The Rise of the Tablet ComputerFew electronic devices have enjoyed the rapid surge in popularity and usage that tablet computers have. Many consumers consider the January 27, 2010 announcement of the launch of Apple’s iPad by the late Steve Jobs as the birthdate of the tablet computer, however, tablets as we know them today have existed for over 20 years.According to Techradar, the first real tablet computer was the GRIDPad, launched in 1989. This basic, mono-color portable computing device had a 10-inch screen and boasted 3-hours of battery life, however, the whopping $2,400 price tag kept this early tablet out of reach for the average user. Since that time, tablet-like touchscreen devices such as PDA’s gained in popularity, proving to computer companies that there was strong demand for portable computing devices. In 2007, the Amazon Kindle was launched, introducing readers to a portable, paperless way to read their favorite books.Tablets now rank among the most popular electronic devices throughout the world. Techcruch reports that eMarketer estimates there were approximately 13 million U.S. tablet users in 2010, 33.7 million in 2011 and an estimated 54.8 million in 2012. According to this report, the number of Americans who use devices like the Microsoft Surface, Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 will grow to 90 million by 2014, meaning that about half of all American adults will own a tablet device within a few years.What Makes Tablets So Popular?Tablet computing has become wildly popular among a broad range of consumers, with everyone from schoolchildren to senior citizens using tablets at school, home and work. According to a June 2012 report from the Online Publishers Association (OPA), “tablet usage is exploding”, with content consumption (watching movies, reading e-books, buying apps and shopping) being the most common reason why people use tablets.Just How Popular Are Tablets?Research by the OPA revealed that tablet owners use their tablets a lot – spending an average of 14 hours every week on their devices. Most tablets are used to access information on the Internet, with checking email, game playing, social networking and media consumption also ranking among the most frequent uses of tablet computers.Tablet computers have even become a fixture in fast food restaurants, with a Virginia Beach McDonald’s offering up free Apple iPad use with their fries, burgers and shakes.Tablets, Wi-Fi & The Cloud – A Perfect MatchWhile the portability and affordability and functionality of tablet devices are often cited as the main reasons why these devices have gained such widespread acceptance among all consumer groups, without Wi-Fi, tablet computing would not exist. Tablet computers rely on wireless Internet connections using either Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular to connect users with their favorite websites, email and work servers.Along with Wi-Fi, the advent of cloud-based computing has helped spur on the popularity of tablets, since many of these portable devices have relatively little onboard memory. Thanks to cloud computing, tablet users can store their favorite movies, music, photos and digital files on remote servers, accessing these files on demand via the Internet. This means that tablet computers do not need to have large, bulky hard drives onboard. This helps to reduce the cost of tablets, making them lighter and more portable while extending the battery life, adding to the portability of these devices.Are Tablets and E-Readers Replacing Books?According to a recent infographic released by Mashable, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle are surging in popularity, with e-book readership nearly doubling between 2011 and 2012. In 2011, over 40 percent of American adults read an e-book on a tablet, smartphone or e-reader.While some critics believe that tablets and e-readers could lead to the end of traditional paper-based books and magazines, others point to the benefits of the rise of e-reading. Mashable reports that e-book devices and tablets actually increases readership of novels, non-fiction e-books and publications, with owners of devices like the Amazon Kindle reading nearly twice as many books each year than readers of traditional-style books. Among those who use a tablet to read on, 25 percent do so to learn or gain new information, a promising statistic for the future of writers and publishers who feared obsolescence with the decline of paper-based book sales.What’s Next?Industry watchers predict that tablet use will continue to grow, and in many households even replace traditional desktop and laptop computers. As these portable computers continue to become more powerful and affordable, tech companies will focus on building more apps and designing even more advanced devices. Tablets generally cost about the same, or in some cases, less than either desktop or laptop computers, leading many consumers to consider replacing their current computer with a tablet device.Tablet computers such as the Apple iPad and the Microsoft Surface are leading the way among mobile devices that allow everyone to stay connected using the Internet, no matter where they work, live or play. While the traditional PC will endure in many homes, schools and businesses, consumers can expect to see tablets everywhere from their local hospital to schools, churches and libraries.