What it is: The iPad redefined the tablet market. Yet fewer people are buying iPads and tablets in general.
When Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, sales immediately took off. Even die-hard Windows enthusiasts bought an iPad because it offered convenience that a laptop (or netbook) could never offer. Android manufacturers soon started selling Android tablets but just as suddenly, tablet sales have been dropping each quarter.
Not only is Apple selling fewer iPads, but Android manufacturers are selling fewer Android tablets. Dell even abandoned their Android tablet line to focus on Windows devices instead. So what’s happening?
Look at why tablets took off in the beginning. Back in 2010, your choice for a portable computing device boiled down to a heavy, cumbersome laptop or a cheap netbook with a tiny screen, cramped keyboard, and underpowered processor. When faced with this competition, tablets like the iPad had no trouble competing to the point where the entire netbook market has pretty much disappeared completely.
Now look at the world of today and you can see multiple factors all working against tablets. First, look at how long tablets last. Many people are still happily using the original iPad. Although the original iPad (and older models) can’t run the latest version of iOS, it doesn’t matter. Older iPads still work just fine so there’s no reason to replace them. Compare that to the old days of PCs where technology advanced so rapidly that people would replace their PCs every few years like clockwork. So one major reason for the demise of tablet sales is that tablets don’t need replacing as often because they still work.
Second, smartphones have grown in size from tiny devices to phablets that combine the features of a smartphone with a tablet. With such a miniature tablet in your pocket or purse at all times, it’s hard to justify carrying around an additional tablet, especially since the tablet may not be connected to the Internet at all times like a smartphone.
To keep a tablet connected to the Internet, you need to pay an additional monthly charge. Since many people already have smartphones, the idea of paying for Internet access for a tablet is less appealing. So in many ways, smartphones are replacing the need for a tablet.
Third, back when the iPad appeared in 2010, laptops were either heavy or tiny and underpowered. With laptops like the MacBook Air, today’s laptops are small, light, and powerful enough to get work done, which simply wasn’t the case back in 2010 when laptops were either too heavy to lug around easily or too weak to do anything useful.
So three factors are working against tablets today:
- Older tablets work just as well as newer tablets for many people so there’s no need to buy a new tablet
- Smartphones have gotten bigger and can offer tablet-like features
- Laptops have gotten smaller, lighter, and more powerful
This is why tablets are evolving towards laptops and laptops are moving towards tablets. Laptops have gotten smaller and lighter like tablets but tablets still aren’t as powerful as laptops. Given a choice, more people prefer a laptop instead of a tablet.
To reverse this trend, Apple and other manufacturers are making tablets work more like laptops. That’s why the iPad Pro has an optional keyboard and that’s why the Windows world has embraced 2-in-1 devices where a Windows laptop can double as a tablet.
To survive, tablets have to get as powerful as laptops. Apple keeps pushing the power of its mobile processors to the point where an iPad processor comes close to matching the performance of an older laptop, but until a tablet can truly replace a laptop, more people are going to prefer laptops over tablets.
The future of tablets is really not as a separate device but as an integrated device. Think of touch screen interfaces on kiosks and printers. That’s essentially a tablet. Think of Apple’s CarPlay in dash entertainment system in car dashboards. That’s essentially a tablet. Tablets are slowly moving from separate devices to integrated parts in other devices including touch screens on laptops.
Tablets likely will remain a niche product that may never replace laptops completely until tablets can far surpass the power of a laptop. For that to happen, tablets need to be able to do everything a laptop can do but easier, faster, and simpler. Until that day comes, tablets will keep slipping in sales over time.