for tablet makers will likely be made months from now as schools that have been testing iPads, Kindles, or other devices move on to full scale deployments for the 2013 -- 2014 school year.

Whether its at home, at the office, or in the classroom, the diversification of the tablet market is poised to make all of us even more mobile in the coming year than we have been in this year.

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