Is the revolutionary shift from PCs to tablets beginning to peak? It certainly seems to have for full-sized units. There’s the Microsoft Surface debacle, with the company’s latest financial disclosure indicating that MS has made far less from Surface sales (including both RT and Pro) than it’s spent on development and promotion of the devices. And while Apple’s full-sized iPads are still selling in vastly greater numbers than MS Surfaces, volume of shipments has declined markedly from the heady days if last year, especially since release of the cheaper iPad mini last October, with the larger iPad now only representing about 35 percent of overall tablet sales.
The “big” tablet sales picture may brighten somewhat if a much rumored iPad 5 debuts in the fall with a slimmed down firm factor and some feature enhancements, but a simultaneous iPad mini 2 release could take some of the wind out of iPad 5 sales, especially if Apple can secure a supply of 7.9-inch Retina displays for the smaller tablet (which has to be a more urgent priority with the recent release of Google’s second generation Nexus 7, whose 1920×1200 display makes the current mini’s 1024 x 768 panel seem so ’00s).
However, there are signs that the tablet market may be maturing, with the initial saturation take-up phase beginning to peak. According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)’s latest Quarterly Consumer Outlook on Tablets: Q3 2013 report, wich examines trend information on consumer behaviour and sentiment regarding tablet computers, four in ten (41 percent) online U.S. consumers indicate they now own a tablet, only up a smidge from tablet ownership rates reported in the previous Consumer Outlook on Tablets: report in March of this year (40 percent).
According to preliminary second quarter of 2013 (2Q13) data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker (http://goo.gl/LRn2KD), worldwide tablet shipments finally experienced a sequential decline as total volumes fell -9.7% from 1Q13. However, IDC also notes that the 45.1 million units shipped in the second quarter was up 59.6% from the same quarter in 2012, when tablet vendors shipped 28.3 million devices.
Tiernan Ray of Barrons’ Tech Trader Daily cites UBS‘s Steve Milunovich in turn citing his colleague Arthur Hsieh who last week published new tablet estimates, commenting, “We are very surprised that the global tablet market shipment units do not have further upside to our prior estimates, yet PC units continue to decline.” And noting that tablet market revenue growth declined from 26% to 21% in 2013 and from 29% to 17% in 2014.
Or maybe it’s just a temporary plateau in demand. The CEA report notes that following a dip in the first quarter, tablet purchase intent appears to have rebounded, with four in ten (40 percent) online U.S. adults indicating they plan to purchase a tablet computer within the next two years, a 33 percent jump. And looking even further ahead, nearly three in four (72 percent) consumers say they expect to purchase a tablet at some point in the future.
“Tablets faced a relatively stagnant second quarter in 2013, after several consecutive quarters of strong growth,” says CEA senior research analyst, market research, Kevin Tillmann, “however, an increase in consumers’ purchase intent indicates optimism. Many consumers are waiting for the next generation of models to upgrade their existing devices IDC’s Research Director – Tablets Tom Mainelli says that “With no new iPads, the market slowed for many vendors, and that’s likely to continue into the third quarter. However, by the fourth quarter we expect new products from Apple, Amazon, and others to drive impressive growth in the market.”
That should be good news for Apple, with a redesigned fifth-generation full-sized iPad and an updated iPad mini presumed to be in the new product pipeline for as early as next month.IDC observes that lacking a new product launch in March to help spur shipments, the iPad saw a lower-than-predicted shipment total of 14.6 million units for the quarter, down from 19.5 million in 1Q13. However, in years past, Apple has launched a new tablet heading into the second quarter, which resulted in strong quarter-over-quarter growth. Now, with new Apple tablet products anticipated to launch the second half of the year, Apple should be better positioned to compete during the holiday season.
With nearly half of U.S. households expected to own a tablet in the next 12-18 months, tablets are undeniably impacting how consumers view and enjoy digital content,” says the CEA’s Tillmann. “As we move through 2013, anticipation runs high this year for the next wave of tablets to include new and innovative features. Striking the right chord with consumers’ expectations will be imperative to resuming the growth trends we’ve seen prior to this quarter’s purchase stagnation.”
