Friday, October 01, 2010

Growing iPad Sales and the Future of the Tablet Market

A few weeks ago, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying iPad sales were cannibalizing PC notebook sales by as much as 50%. I thought it seemed high, and as ARN reported earlier this week, analysts are in disagreement about those very numbers.

As it turns out, NPD data analysis has shown those numbers to be slightly lower – in the mid-teens to as much as 25% range. But, regardless of where the numbers fall, that’s still a hefty chunk of consumers suggesting they don’t need a new netbook or notebook PC – that an iPad, as limiting as the device can be, is the perfect alternative for mid-level browsing and email.

It got me to thinking about where we’re at in the evolution of tablet PCs. I’ve been in this industry for almost a decade back when manufacturers were geeking out about their first wave of Windows based tablets. Tablets of that era were often clunky and heavy, but I fell in love with them immediately and have been a passionate advocate of the platform ever since.

So, it’s hard to step back and look at these trends without intense scrutiny, especially when you consider I’ve had the luxury of owning almost every new device on the market. The truth, which makes perfect sense when you look at those numbers more carefully, is that people are not necessarily replacing notebook PCs with tablets, and they’re definitely not supplanting their power computing with an iPad.

What we’re really seeing is a world where most people own more than one computer – the big powerful machine at home for heavy duty work, the smart phone for on-the-go transactions, and the in-between machine for getting work done at the airport or web surfing on the train. And the iPad is filling that final hole for a lot of early adopters.

Building on Momentum

I’ve made no bones about my impression of the iPad. This thing just can’t get the job done in a business environment. ARN also called my attention to a recent Technology Business Research survey showing 32% of iPad owners using the device as a PC replacement and 44% of them using the device as their number one computing device (by raw hours). When I see these numbers, I get warm fuzzy feelings inside, because I know it means big things are coming for tablets in general, not just iPads.

As you all know, Android has been making quite a stir on the tablet scene in the last few months. Since the first Android tablet hit the market in 2009 (before the iPad I might add), analysts have been wondering what the breakthrough device would be. Smartphones had the Motorola Droid – what will bring Android tablets into the mainstream discussion alongside the iPad?

Some people think Samsung is on the right track with their Galaxy line. Others are looking for big things out of PC manufacturers. Personally, I think it will be a combination of devices, perhaps like the TEGA v2 which will support dual-boot Android/Windows. After all, that’s what has made Android the fastest growing phone OS on the planet, quickly gaining on the iPhone. Apple has their iOS on two phones. Google has theirs on dozens. People can transition between multiple devices, all while using their Google Services accounts to keep track of Apps, data, and everything else that you need when backing up a phone.

And now we have people going gaga for tablets. They’re going for tablets because they’re cool, intuitive and lightweight and they make a great in-between device for someone who needs more power than a smart phone but doesn’t want to lug around a PC.

Apple did something good here – they got the Tablet into the mainstream. It took more than 10 years to do it, but now we’re seeing people switching over at record pace, and just like they did for the smartphone, I see Android devices squeaking in to offer something more powerful, diverse and generally useful than Apple – business users keep your eyes open because it won’t be long before Android tablets litter classrooms, boardrooms, and living rooms everywhere.

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