Big Tablets and The Shift in Mobile Computing

I believe 2014 could be a big year for bigger tablets. The bulk of the tablets sold over the past few years have been tablets in the 7-8″ range. By our estimates the install base of tablets 9″ or larger is only 33%. Which highlights the point that most tablet sales over the past few years have been in smaller tablets.

Now, if you read what I wrote a few weeks ago you know that we believe we are on the cusp of a new buying cycle for more computing capable devices. While we can argue that even some smaller tablets are computing capable, we can’t argue that the more productive someone wants to be the more they may value a larger screen.

We believe we are on the cusp of a market buying cycle for larger screen computing devices. Some of these may be notebooks, some may be desktops, but we think the larger screen tablet has a real opportunity to take a percentage of sales in this upcoming refresh cycle.

Bigger Tablets Trending

It seems like most of the larger PC OEMS and tablet OEMs sense this opportunity as well. Samsung introduced their Tab Pro 12.2 at CES this year. I got to spend some time with this product and can attest to it being more impressive than I originally thought.

I was somewhat skeptical of the 12″ tablet form factor but after seeing the Tab Pro 12.2 I can see this being an attractive form factor for many large screen tablet intenders. One of the things that impressed me the most with Samsung’s new offering was the virtual keyboard. I am a heavy iPad Air user and I can type faster than most people on the virtual keyboard with ease. Samsung’s keyboard was even a bit larger than the iPad’s allowing me to incorporate my pinky into they typing process, which is a finger I don’t use on the iPad.

Ultimately Samsung’s, and all the other Android OEMs, challenge with larger tablets will be with the apps. The iPad is the uncontested leader in tablet optimized apps and I don’t see any evidence that is changing anytime soon. For larger Android tablets to have a strong case as more productivity devices the way the iPad Air is the tablet optimized Android app ecosystem will need to grow dramatically.

Emerging Market Growth

Interestingly the potential for larger screen tablets to grow as a percent of overall tablet sales in not limited to developed markets like North America and Europe. I met with several of the main SoC companies providing chips for tablet OEMs in China and India who told me they are seeing demand for larger tablets as well. While the US and Europe had a higher install base of tablet 9″ and larger, emerging markets had a very low install base of this form factor.

Several of the devices going into emerging markets are also slated to be a duel-boot Android and Windows tablet. Micromax, a popular brand in India, was showing off their LapTab dual-boot Windows 8 and Android tablet device. They were telling me the demand for this product in India was quite high. I remain quite skeptical of the dual-boot Android and Windows tablets in developed market but I can see them doing moderately well in emerging markets.

Consumers in many of these markets have never owned a PC. And while they are increasingly purchasing small tablets for primarily entertainment use cases, at some point in time they may graduate to more computing capable tablets. The likely-hood is that many of these will be larger screen devices.

All these points add to narrative that leads me to believe that 2014 could see strong growth of larger tablets. The reality is that bigger screen computing devices remain relevant for hundreds of millions of consumers. In emerging markets we are seeing new computer users coming online with tablets first.

Larger screen tablets will play a critical role in the future of computing and we think 2014 is the year we start to see progress in that direction.

Below is my firm’s slide showing forecasts for larger tablets.
Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 8.31.19 AM

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research 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 and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

8 thoughts on “Big Tablets and The Shift in Mobile Computing”

  1. Both personally, and for customer deployments, I’m hoping for a 12-15″ iPad Pro, with or without UI modifications to allow display of 2 apps simultaneously. So many possibilities, especially for replacement of desktop/laptop systems.

    I do planning of large (4-8000 WBS entries) projects on the current iPad, along with mind maps that look like small galaxies. So often I wish I could get a bigger screen. Just being able to stage the work into different views on a per country or per team basis would be incredible.

    Yes, I can take the work back to my laptop (and sometimes have to because the current app gets flaky when it runs out of memory), but it’s so intuitive to reassign tasks and run what-if situations by just scrubbing with your fingers. For me, the killer app is meeting a client for lunch and showing him exactly what our risks are and how the project is proceeding; then, because the touch interface is so natural, I can invite him to run instant scenarios too. On my laptop (rMBP), I would have to teach him how to use the app first. Once they start playing with the project plan, they run through scenarios just to see everything rearrange itself. It’s mesmerizing and, based on the inquiries, they instantly understand how their businesses would benefit.

