Tablets are becoming the Next Big Thing™. Okay I’m being a little sarcastic – I’m definitely one of the people who believes tablets aren’t going to replace PCs any time soon – but I also don’t know if tablet replacement of PCs matter. The fact is tablets are cool, and they have uses, so people will buy them.
Thing is, tablets are also expensive. Most of them run over $500, and some are far more than that. An iPad 2 with Wifi, 3G and 64GB of RAM is going to set your wallet back $829. Ouuucch!
For that dough, you’re going to expect your tablet to provide a few years of flawless operation. But is it actually capable of that, or are these super-thin computers lacking in durability?
There isn’t much information out yet about the reliability of tablets themselves. That is understandable, because tablets are new. Quality information about a device requires at least a year of solid data, and three to five years of data is preferable. Most tablets not called the iPad have only been on the market for a few months, so their long-term reliability is a mystery!
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Tablets are new, but their close cousins, smartphones, aren’t. Normally, making comparisons between two different categories of electronics would be foolhardy, but in this case I think the comparison is valid.
That’s because tablets and smartphones have similar design, have similar hardware, and are often built by the same companies that build smartphones. There is little room for deviation in the reliability between a smartphone and a tablet, so what we do know about smartphones can be used to inform our expectations.
Note: it can only inform us, not provide 100% accurate information. Still, an educated guess is better than nothing.
Expected Reliability – Looking Good
Smartphones are good company. According to a SquareTrade report from 2010, the average failure rate of smartphones within the first 12 months is only 3.9%. Obviously, the least failures are going to occur early in the device’s life, but this puts smartphones on track for enjoy reliability that is favorable when compared to other electronics.
A report from PC Magazine in 2009 is also promising. That report found that cell phone repair rates average around 10 to 12% for any given year. Since this report did not account only for cell phones that are 12 months old or newer, these numbers are good.
Manufacturer does have an impact on reliability, as it does with any device. The information available about smartphones indicates that Apple’s devices are the most reliable, with companies like Motorola and HTC close behind. RIM (Blackberry) seems to have the most problems.
Based on this information, it’s reasonable to believe tablets will also be reliable. The main difference could well be the display, which is much larger on tablets. Although it uses the same technology, the larger surface area provides more room for error – both on the part of manufacturers and users.
Durability – Not So Great
While smartphones will last, that’s only if they don’t succumb to accidental damage. Since they’re handheld devices they’re very prone to slipping and falling. That’s likely to prove true for tablets, which are also frequently held by hand in environments that offer little cushion for falling electronics.
The SquareTrade report provides a sobering look at durability. Anywhere between three to five times as many phones fell victim to accidents than feel victim to defects. The iPhone 3GS is a good example, as 2.3% of units sold require repair in their first 12 months, but 9.4% fell victim to accidental damage.
Arguably, tablets will be at even greater risk for accidental damage because of their large but fragile displays. Accidental damage will be the real killer of tablets.
Also, please note that in this case manufacturer is NOT a good indicator of future results. Blackberry does very well when it comes to accidental damage because most of its phones are robust, with lots of material and small displays. The Blackberry Playbook, and any other device from RIM with a large touchscreen, will probably be vulnerable to accidents.
So what can we take away from all this mumbo-jumbo?
First, tablets are likely to be reliable. Most won’t succumb to manufacturer defects, particularly within the first year. Problems are more likely later, of course, but it’s likely that tablets will be more reliable than your average gadget.
Durability is going to be the real concern. I suggest that you purchase a case with a display cover for your tablet. There’s simply too much fragile surface area on these devices, and even the most minor accidental could put one out of commission. Indeed, tablets are one of the few devices where you may be better off buying an accidental damage warranty INSTEAD OF an extended warranty against defects.
If you can keep your tablet in hand, you can feel confident about your purchase.