The tablet hit the market as a tweener when Apple (AAPL) introduced the iPad. Whether it was seen as a big smartphone or a compact computer, its initial uses were limited to streaming videos, surfing the Web and playing apps. In fact, the most popular third-party app when the iPad hit the market in the spring of 2010 was Netflix's (NFLX) streaming application. Apple improved the screen and trademarked the Retina brand, offering pixel density that's high enough that individual pixels are not discernible to the human eye.
Venturing Into a New Dimension
Companies are looking at tablets in different ways now. One of the more interesting nuggets from the well-sourced chatter about Amazon.com (AMZN) entering the smartphone market is that the mobile device will feature 3-D technology. Using four low-powered infrared cameras that track a user's head, cameras, sensors and software will offer a bar-raising level of depth in image quality. This is for Amazon's upcoming phone, but we know how technology works. Once Amazon is offering smartphones with 3-D graphics, it won't be a surprise to see that featured in the next Kindle Fire update.
Google has been on the forefront of new tech when it comes to wearable computing with Google Glass, and it's the lone tech giant with cars that drive themselves on the open road for mapping purposes. It wouldn't be a surprise to see it take tablets to the next level with sensors that make more than 250 million 3-D measurements every second.
Tablets Are Going Places
More schools are replacing textbooks with tablets. There was some initial resistance to this from parents who voiced security concerns, and from those who lamented the end of marking up books with highlighters pages, but that mostly went away once the value and eco-friendly benefits began to become clear.
Tablets have also become effective point-of-sale devices for businesses, and now restaurant chains are starting to test out mounted tablets as a tool to speed up the dining experience.
We've come a long way in the 50 months since the iPad debuted as mostly a portable screen to stream Netflix and play Facebook apps. Between the growing uses for the portable devices and enhancements that will make tablets far more than passive laptop replacements, the next 50 months promise to be even more groundbreaking. The future is in your hands.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (C shares), and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (C shares), and Netflix. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.