Apple’s latest results showed impressive sales for iPhone and Macs, but the iPad was down again compared to last year (down 22%). Part of that is that the cheaper tablets are gaining in market share, which is to be expected. But tablet sales, outside of the absolute cheapest (and least functional) models are also slowing. Has the tablet established what it is going to do?
Yesterday, Thorsten Heins from RIM proclaimed that the tablet market will diminish within 5 years. His view is that the smartphone will be the focus of our attention, and that we will attach it to “big screens” when we need more real estate. The idea of dockable phones isn’t new. But, so far, it really hasn’t caught on with smartphone buyers. Given the current growth rates, and overwhelming mass of predictions about tablets replacing PC’s, it would seem to be easy to dismiss Heins’ predictions as the words of a madman trying to shake things up. But there is a cautionary tale that should at least give us pause before proclaiming the tablet as the future of personal computing.
Walt Mossberg at AllThingsD has a review of 3 convertible Windows 8 tablets which is succinct, but makes a subtle point (if you read between the lines): a convertible laptop/tablet is a compromise. None of the devices he reviewed are particularly light or thing. None of them have battery life that approaches the iPad or mainstream Android tablets. And, as we’ve seen from past reviews, Windows 8 doesn’t seem to be a great tablet OS, and the presence of tablet features may have compromised the traditional PC experience. But these convertible tablets beg a bigger question: will consumers change their mind on these things?
Rumours continue to abound about a smaller form-factor iPad. The New York Times claims that a 7.85″ iPad will arrive this fall, priced below $499. Reports from other media outlets have said the same thing. But this isn’t news. Ever since the arrival of the iPad, various analysts and media outlets have claimed to hold knowledge about a forthcoming smaller iPad. One of the lone holdouts in this area is All Things D, who generally seem to have a good handle on what goes on in the Silicon Valley. That isn’t to say a smaller tablet is a bad idea. I know I wouldn’t mind one, but I’m not sitting here thinking my current iPad is so much of boat anchor that it is barely portable.
A smaller iPad, like other smaller tablets, will be facing a considerable challenge, at least in the immediate term. Current sales figures on the Android side are mixed, and really don’t indicate strongly how much real demand there may or may not be for a smaller tablet.
Today, Google announced the Nexus 7 tablet. Curiously built as a partnership with ASUS, the device is a 7″ tablet with a quad-core processor, a fairly pedestrian screen and otherwise unremarkable specifications. It isn’t being offered with anything but WiFi connectivity (at least for now). Google’s “theme” is that this is a device “built for Google Play”, so it appears to be meant to be a portal to bigger things (much like the Kindle Fire). Like the Fire, the prices start at a fairly low US$199. So, is this thing a game-changer?
Some of the folks at Acer are questioning whether Microsoft will really build the Surface tablet or not. They certainly aren’t happy with the idea of Microsoft becoming a hardware competitor. However, the Acer message is pretty muddled. Some are dissing the machine, saying it won’t gain traction. Others figure it’s a fake to goad OEM’s to build something better. But then, Acer isn’t noted for being the most “normal” of companies when it comes to making comments. But one idea is intriguing: could this just be a head-fake by Microsoft? I’m not sure that it is, but consider some of the evidence.
Here’s probably the biggest question I can ask about the Surface: will I get one? The answer: yes. Not a qualified “yes”. Not a “probably yes”. But a definite “yes”. But why?
In part because I’m a technology junkie. I would have bought an HP TouchPad during the firesale, had I been better organized (missed out by a couple of hours, dithering over whether I should or not). I’ve been tempted to get a Playbook, just to mess around with it, but I want the price to come down more first. I’ve done some work on Android, so I own a 7″ Galaxy Tab. I wouldn’t call what I have a collection, more of an “accumulation”. But I do have a weakness for electronics.
I also use a variety of technology in what I do. For the past couple of years, my primary platform has been a Mac, but I do use Windows for some tasks. I have a couple of Windows machines at home that my kids use. I also use Linux from time to time, and used it a lot (including as my primary computing, coding and productivity platform) in a previous venture. The reality is that, if you are going to do things in my primary industry (financial markets technology), you have to support Windows, which means you need to stay familiar with it. Besides, Windows is perfectly adequate platform for day-to-day computing. I’m looking at a new venture, and Windows is on the list of office technologies we are considering. A lot of people I expect to hire are already familiar with it, and the people I will need to maintain the IT environment already know it. Choosing Windows removes a number of barriers that can slow a start-up down.
So yes, I will get a Surface. I still haven’t decided which one (the ARM-based one or the Intel version), but I have time to decide. Depending on the budget, I may very well get one of each. I guess the one advantage of such a long lead time between announcement and ship is that I have time to decide which I want.