Complex Made Simple

Why has everybody forgotten about tablets?

When tablets broke into the mainstream in 2010 with Apple’s iPad, manufacturers were wary. Many had tried to make tablet computers a hit, but all attempts had failed for the most part. Once the iPad blew up in popularity, proving that the demand existed, companies took notice. What was needed was effective marketing that would create this want for tablets. Apple succeeded there, with flying colors.

Today, 8 years later, the hype has died down. In fact, research shows that tablet sales are on an overall decline. What happened?

A forecasted decline

(Graph by Statista)

Recent data by the International Data Corporation (IDC) for Q2 2018 in the MENA market has confirmed the company’s comments from previous years. As with their data from 2017, the tablet market in the MENA region continues to shrink, with Q2 2018 figures showing a drop in approximately 1 million units. This marks a 9.48% decline in sales year-on-year.

As part of their Q2 2022 forecast, it gets worse. They estimate 8,636,521 tablets to be sold during that time period, showing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -5.33% during the 2017-2022 period.

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The novelty is gone

Just like with any innovation or creation, once one company makes it big, all the others will flood the market with their secondary designs. The iPad buzz was eventually snuffed out by competitor tablets, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series, which wore down the novelty of the iPad and tablet format.

As always, it doesn’t help that Apple’s premium brand image often leads to significantly higher prices, which competitors had capitalized on by introducing more budget offerings. Why fork out $499 for an iPad in 2010 when you could wait a few months and buy a competitor’s cheaper alternative?

READ: Gartner: Worldwide PC shipments flat in Q3 2018

Phablets pose a threat to tablets 

When the iPad kicked off the tablet craze in 2010, smartphone screens were still modest in size. The trend-setting iPhone 4 boasted a meager 3.5 inch display, which was great by 2010 standards.

Today’s flagship devices, like the 6.5 inch iPhone XS Max or the 6.2 inch Samsung Galaxy S9+, have normalized the “phablet” sensation.

What are phablets, you ask? They are smartphones that lean more towards tablets in terms of display real estate, a hybrid between the smartphone and tablet in a sense. They are often classified as smartphones with a screen size between 5.5 inches and 7 inches.

According to IDC’s findings, phablets will far outpace total market growth by climbing from 611 million units in 2017 to 1 billion units in 2021, representing a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.1%.

In a sense, phablet phones are making tablets obsolete.

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Little innovation in recent years

If we are talking in terms of size, tablets can only expand so much. With new iPhones, for example, users often anticipate the next release in hopes of a bigger display and upgraded innards. The iPhone 4S saw an increase in screen size with the iPhone 5, then from the 5 to the 6 model, and now with the XS Max.

With tablets, how much larger can they grow realistically? Will we be lugging around TV-size tablets by 2020? Obviously not.

Tablets broke through to the mainstream when they finally began advertising as more of a media and online content device – browsing the internet, connecting on social media, listening to music and watching videos. That was the reason the iPad succeeded so well.

Previous tablet iterations had tried to do so much that PCs and netbooks (smaller, cheaper laptops for lighter use) were already doing, and hence failed. By focusing on online and media content, the tablet broke to the mainstream as something new.

Today, the novelty of a larger handheld device providing you with your entertainment fix has long since faded away, with the aforementioned phablets satisfying this need more and more by the day.

Besides that, tablet innovation has been stagnating in recent years. A crisper display, improved specs and new coat of paint can only get these companies so far, and unless a new innovation is shown off to the market, tablet sales won’t improve anytime soon. Perhaps Samsung’s new foldable screen technology could breathe some life into the stale tablet market.

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