Why Tablets Won’t Cannibalize Laptop Sales – Yet at Least

by Tim Bajarin   |   July 7th, 2011

If any of you have gone out to buy a laptop computer lately, you may have asked yourself “do I need a laptop or could I get by with a tablet?” We know from our research that this question is top of mind with a lot of consumers these days as tablets have really clouded their thinking when it comes to new laptop purchases.

Last summer, when the PC vendors were planning their spring collection of laptops, consumer tablets were still in their infancy. Apple’s iPad had some serious interest from consumers but at that time, it had only been on the market for a few months and the vendors did not see it as a threat to their laptop business. But by the holiday season they realized that Apple not only had a hit on their hands but also were pushing more and more non-PC vendors to jump on the tablet bandwagon. They also saw that Apple’s iPad and Google’s Android tablets were starting to get serious attention from potential laptop buyers.

But the problem for the PC vendors is that the projection of cannibalization of laptops by tablets is also all over the map. Some financial analysts that I talk to who cover the PC vendors think that tablets could cannibalize as much as 50% of the laptop business for traditional PC vendors by 2014. In my talks with PC vendors, they currently fear that tablets could impact their total laptop sales by more then 10-12% over the next three years.

However, a new report from Bernstein Research Analyst Toni Sacconaghi is challenging this assumption. John Paczkowski over at the AllThingsD blog shared the reports findings and added some thoughts in his article. Sacconaghi believes that tablets are not cannibalizing notebooks but are instead converging with them. He postulates that a product like Apple’s MacBook Air, with its thin and light design, is more synergistic to Apple’s iPad. And that it represents a broader convergence of the tablet and notebook designs.

He is on to something here. If you look at the key trends in processor designs that focus on very low voltage yet high performance, you see that PC vendors now have the technology to create very thin and light laptops that in some ways work the same way. With a tablet, all you need is a Bluetooth keyboard and it in essence is a notebook. What’s more, if you take a very thin and light laptop and put a touch screen on it that can be folded back or slid down, you have a tablet.

Mr. Saccononaghi also says “ironically, availability of such notebook devices might undermine tablets sales rather then vice versa.” That is a possibility. But the blurring may really come through what we call Hybrids or sliders. When I was in Taipei a few weeks ago I saw a couple of products called sliders. The one officially launched was the Asus slider but I also saw one behind the scenes that will be ready for the holidays that was even cooler then the one from Asus. Both work like a laptop when the screen is slid up and then works like a tablet when the screen is slid down. A tablet and laptop all-in-one!

We see this hybrid slider as the device that actually does blur the two devices into one and could end up driving a portion of the market to buy products like these instead of a laptop or a tablet individually. However these designs still have small 10.1 inch screens and laptop users – who are used to larger screens to work with – may be intrigued by this design but still opt for a laptop and a tablet if they feel the need both.

What’s interesting is that if you consider a tablet a portable computer and lump them into total portable computer sales, Apple would be the #1 portable computer maker in the market today with HP being a distant second.

In the end I believe it will come down to personal choices. If a person uses their computers more for productivity, then a laptop is still needed. But if they mostly use computers for content consumption, then a tablet is more ideal for them.

Either way, consumers will end up with a lot of compelling choices and form factors for ultra light computing and will buy the ones that make sense for them. And for the PC industry, the amount of portable computers shipped starting in 2013 will increase by at least 50%. The big question when we get to 2015 though will be who the real Apple challengers will be and how much market share Apple will still own in both the ultra light laptop and tablets markets by the middle of the decade.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elder-Norm/790427967 Elder Norm

    Tim,
    Ok article. But you should know that Tony S. is a real anti-Apple kind of guy. And I that that colors his advice, big time.

    “Either way, consumers will end up with a lot of compelling choices and form factors for ultra light computing and will buy the ones that make sense for them. ” While this may be true of hardware (after all, Apple computers will run windows 7 with no problem) its the environment that counts. And considering if you like one Apple product and the software or app runs well on iPhone, iPad, etc, why suffer a brand new Windows 8 that sorta works one way but not quite. ??????

    Remember, there are currently only 3 OS systems, OS / iOS, Android (in its many variants), and Windows take your pick on version. Apple has its, everyone else still has to accept what they are given for theirs.

    Just a thought,
    en