IDC last week lowered its forecast for tablet shipments, providing what The Wall Street Journal called “a sign that the technology that upended the PC market may itself be cooling just a bit.” The market research firm said it expects growth to slow particularly in maturing markets such as North America and Western Europe due to competition from larger smartphones – often called phablets – and the prospect of wearable devices like Google Glass and the Pebble smartwatch. And IDC noted that tablet shipments in the second quarter fell short of expectations as no major new products came to market.
Apple wasn’t the first to bring a slate to market, of course, but it single-handedly created the market. Since the debut of the iPad, though, the market has been driven steadily downward thanks to a plethora of smaller, more affordable tablets, almost all of which run Android. That trend forced Apple to launch the iPad Mini, which competes on price as well as size, but Android slates now account for an impressive 62.6 percent of the worldwide market compared to Apple’s 32.5 percent.
The appeal and functionality of bigger screens
I completely understand the appeal of smaller, cheaper tablets. (Heck, I think I was among the first to lobby Apple to compete at that end of the market.) But I had a conversation over the holiday weekend with two friends – both of whom are attorneys, not hardcore techies — who lamented the difficulties of using their iPads on the job. The iPad is simply too small for editing briefs and other documents, they said. A bigger tablet would make it much easier for users to move copy around more easily, make notes in the margins, and perform other tasks that are oh-so-simple on a PC. A tablet work in tandem with a PC, one friend suggested, providing dual-screen functionality for editing and other activities between the two devices. And it could be ideal in a variety of other business scenarios, from creating presentations to enabling architects and graphic artists to do their stuff through an interactive touchscreen.
And an oversized tablet could have tremendous consumer appeal as well. Watching a video on the iPad isn’t easy for more than two viewers, but a bigger screen – say, something between 11 and 13 inches – might be ideal as an additional TV screen for bigger groups yet still be relatively portable. It could also serve as a platform for multi-player, interactive games, replacing many of the gaming boards and pieces that clutter our closets. And it would be a great tool for video conferencing, both in the enterprise and in the home.
Looking beyond the hardware margins
A handful of oversized slates have come to market this year, as I documented in January, but none has appeared to have found much of an audience. But none has enjoyed the kind of marketing campaign that Apple used to create demand for its iPad, or that Samsung or Android have invested in to push their tablets. Just as importantly, the prices for most oversized tablets are far heftier than Apple charges for the iPad, indicating that manufacturers are trying to duplicate Cupertino’s margins. That strategy has been very costly for Microsoft, which has been forced to lower the price of its Surface tablets after users balked at their price tags.
But Samsung has proven that a bigger screen doesn’t necessarily require a massive price tag with its Nexus 10, a 10-inch tablet starting at $400 that received generally positive reviews following its launch late last year. Just as importantly, an oversized tablet could drive content revenues in a big way, just as Amazon’s line of affordable tablets does. And just as the iPad appears to be particularly effective at delivering ads, an oversized tablet would make for a powerful interactive billboard. So while the market growth for small and mid-sized tablets may be beginning to slow, I think there is probably some demand for larger slates that offer more functionality.