Thursday, February 03, 2011

Getting Behind the Tablet Sales Numbers

One thing that a lot of tablet PC prognosticators like to do is gauge and measure the market, either while a device is available or weeks to months ahead of its launch. So, when we do get data, inevitably it will be thrown around a dozen different ways before we understand what it really means.

Sometimes, numbers are simple. Estimates of more than 13 million iPads beings old seem realistic considering the demand for the device and the capacity at most retailers. However, the numbers for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which reported to have sold 2 million units, are not quite the same. Usually, statements like this mean “2 million shipped to retailers” not actually sold to end users. We don’t know how many that means, but company statements have already tempered it quite a bit.  

Measuring the Future

What does that mean for companies that have a new device coming out in 2011? What does it take to create a mainstream device and how does the public generally respond to certain features? No one knows. In fact, right now, the only devices on the market to draw data from are the mega-selling iPad and a dozen or so smaller devices with varying reviews and sales numbers – none of them with outstanding selling points.

I think that niche devices like the Playbook will actually sell decently well to their respective markets, though whether they can be mega-sellers in the mass market remains to be seen. I also think that there will probably be at least one other breakout device in 2011 – most likely the Xoom, though LG’s new tablet is starting to look very attractive with the announcement of multi-carrier 4G support and 3D playback.

We have no idea what will drive end-user interest. Reviews, technical specs, and usefulness have never really been the determining factors in what sells in the technology industry. Apple’s products are never the most powerful or the most feature-rich – they are often the “coolest” and that works for them. So, to be successful, does a company need to “out-cool” Apple or can they simply find their way into the niche through a variety of highly useful, mass-market features?

It remains to be seen. But, I have a feeling in 2011 we’ll be doing a lot of number parsing as sales numbers like that of the Galaxy Tab start to pour in. 

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