Interesting analysis of the tablet market by Neil Cybart.
A quick look at iPad and tablet shipment data would show that things have gotten bad in recent quarters. However, in reality, things are much worse than quarterly shipment data would suggest. The seasonality found in the tablet segment makes it difficult to see these long-term problems. A much better way at understanding what has been taking place is to look at the year-over-year change in shipments on a trailing 12-month (TTM) basis, highlighted in Exhibit 1. This smoothing effect highlights that the iPad and tablet have been on the decline for years and things continue to worsen with the overall tablet market hitting negative territory for the first time. All momentum has been lost.
It’s a pretty grim picture, but it’s not surprising. After modern tablets burst onto the scene – led by the iPad – we were pummelled by hyperbole after hyperbole about the post-PC revolution and how the tablet would destroy the PC; and indeed, for a short while, the staggering sales numbers of the iPad (later overtaken by Android tablets) seemed to lend credence to these hyperboles.
And then things kind of… Well, stagnated. Google has never really taken tablets seriously, and with hindsight we can now say that was probably a good idea. Apple, too, has completely ignored and squandered the potential it saw for the iPad. Little to no tablet-specific work has been done on the iPad side of iOS, and as such, the iPad has never managed to grow beyond its status as a consumption-only device.
Speaking of consumption, I found this sentiment in Sybart’s article quite puzzling.
Many didn’t see it, but tablets were quickly turning into content consumption devices where price was a leading purchase decision.
“Many didn’t see it”? “Turning into”? Really? I don’t know about you, but since the iPad’s introduction, there’ve been only two groups of people claiming that the iPad was not strictly a consumption device: Apple employees and Apple bloggers/reporters. Everybody else has been fully aware of the iPad’s (and other tablets’) main use case from day one.
Lukas Mathis has written a great reply to Sybart’s article, hitting the nail on the head so hard, the nail’s probably saying hello to New Horizons by now:
Better hardware would help, but I think it’s very important to acknowledge that the thing standing in the way of productive work on the iPad is not its hardware. It’s iOS.
iOS is a cumbersome system for even reasonably complex productive tasks. Apple has started fixing the window management problem, but there’s still the document management problem (most real-world tasks involve multiple documents from multiple sources – there’s pretty much no way to organize and manage document from different applications in iOS), and the workflow problem (many real-world tasks involve putting the same document through multiple apps, which iOS is still not great at, albeit getting better).
And then there’s the fact that few developers are willing to invest a lot of money into productive apps on the iPad. They are expensive to create, the market is small, and Apple’s handling of how apps are sold on its devices does not instill confidence.
The thing that’s preventing people from using the iPad productively is not the small screen, it’s the operating system.
All this is further made worse by how hard iPads are to deploy and manage in educational and corporate settings (compared to Windows laptops and Chromebooks).
The question now is this: will Apple ripping off Windows 8’s Metro environment be enough to regain the squandered potential? Do we need a larger iPad, as has been rumoured for so long now? Or do we just have to accept that no, tablets and touch just aren’t going to work for anything but simple, consumption-focused computing tasks?
I think I know the answer.