Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I'm Not Sold on Tablets

Apple reported sales data today and amid the gangbusters numbers, an interesting factoid: they only sold 4.7 million iPads, when six million or more was expected.

If you don't already know, the iPad has been a runaway success, selling multiple times the numbers of all its competitors combined. In fact, the iPad's sales in comparison to other tablets has made many people question whether there is actually a market for tablets. There's certainly a market for iPads, but what about tablets?

I've played around with the iPad and like it very much. You'd be surprised how frequently you'll check the internet for shit when a terminal is easily at hand. Watching TV? You will Google EVERY FUCKING ACTOR YOU SEE. It's weird! You're driven to do this!

But I've owned a compact laptop, a Sony, for years. I know this already and the benefit of the iPad over my laptop is minimal. But there are MANY people who don't have a laptop anchored to their dining room table who don't know that this behavior pattern exists. These people would like a tablet. So why don't I think that they are large enough of a market to drive sales of anything but an Apple product?

First, though, I want to address the dream of tablets. They're straight out of science fiction, and I think that has blinded most tech geeks to their actual marketability. Truly, the iPad gets much closer to what a tablet should be, but even then, it's not a tablet, it's the iPad. It's very limited in its abilities, because the nature of tablet computing forces those limitations. A well-designed product has those limitations. Look at Microsoft's early forays into tablets. They tried shoehorning a full computing experience onto them and, shocker, it failed.

Even though other companies are failing while Apple sells out, thus making me think that tablets aren't the new mega-market some people want, the real reason I don't think tablets as tablets are destined for success is because the dream of tablet computing has already been achieved with smartphones. Especially the larger phones that sport 4+ inch screens. They do everything that sci-fi dreamt of for tablets, and more. And smartphones are certainly destined for success. In the future, damn-near everyone will have one. But unlike tablets, smartphones had large-scale successes long before Apple showed up. Symbian, Palm, and Microsoft confirmed that the market was there, and Apple solidified it and brought it to a mass market. We had nothing like that in tablets. Before Apple, everyone who tried, failed. I just can't imagine that that reality isn't still in effect today.

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