As an iPad user and somewhat frustrated fan, I would hope that the coming iOS 7 and refreshed iPad hardware would include more capabilities useful to content producers, but it’s not a very lively hope, especially what with the CEA survey identifying the number one most popular tablet activity during this past quarter as being playing games, with watching movies remaining in second place, messaging moving to third spot and with social networking and shopping rounding out the top five most popular tablet activities as consumers continue to use these devices primarily for entertainment — not a happy indication of where development engineering focus is likely to be concentrated form the perspective of users like myself for whom the iPad serves primarily as a tool.
According to eMarketer’s latest estimate of media consumption among US adults, average time spent with digital media per day will surpass TV viewing time for the first time this year, With the average adult spending in excess of five hours per day online, on non voice mobile activities or with other digital media this year, plus to four hours and 31 minutes watching television –the latter activity down slightly this year, while digital media consumption will be up 15.8%.
Which is one reason why I found essay last week by BusinessInsider’s Steve Kovach about why he recently sold his iPad and replaced it with his MacBook Air especially interesting. Kovach had found that his iPad, a third-generation model with Retina display, was this year sitting for months on his nightstand, untouched — its battery dead, and not from overuse. That was a big contrast to when he first got the iPad, and found himself using it more than his MacBook. In contrast, he began using the iPad less and less this year mostly because he started working a lot more when away from the office, noting that for writers, an iPad isn’t an ideal device to get things done, even with a Bluetooth keyboard or keyboard case added. “I still need a full-fledged PC to do my job well,” he maintains, “as I suspect people in many other professions do.”
Back spending much more time on the MacBook, Kovach realized he could still do a lot of things on it that he could do on his iPad, and then some. I entirely agree about the functionality. These days I do more than half of my writing on the iPad, not without attendant frustrations and annoyances, but with the help of some very helpful third-party writing apps I’ve become fairly adept at working around them. However, it is only in exceedingly rare instances that I don’t require my Macs for final proofing, efficient HTML markup, for image editing (possible on the iPad, but clumsy and inefficient, and for posting images to the Web. The Mac is also indispensable for housekeeping duties like managing and culling my Dropbox folder.
A large proportion of the iPad’s. shortcomings as a writing and editing machine are traceable to the iOS’s lack of a user accessible file system and individual documents being sandboxed with the app that created them. That may be acceptable to the masses of tablet users for whom writing more than a Tweet or a Facebook comment is a low ranking concern, but it’s not for users like me if the iPad is to ever become a serious contender as an anchor machine for content creators.
Kovach acknowledges that, iPads and other tablets do appear to be cannibalizing the traditional PC market, but contends that in most cases, when you need to get some real work done, an iPad or other tablet really doesn’t cut it, unable as they are to support a full suite of productivity a regular PC does — even an 11-inch MacBook Air.
I fully agree about the functionality or lack thereof, but I remain torn about the iPad. I revel in the power and productivity efficiency of even my current 4+ year old MacBook, but also in a different way in the portability and ease of use of the iPad. I even find that the virtual keyboard has its virtues, especially in apps with enhanced keyboard shortcut capability like Scriptus and Textkraft.
Nevertheless, it being past time I got serious about upgrading my Mac system, I’ve pondered the idea of going with an 11-inch MacBook Air as an aspirant replacement for both my current iPad and anchor Mac. I’m wondering whether the easing of iPad sales this year combined with growth in MacBook Air sales, both before and after the new Haswell-powered Airs with their astonishingly improved battery charge life, may indicate that more folks are, like Steve Kovach, taking a fresh look at what clamshell laptop PCs have to offer, especially now that one of the things they offer is tablet-like all-day battery life.
I suppose I’ll never really know unless I give it a practical try, but one of my hesitations is that the 11.6-inch MacBook Air’s panel resolution doesn’t really measure up in this era of Retina and other ultra high resolution displays. The alternative is of course to carry on using an iPad and Mac in tandem, which has both the advantages and disadvantages of keeping one foot planted in the OS X world and the other in the iOS walled garden.