CES Trendspotting – Tablets

iPad Pro

Tablets were supposed to be laptop killers. To hear Apple tell it, with the introduction of its new iPad Pro, we are one step closer to a tablet-centric world. But the facts don’t support the optimism. Using Apple as a proxy for the entire tablet market, since it basically invented the category back in 2011 and still accounts for the highest percentage of sales, the market is shrinking fast.

According to Business Insider, “Apple’s quarterly iPad sales have been dropping on an annualized basis in every single quarter since the beginning of 2014. This quarter, unit sales dropped below 10 million for the first time since mid-2011.” Why?

BI Apple iPad Sales YoY

Big smartphone screens make small tablets seem redundant, and yoga PCs and brilliantly featured MacBooks, MacBook Airs, Microsoft’s Surface Book and other exceptionally capable laptops do much, much more than even the most sophisticated Android or iOS tablets.

Microsoft made some noise with its Surface Pro – it’s a Windows PC in tablet form. But it’s expensive, big and heavy. For all intents and purposes, it’s a laptop with a removable keyboard. It’s awesome, but most people who need a keyboard prefer a sturdier, more robust (attached) one.

Then there’s Apple’s new iPad Pro. It is awesome. Not kind of awesome … simply awesome.

The iPad Pro has an amazing screen, remarkable power, good battery life (a terrible optional keyboard from Apple, but there are great third-party versions available) and an overpriced but super-useful Apple Pencil (stylus). With all of its goodness, it’s still a tablet. It runs apps – which is great for some people, but not great for others.

Is the Form Factor Flawed?

Apple is capable of making anything. If it thought that the world needed an iOS version of a Surface Pro (a tablet with 100% laptop capabilities), it would make one. Which raises the question: Why is the iPad Pro just a big tablet? Obviously, Apple thinks that tablets have a promising future. But, as the sales numbers indicate, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

Is there a future for tablets?

Clearly, there are some people who are app-centric and are happy to do email, light word-processing, web-browsing, etc., on a tablet. But unless tablets get much, much more powerful, PCs will continue to be the “must have” device for people who need maximum productivity.

On the other hand, there are practically limitless business-to-business (B2B) uses for tablets. And in the B2B world, Android and iPad viciously compete on price and performance. It’s not that you can’t use a yoga PC or smartphone for point-of-sale screens or digital clipboards for inventory control or project management, it’s just that tablets are simpler, lighter and more convenient. That said, a 6” smartphone is an excellent alternative.

Business Insider says, “More and more, the tablet is looking like a fad. Now that phone screens have gotten larger, there’s just not that much use for a slightly-bigger touch-screen device that works like a phone, but without the phone part.” “Fad” may be too strong of a word; Moore’s Law will surely take the tablet form factor to new places in the very near future. Of course, Moore’s Law will also apply to smartphones and PCs, so tablets may well have their best days behind them.

We’ll thoroughly cover tablets on our CES® 2016 ShellyPalmer Floor Tours and in our upcoming 2016 CE Trend Report. See you in Las Vegas in January.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.


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