Whither Tablets?

John Dvorak has a kind of interesting gripe about the future of tablets:

With sales of tablets falling, the so-called “experts” are now re-evaluating predictions about tablets taking over the computing market. It never made sense in the first place.

All eyes are on the market share leader, Apple, whose iPad sales fell 16 percent during the first quarter. Some of this has to do with customers moving to Android tablets, but a downward trend is clear. The Microsoft Surface also took a beating.

The rationale is that, whatever a tablet is good for, it’s never going to be replaced. Once the market saturates, the replacement cycle is long and slow. Unlike on PCs, there are no tablet apps that are so powerful they need more horsepower. Most users simply use them to read content or play games.

Insofar as a fashion item, there is not much you can do design-wise to a tablet to encourage an upgrade. There are no real design elements. It’s just a slab of glass.

My own view is that tablets, like mainframe computers and notebook computers, are a niche product. There’s a viable niche for them and will be for the foreseeable future. So far I don’t we’ve scratched the surface (to use a wildly inappropriate metaphor) of the potential for smartphones or tablets in the business environment. Interestingly, smartphones and tablets are unlike mainframes and personal computers whether desktop or notebook in that they’re primarily a consumer product rather than spreading from business use into personal use.

I’ve been thinking of starting an online magazine devoted to add-ons for smartphones and tablets for a while now. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that out there or, if there is, it’s certainly keeping its existence hidden pretty well. There’s plenty of material and I would think with and with 150 million smartphones and 100 million tablets out there, you’d think that there might be at least a little interest.

9 comments… add one

  • michael reynolds

    I bought one, a first-gen iPad. Played with it, but it was useless for work – I need an actual keyboard. So it sits there now accumulating books I buy on-line and seldom read.

    My son has one – I don’t think he’s ever really used it, he just wanted to understand it. My wife has one. Somewhere. My daughter uses her all the time – Face-timing with friends, watching video, etc… Four iPads, one in actual use.

    Between the iPhone which is attached to me at all times, and the MacBook Air, I have no real use for a tablet. It doesn’t do anything unique, and I thought so from the start, which was why I was such an advocate for enhanced e-books, since they’d be a use unique to the tablet, as well as utilizing resources publishers can provide. But that whole thing never took off. We have the device but we don’t have content that specifically justifies the device.

    Had Apple’s efforts at an online bookstore not crashed so pathetically they might have been able to generate pad-specific content.

  • Dvorak makes me cringe, but I think he’s more right than wrong here. I’ve long been a critic of the notion that tablets will kill the PC. Partially because of my own usage, but mostly because I don’t want it to be true. I shudder at the prospect that we use our PC’s only in such ways that tablets are adequate replacements.

    I’ve been thinking of starting an online magazine devoted to add-ons for smartphones and tablets for a while now. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that out there or, if there is, it’s certainly keeping its existence hidden pretty well.

    I’ve been considering doing a lot more writing on apps. My needs tend to be particular, so when I am looking for a media player or a web browser, I tend to download twenty apps and run through all of them to find the one that best suits my needs. There aren’t a whole lot of good app guides out there.

  • PD Shaw

    I think cell phones have peaked and are due for a correction. The only thing standing in the way is that we’ve gotten rid of most of the payphones. Remember this for the next stimulus package. Each added payphone will create 2.2 jobs.

  • Trumwill:

    I shudder at the prospect that we use our PC’s only in such ways that tablets are adequate replacements.

    Most PCs are used for productivity (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), web browsing, and reading email. Not a lot more. I think that’s a sorry waste of capacity but there you have it. Off-hand I’d guess that half of PCs never have any software added to them than came when they were purchased.

    I’m frequently called on to recommend PC purchases by clients. It’s hard to explain to them that improving specs frequently just mean that the PCs will idle faster.

    I’ve been considering doing a lot more writing on apps.

    I’m actually more interested in the hardware add-ons or hardware/software combinations than in the apps per se but you’re right. The writing on apps is pathetic.

    Mobile apps are actually kind of an interesting subject from a business standpoint. There are lots of people writing them but practically nobody is making any money doing it (other than Apple and Google).

  • I think cell phones have peaked and are due for a correction.

    I suspect that a lot of people aren’t aware of what’s meant by a “mature market”. Right now something like two-thirds of the people in the U. S. have cellphones and they’re almost all smartphones.

    Now, theoretically, that suggests substantial room for expansion but I doubt it. For any product at any price there are some people who simply won’t buy one. I suspect that we’re about at that point for smartphones.

  • Dave, productivity is actually what I was thinking of. People who are content to own a tablet instead of a PC are essentially saying that productivity is unimportant to them. Heaven help us if that’s true of society as a whole.

    I figured that if you’d meant apps you would have said apps, but I’m not sure what kind of addons you’re talking about. Bluetooth keyboards and the like? I actually had a job testing those, once. I got to walk around the building’s fourth floor typing on a bluetooth keyboard seeing what did and did not register on the device on my desk.

    I agree with the consensus here that the smartphone market has peaked. Not just because most of the people who are going to want smatphones already have them, but because we’re passing the point where new iterations of devices are worth upgrading to. There aren’t many really good upgrades that I am waiting for. There’s a lot of work to do on voice control, but there are very few things my S3 lacks.

  • PD Shaw

    Don’t pay too much attention to me. I don’t own a cellphone, so I’m trolling a bit. But it has recently become difficult to operate in polite society, or soccer mom world, without a cell phone, so I did curse my wife with one, before she laid a curse on me.

    My research in December suggested a large part of the “maturity” issue though is cost, not simply preference. I ran into a lot of review sites addressing endless ways to get a smart phone on a dumb plan. There were a lot of stories about simply not being able to afford the smart phone any more.

  • but I’m not sure what kind of addons you’re talking about

    Keyboards and other sorts of accessories, of course. But what I really think are exciting are the various attachable data capture devices that are out or are coming out. Some fascinating stuff could be done with a combination of smartphones, data capture, GPS, and networking.

  • PD Shaw

    From the comments in the link:

    “traveling via el, subway and bus in Chicago where thefts and hold ups are common (three people where I work got their iPhones stolen, I am simply not going to shell out all that money for a device likely to be taken off me.”

Leave a Comment