    I’m totally sold on the tablet as a workhorse, but I need that bigger surface. AirPlay is nice for showing others what you’re doing, in a more formal setting, but a tablet is…intimate. You just can’t share a laptop the same way.

    As Ben points out, the software is important too. I mind map everything, and the apps are also memory constrained on the current generation iOS products. It’s good enough for individual-level projects, but more power is needed for managing enterprise and federated projects. I’ve had to work with the app developers for the products I use, just to get some level of stability, and I’m still limited. Although there are many interesting productivity apps, they’re all designed for small-scale. Someone should be taking this product area seriously.

    OmniPlan is great, but there is no “MS Project”-level app. I can do a lot with iWork, but I need it to handle the 600 page tomes that my team cranks out, not just my casual documents. There is no better presentation tool than Keynote, but I do hundreds of presentations a year and it takes forever just to find the right document with the current interface. Numbers is impressive conceptually, but it’s no “MS Excel”.

    The “enterprise” tablet apps aren’t there yet. When that happens, we may see tablets with more RAM and even faster processors (because I can still make the 64-bit iPad Air struggle at times). That combination of serious, enterprise-worthy software and hearty tablet hardware will ignite something special, a true transition to the tablet era. We’re not post-PC yet; we’re just in the lull.

    Regardless, another thought-provoking piece by Mr. Bajarin.

    1. Thanks Bill,

      Another thought provoking comment! Appreciate the insight. I hadn’t seen the ‘Pro’ potential so clearly defined before.

  2. DO you think a larger iPad will make it more attractive for desktop software developers to develop more of the companion apps Bob talks about? I will admit that I was one of the holdouts when the iPad first hit the scene. I just could not think of what I would use it for that I wasn’t already doing with my iPhone or laptop. I have been amazed at how much I use it around the house. I hardly touch my laptop at home anymore except for work. The convenience of be able to just grab the iPad as I walk out the door is huge, too. But the lack of software to help me integrate it with my laptop specific tasks, outside of office and planning work, is really starting to chap my hide.

    There is no shortage of apps attempting drafting on an iPad, but the small screen hurts that. Plus, my main CAD app is Vectorworks and they seem to only be able to have the most remedial Cloud service. And I use Spotlight on Vectorworks, so if I export to DWG to use the other apps, I lose a lot of date on those symbols. in that process.

    I’m sure it always boils down to resources available to put toward iPad development, but, criminy, it seems like the big players are afraid of undermining their desktop development with tablet development and resulting in a real lack of inter-device operability. Seems like there has to be something to kickstart this a bit more.


    1. Dead accurate as always, Joe.

      I’m not big on changing workflows just because I can; there has to be some perceived benefit.

      I advocate for iPad-based workflows because it has been a competitive advantage, one that could be much greater if developers were taking it seriously. Excluding tasks that require keying of significant amounts of text or data, tablets have the potential to be significantly more adept than traditional PC form factors.

      It seems the usual suspects in “professional” software development have been caught flat-footed. It’s great that there are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of app choices for a given category, but you’re typically dealing with “semi-pro” developers who aren’t formally trained in software engineering, and don’t have the backing of a decent-sized team for development of more complex features or for thorough QA. The infrastructure isn’t there.

      By providing a minimum standard, the iOS apps are somewhat better than the vast wasteland of Android apps, but not by much. It’s good stuff, and you can “make” it work, but relying on these apps as key tools for your business is frightening.

      I think pricing for productivity apps will increase considerably. Vectorworks for iPad would require a decent-sized team, especially considering back-end services. I don’t think you get there with one intern or a skunk works project someone does in their spare time. And it won’t be 99 cents with in-app purchases. Before it’s over, I think we’ll see software teams that are just as large as current Windows/Linux product teams, better piracy protection, and higher maximum price tiers.

      In the early days of personal computing, we had shareware; prices were low because software was developed by one guy in his spare time. That’s where most apps are now. It’s time to grow up.

      I can easily imagine Maya or Nuke on an iPad Pro, and what a productivity juggernaut that would be.

      That said, when I hear Mr. Bajaran speak of using his tablet with a case-attached keyboard, I think he’s trying a bit too hard to “make” it work. Somebody has to be on the bleeding edge, but when the apps begin to mature, that keyboard should become an impediment rather than an enablement.

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