Do Consumers Want Tablets or iPads?

by Ben Bajarin   |   June 20th, 2011

John Paczkowski, over at the All Things D blog, wrote an interesting article titled “Consumers Don’t Want Tablets, They Want iPads.” I encourage you to read it, it was a good read with some good statistics from Bernstein Research on tablet brand awareness and form factor preference. In terms of where the market is today i’d have to agree that mainstream consumers are highly in favor of the iPad over other tablets. The question is will this always be the case or will the market even out, and if so when?

Paczkowski’s theory, as stated in the opening, is that the tablet market is currently similar to the original MP3 market. All though Apple didn’t invent the MP3 market they re-invented it and controlled much of its growth. Consumers preferred the iPod to all other MP3 players, mainly due to Apple’s ecosystem. Apple is in the driver’s seat with tablets currently because again, all though they didn’t invent it, they re-invented it. The Apple ecosystem is uniquely positioned to continue to keep them dominant in the tablet category.

There is however a fundamental difference between the iPad and the MP3 player. The MP3 player was for the most part of its maturity cycle a feature centric device. Meaning it generally did only one thing well, play music. The iPad and tablets at large are computers, which are general purpose not specific function devices, meaning they do many things well.

This difference creates the market opportunity for fragmentation once it matures. I liken what will happen in this market to the current automobile market. There are many choices that cater to a wide variety of consumer choices. This is what happens when a market reaches maturity.

The tablet market is a maturing market, not a mature one. Therefore in the beginning there will be fewer market leaders and less choices until the market matures. Consumers will choose the market leader to get their feet wet with the new product and use it to help them decide their own preferences and desires.

The real trick will be for Apple and others to create “sticky” experiences with their ecosystem. This will keep consumers vested and committed to a specific hardware, software and services solution. Vendors who don’t do this well will likely face the chance of consumers switching or at least considering to switch with each buying cycle. If a vendor creates enough depth with their offering, getting consumers committed to their ecosystem, then there will be less of a chance they will switch with each buying cycle.

To say that people (mainstream consumers, not early adopters as there is a difference) want iPads not tablets is correct for the time being. We could have easily said the same thing 3 or 4 years ago that consumers want an iPhone not a smart phone. However the market has developed and is quickly maturing making fragmentation a given.

I’ll bet 3 years from now the tablet market will look different, with more choices and more mature products from iPad competitors. The question will remain whether consumers will buy.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • http://twitter.com/adamjayreid Adam Reid

    Excellent article. While the Touchpad and the Galaxy Tab represent the biggest challengers now, I think the only true challenger will likely be the Windows 8 machines in 2012.

    Google killed it with Android for phones, but if you look at their other products you could argue that Android’s phone success could be in spite of Google. While this is a controversial thought, look to the other major hardware ecosystems Google has in the market. Google TV, not a failure, certainly not a success, and certainly not selling on the level of the Apple TV 2G. Honeycomb, more of the same, not a failure, but not living up to sales expectations at all. And finally Chromebooks. While the sales wil yet to be determined, the reviews can be described as tepid or optimistic at best, but more honestly described as generally questioning why anyone would purchase a Chromebook. Looking at these trends you can say Google knows how/or lucked into selling a crapload of phones, thats is.

    As for the Touchpad, I see that being a moderate success, outselling any Honeycomb tablet and the Playbook, but certainly not putting any dent in the iPads marketshare. If RIM couldn’t do it with the huge ecosystem they created, I doubt HP will with the limited WebOS ecosystem that exists. And I’m not entirely sure HP carries more brand cache with consumers than Blackberry. If consumers view tablets as computers HPs name will lend a lot of credibility, if they view them as mobile devices it will mean next to nothing.

    Microsoft however doesn’t have any of the problems described above. They have proven they can make multiple ecosystems and make them successful. They carry cache in the mobile arean as well as the computer arena, and unlike Android, WebOS, QNX, or whatever new eosystem that launches, there is little to no learning curve for consumers when it comes to using their hardware. If I had a bet I’d wager that Windows 8 tablets outsell iPads as OEMs engage in a race to the bottom for market share, and like the PC market Apple will enjoy huge profit margins compared to their limited market share.

    Consumers want iPads not because they are iPads but because its a proven enjoyable experience. No other company can clam that, but once Microsoft comes to market they will be able to. Thats when the tablet wars will truly begin

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the thoughts Adam. I agree. I pointed out in an earlier post why you can’t count Microsoft out for some of the same reasons.