Tablet Computers Are Here to Stay

More than 80 suppliers introduced tablet computers at the 2010 Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Illustration: SF Chronicle

For some reason, I like reading statistics that predict how fast certain markets for various types of technology will grow. With all of the media hype that surrounds hot-selling new products such as the iPad, it’s easy to lose sight of how long it might actually take for significant disruptive shifts in to occur in the market.

As creative professionals, the question we need to consider is: How long will it take for this hot new technology to “cross the chasm” from the relatively small pool of early adopters and evangelists to the large bulk of mainstream users?

According to a Content Insider report I received from PR pro Andy Marken, tablet computers will indeed be everywhere in the years ahead. He describes tablets as “the third screen” for business and personal computing, effectively filling a gap that supposedly was going to be filled by the heavily hyped netbook computers.

At the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Andy reports that more than 80 new tablet computers were introduced. With a few exceptions, he says most looked like flimsy knock-offs. Plus, the tablets all featured different mixes of functionality.

Although prices for non-Apple tablets are expected to fall below $500 by the end of the first quarter of 2011, the challenge for consumers who want to buy a tablet right now will be to determine which companies will survive the inevitable consolidation. Although the market for media tablets is expected to grow quickly, it probably won’t be nearly big enough to support so many different models.

Here are a few other clarifying tidbits gleaned from Andy’s report.

  • Tablets fill the gap between smartphones, which have 4-inch screens, and notebook computers that have 13 to 15-inch screens.
  • Tablets are not a new category. They have been around for awhile (either as tablet PCs or eReaders), but Apple caused interest in tablets to soar by introducing a new type of tablet computer, called the “media tablet.”
  • Media tablets are distinguished by their color displays (5- to 14-inch screens), touchscreen interfaces, mobile operating systems, longer battery life, and WiFi or cellular connectivity.
  • In 2010, 82.6% of the media tablets sold used Apple’s iOS. The others used Android. Analysts expect that the operating system spectrum will grow this year, but that Apple will continue to dominate.
  • In 2010, 581.5 million portable devices were sold worldwide. Of these, 52% were smart phones, 38.9% were notebook computers, and 3.2% were media tablets. The other 5.9% were other types of connected devices.
  • All of the mobile device categories will expand over the next few years. By 2014, analysts at IDC expect 1.07 billion portable devices to be sold worldwide, with media tablets accounting for 10.4% of that number compared to 49.2% for smart phones and 36.7% for notebooks.
  • Initial buyers of media tablets are encountering issues similar to those experienced by the first buyers of netbook computers: they can’t do everything you need for daily work. For example, media tablets may be great for web surfing, showing photos and presentations, or taking notes at meetings. But media tablets aren’t your best choice for producing PowerPoint presentations, editing photos, typing documents, making calls, reading books, or holding large volumes of materials needed for business or school.
  • The media tablet won’t replace other devices, but will become one more device you carry and use regularly. For example, in your backpack, you find yourself toting around four devices: a smart phone, media tablet, notebook computer, and eReader.
  • Have you noticed? People use media tablets differently than other portable devices. Most of us keep our smartphones close, even when showing photos or videos. Notebook users also hold onto their devices, even when turning it around to show you a PowerPoint presentation or slideshow. But people will gladly shove their media tablet into your hands so you can hold it yourself while browsing through photos, playing a game, or watching a video.

Thanks, Andy for sharing your insights through The Content Insider reports. I met Andy Marken at the Seybold San Francisco Conferences in the late 1990s when the dot.com boom was in full swing. So many wild, new technology concepts were being introduced at those conferences, it made my head spin. As a specialist in PR for technology firms, Andy always understood the value of providing clarity and perspective first.

Chart showing growth of media tablets, tablet PCs, and mini-notebooks
IDC’s growth projections for media and tablet PCs are attracting a slew of device manufacturers.

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