Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Finding Room in the Tech Market for Tablets

This morning as I was reading through a handful of my favourite blogs, I came across a number of new stories discussing how the tablet market is cutting into other long established markets. We’ve already discussed a few times the claim by some executives that the iPad is cutting severely into netbook sales, but this is not the only cannibalization in the technology race according to more than a couple analysts.

What interests me most about the growing argument over consumer focus and the effect it has on existing industries is that this is not a rare event. Whenever new technology becomes available, there is inevitably a shift in consumer spending. Most people don’t need a netbook and a tablet. They don’t need cable TV, Netflix, and a Hulu powered device. That’s not to say that some won’t have those devices, but for the most part, many people will stick with what works best in their day to day life.

It’s happened before. New technologies frequently supplant old ones. If you visit your local electronics store, you’ll surely find far more laptop computers on display than desktops. That’s not to say that desktops do not sell, but laptops are used in almost every facet of society – from education to enterprise and beyond while desktops are generally used at home and in the office. When laptops became more powerful and affordable they cut into that market sharply.

The same is now happening with the iPad and soon other devices of the same style and form. These devices are new and consumers do not yet know how they will use them, but we can be sure that many daily activities will be moved to the mobile space, simply because it is more convenient. Already, mobile smartphones are becoming a replacement for many tools such as phone books, maps, and portable gaming devices. So too will tablets gouge out their own space.

There are a few things that I find especially interesting in this new technology push, however. For sure, the demise of netbooks has been prematurely proclaimed. Just look at the sharp push of Macbook Air sales since the newest model was announced or Dell’s soon to be released Inspiron Duo – a hybrid of the tablet/netbook aesthetics. If a netbook can offer superior performance and a sleek design to rival a tablet, it will still sell.

But, on the other side of things, there are more technologies than just computing that will take a hit thanks to tablets. What about books? Or toys for children who are becoming increasingly tech savvy at very young ages? What about entertainment systems for the car? Who will need to spend thousands of dollars for a backseat DVD system when a single tablet with a Disney movie downloaded to it could easily do the same job.

This is an exciting time. All around us, people are innovating and developing new ways for mobile technology to take over certain tasks we perform using existing tools. That shift is only going to intensify as this technology matures – and while some people will be very nervous, I will be watching closely because there are so many avenues yet to be explored. It might harm one industry, but it will definitely provide value to the consumers driving these changes.

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