Although gaining in popularity, tablet computers are likely to remain primarily entertainment devices, according to one expert.

“Writing with one over an extended period can make you cramp,” says Tim Bosenick, a usability expert. The on-screen keyboard is only really designed for typing short notes, he says.

“Tablets are wonderful for active entertainment functions like watching videos or games and passive business functions like reading email.” The fact that many tablets are currently showing up on desks is just a lifestyle fad. Tablets will end up being more for couch use, says Bosenick, head of Sirvaluse, a consulting firm. Real work will continue to be done on the laptop.

The display — and, indeed, the device’s size — is the key to its versatility.

“Seven inches is a good format, which just fits into a jacket pocket,” says Bosenick. “With a headset, it can serve as a mobile phone replacement, but only if the tablet has UMTS.” Bosenick sees a head-to-head fight between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android when it comes to winning the crown for the predominant tablet operating system.

“An advantage for Android is the openness of the operating system,” he says. Additionally, Android devices are cheaper. But “the backwards navigation functions inconsistently.” IPads allow users to go backward directly to their goal.

But the user interface of an iPad suffers because it makes use of iPhone apps that were designed for the phone’s much smaller display.

There’s no clear winner yet between iOS and Android. Google is on the right path with Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), its first system designed specifically for tablets. By comparison, tablets with Windows 7 seem a little shabby. They lack the light touch, says Bosenick. Their handling is “too clumsy.” Bosenick is critical of new tablet concepts, like devices with a pull-out keyboard.

“I’d be more likely to just hook up a keyboard,” he said, noting that handling such hybrids can be harder and that is important for users. Well-designed tablets create “a tactile sense of happiness.” “What we’re experiencing right now is the transition from GUI to NUI,” says Bosenick, referring to graphical user interface (an operator interface where commands are given through buttons) and natural user interface, where handling will be intuitive, making buttons relics. “You make it simpler, touch and scroll, for example.” Since they don’t have touchscreens and, due to their smaller size, will never replace notebooks, netbooks might turn into a dying breed.

“Netbooks never really properly established themselves,” said Bosenick. Statistics show that tablets are giving netbooks a run for their money, with the German technology industry association Bitkom calculating this year that netbook sales will slide by 15 per cent to 1.2 million this year.

That comes as tablet sales nearly double to 1.5 million units sold, approaching a share of 10 per cent of the entire PC market.