The social consequences are pretty much the same as using a book or smartphone. However, the long term effect (10-15 years) of this will be a drastic overhaul and simplification of the user interfaces when the “touchscreen” generation matures in the workforce.
It’s not about tablet wars anymore and the past year has shown that you can’t treat the tablet market like the PC hardware one. From the hardware side Apple is the one who’s going to be profitable for the near future, and the tablet as a PC replacement will really take off once Windows 8 enters the fray.
Until then Amazon & Apple are going to be the ones making money through tablets. The one who should be really worried is Google, as there Android tablet strategy is falling apart. Looks like Microsoft & Amazon are the ones who’ll be making money from Android. Google really needs to leverage its Motorola deal and go for vertical integration.
Tablets are more like consumer appliances and that’s the way Amazon is treating the device. So, just like a brick & mortar retailer would rent our buy its shop floor, Amazon is using a tablet to setup its own shop and eliminate the middle man (PCs, browsers etc). Apple is the only one with a similar strategy, albeit across a wider range of devices that are technically more open to competitors (kindle app). Then again their primary revenue is from the hardware sales, while Amazon is all about selling you stuff.
This will of course change once the tablet market matures & saturates, but that’s a long way away. Apple is the one setting itself up for this future, while Amazon will be there come November.
That is of course if the world doesn’t end. Jokes apart, the reason I think that the second half of 2012 is the right time for Windows 8 tablets is that it’ll guarantee the right mix of hardware will be available around that time. Quad core & higher ARM tablets would be the norm then with pretty powerful graphics (which would be a must if display resolutions hit the 2Kx1K levels with the iPad 3). Intel would also be closer to providing a compelling x86 based SoC in the tablet space. In fact, the tablet hardware is going to continue to scale up in leaps & bounds over the next 2-3 years before we reach a level of acceptable performance (just look at the roadmaps of the major SoC makers).
Apart from the hardware angle, the software landscape and usage model on tablets is also evolving. At the moment people are trying to mostly replicate the desktop or smartphone UI paradigms on the tablet. For Windows 8, it all boils down to how well Microsoft is able to adapt their MS Office UI to the tablet. Then again, we could also be looking at tablets being used as a laptop\desktop replacement when docked – Apple seems to be heading that way with their Thunderbolt display (MacBooks for now).
So, don’t fret over the timelines, and instead be excited over the emerging paradigms over the next couple of years.
P.S. Extremetech has a nice how-to for building your own Windows 8 tablet (you will need an existing Windows 7 tablet of course)