Tech/Market Brief

Brief on Tablet Technology and Market

Tablet computers are mobile computer systems that are generally produced as all-in-ones, but some of the more popular new tablet builds have detachable keyboards that act as stands for the device. Although the landscape has been changing recently, the most notable and first largely successful tablet was the first generation of the Apple iPad. Many people see this as the first tablet as it was the first that was a hit among millions of consumers, but there were many similar devices and concepts; dating back to the 1960’s. The hardware required for tablets has been around for a long time, but it took around 40 years to build a device that had useful lightweight software and provided a seamless user experience.

The first concept build of a tablet computer was a flat device with a screen and a keyboard in one solid piece. This piece of technology, termed the Dynabook, was envisioned by Alan Kay and others at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre. This technology was intended to give children access to media while sitting on a couch or in a chair rather than at a desk like most computers of the day. Hardware and software available at the time was not enough to allow this concept to come to fruition. (techradar)

The next iterations of what could be considered a tablet computer would not arrive on the scene until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, shrunk down to the form of the PDA. These devices used a combination of buttons and a primitive touchscreen that generally required a stylus. These devices were briefly popular among businesspeople for keeping track of their busy lives. Unfortunately, the PDA did not provide enough utility to justify being carried around on a daily basis. While it didn’t have the functionality that a consumer would expect out of a tablet today, Amazon released their first iteration of the Kindle in 2007. This tablet was reduced to the form of an ereader, allowing storage of many eBooks within a small, handheld device. Today, both Apple and Android maintain digital book libraries. (techradar) While Amazon doesn’t have a huge piece of the tablet market share today, they were the first to release a lightweight device that provided its users great functionality in a small device. This technology release set the stage for those to come.

The first fully functional, light weight and commercially successful release of tablet technology was released by Apple in 2010 and dubbed the iPad. It took advantage of new technology and boasted specs of a 9.7-inch display, 10-hour battery life, and 1 GHz processor. (techradar) While these hardware specs were impressive, the one factor that led to the iPad’s success was the fact that it had access to the huge library of apps that were originally developed for the iPhone. This allowed consumers to pick up this new device and use it without subjecting themselves to a huge learning curve. At this point, the iPad was just a supersized iPhone without cellular network capabilities. From this point on, the tablet market was dominated by Apple for a long time, until Google, Samsung and Amazon produced viable tablet offerings.

Today, there are roughly 1.1 billion tablet users, with 182 million tablets being shipped out each year. statista) As of the final quarter of 2016, Apple maintains a 24.7% share of the tablet market. Samsung is in second place with 15.1% of the market share. Amazon has been making large strides recently with the release of their Fire tablet, which brought them out of the ereader marketplace and into the fully functional tablet industry. Amazon grew from 7.8% to 9.7% of the market share from 2015 to 2016. (IDC) The rest of the market share is shared between numerous smaller companies.

While the hardware market share is much more evenly spread, the same does not hold true for the operating system market share. While Apple has a large portion of the hardware market, their operating system share with iOS is sitting at 31.06% compared to the Android market share of 65.19%. (NetMarketShare) This discrepancy shows what is going on in the tablet market for operating systems and software. Every single iPad, the most popular tablet, uses iOS, whereas almost every other tablet uses Android. So nearly every single tablet producer, with market shares ranging from .01% to 12% is using Android operating system. While none of these tablets are the most popular by any stretch, Android seems to be the preferred operating system for most consumers. Whether this is because people prefer the Android layout or because these tablets are generally much more inexpensive would require further research and polling.

In November 2016, mobile and tablet internet usage exceeded that of desktop usage for the first time in history. This is not the case when looking at highly developed countries such as the United States, where desktop internet usage still dominates the market at 58%. On the other hand, developing countries seem to heavily favor mobile devices and tablet computers over desktops. 75% of Indian citizens, for example, access the internet through mobile and tablet devices. (StatCounter) Companies producing tablets internationally need to consider what the trends are in each country and develop and market accordingly. Mobile and tablet producers may benefit by focusing on these developing countries where smaller, mobile devices are preferred over sedentary desktops.

An article by Forbes from this year asks the question “Are desktop pcs and laptops becoming obsolete?” The answer they received was from a Quora user named Jae Alexis Lee. In her response, Lee claims that desktops are extremely limiting and should be a thing of the past. She goes on to say that we have relied on desktops for so long simply because they were our only way to access the internet for quite some time. With her condemnation of desktop computers, she does concede some point that disagree with her argument. Desktops are great for hardware heavy tasks such as work with large files such as video and picture editing and production. Mobile devices have nowhere close to the computing power that desktops have, and are limited greatly by their small size. While there are many tasks wherein the tablet could replace the desktop computer, desktops are nowhere close to becoming obsolete in the current climate. Summarily, tablets have found a niche where they can be more useful than desktops in some senses, but they are not used for the same tasks and will not eclipse each other for some time to come.

Further evidence that the desktop is not dying shows face in the fact that the tablet market seems to be shrinking as of late. From 2015 to 2016, the overall growth of the market has shrunk by a whopping 15.6 percent. Worldwide shipments from all tablet manufacturers decreased from 207.2 million in 2015 to 174.8 million in 2016. (IDC) The market is largely divided between “slate” and “detachable” tablets. Slate tablets are the standard, all-in-one, flat tablet such as the iPad. Detachable tablets are slate tablets with detachable keyboards, giving increased functionality and coming closer to emulating a laptop or desktop.

Detachable tablets are growing in popularity compared to slate tablets, but both categories are dropping in use the past couple years. In these trying times, Apple and Amazon are the only large companies coming out ahead. The iPad gained a small amount of market share from 2015 to 2016. The real success story is the $49 Amazon Fire tablet, which doubled its shipments in the same time frame. (engadget)

All-in-all, it appears that the tablet market is not dying, but it does seem to be reaching maturity. There are many different types of tablets available, each with their merits and drawbacks. The huge growth in the tablet industry that began with the first generation of iPad seems to be coming to a halt as consumers and producers realize that tablets will likely never be a full replacement for desktops. It is possible, however, that tablets and laptops will eventually converge in the form of powerful detachable tablets. With increased power, there is no reason besides personal preference to choose a laptop over the more versatile detachable tablet. This all depends, of course, on tablet producers’ ability to increase power without making their devices clunky and heavy. Apple seems to be on track for this development with their release of the iPad Pro. Time will tell if consumers like this direction and if other producers will follow suit.