Counterpoint: Tablets Were Never Supposed To Be The Next Smartphone

on August 5, 2014

I’m (supposed to be) on vacation this week, but I saw an article by Peter Bright of Ars Tecnica, that got my dander up: “Op-Ed: Tablets really are the new PCs; nobody needs to buy them any more.”

Peter Bright’s article looks for trouble, finds it where it doesn’t exist, diagnoses it incorrectly, and applies the wrong remedy. So here’s my (not-so-very) quick ((Apparently, even my “quick” responses are over 1,000 words.)) response.

I need a six month vacation…twice a year.

Some Joly Analysis

    “The tablet market is tapped out. We saw signs of this when Apple reported that its iPad sales were down year-on-year and we’re seeing a similar message from retailers. Re/code’s Walt Mossberg recently talked to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly, who said that tablet sales had “crashed.””

With all due respect, Hubert Joly doesn’t appear to know the difference between “flattening” and “crashed.” It is fortunate for us all he is not an air traffic controller.


    “Global tablet sales are still rising—though less quickly than they once were…”

Again, “rising” is very different from “crashing”

    “…but in developed markets the tablet boom may be over.

That’s a mighty big “may”.

    “…Joly reported that PC sales—which the tablet was supposed to kill—have picked up. He attributed that resurgence partially to the end of support of Windows XP.”

One of these arguments is not like the other, one of these arguments doesn’t belong…. ~ Sesame Street

Tablets Aren’t The Next Smartphone

    “The computer industry has to face an uncomfortable truth. Tablets aren’t the next smartphone. They’re the next PC.”

Agree and disagree. Tablets were never the next smartphone. Phones are smaller, fit in our pockets and are expected to be with us at all times. Plus — “duh” — they’re telephones. This means they will be ubiquitous.

Smartphones are the first stage of computing where the addressable market isn’t a segment, group, industry or demo, but everyone on earth. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) 7/13/14

If anyone ever contended that tablets were the new smartphone, the blame falls squarely upon the faulty analysis, not upon the tablet.

Tablets Aren’t The Next PC

As for tablets being the next PC? Well, that isn’t really true either.

Apple sells more iPads each quarter than PCs were being sold when Windows 95 was launched. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

There are at least twice as many iPads as Macs in use today. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) 7/24/14

But let’s set aside the fact the four year old tablet market is already about to eclipse the sales of the 40 year old PC market and continue with Peter’s analysis:

    “The low-hanging fruit of easy incremental improvements [for tablets] seems to be tapped out. Short of an unpredictable revolutionary new feature, our staff felt that they’d stick with their tablets until they broke, their batteries became useless, or they ceased to receive software updates.”

Gee, Peter. It’s August and that prediction could be proven wrong by as early next month when the Fall tablets arrive.

Tablets Aren’t The Next Netbooks

    “Unable to win sales by making PCs substantially better, the OEMs slashed prices. Netbooks epitomized this; they cut dozens of corners in screen quality, keyboard size and quality, thickness, and even performance. But they sure were cheap.”

Yeah, about that. iPads are not netbooks. Netbooks were HATED. Tablets are not only respected, they are, by many, adored.

(W)hat’s most important to us is that customers are enjoying their iPads and using them heavily. In a survey conducted in May by ChangeWave, iPad Air registered a 98% customer satisfaction rate, while iPad Mini with retina display received an astonishing 100% customer satisfaction rate. ~ Tim Cook


Tablets Are Not Big iPod Touches

    “A large screen smartphone can do all the things a smartphone does (including important things like fit in your pocket and make phone calls) and it can do all the things a tablet can do… just with a slightly smaller screen. And among large screen devices, the laptop always has the edge as the richer, more capable device.”

    “Who needs tablets?”

Wow. I’ve stepped into a time warp and it’s 2010 all over again.

“There is no surprise with this device; it is just a huge iPod touch. ~ John C. Dvorak, MarketWatch, 26 March 2010

Adoption Cycles

(H)ere’s what that S-curve of adoption looks like. It puts saturation of the market for iPads sometime around 2018, not 2014. … Something like half the people who will someday own iPads haven’t even purchased them yet. ~ Horace Dediu


Tablets Are A Separate Category

Is there room for a third category of device in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and a smartphone? ~ Steve Jobs

In order to really create a new category of device those devices are going to have to be far better at doing key tasks. Better than the smartphone, better than the laptop. ~ Steve Jobs

Let’s keep this analysis simple. For many tasks, a larger screen is better than a smaller screen. The end.

Not believing a bigger screen is important is the same as not believing in gravity and I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you about either.

It’s so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a smartphone. ~ Steve Jobs

When the iPad appeared in 2010, it had its doubters. For a humorous look back, check out The iPad Death Watch. Apparently four years of experience has taught us nothing. The doomsayers have retaken the forum.

The only thing experience teaches us is that experience teaches us nothing. ~ Andre Maurois

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. ~ Douglas Adams


Here’s the thing. Despite its recent lull in sales, the tablet is BELOVED by many. You can’t pry it out of the hands of most owners (and especially seniors).

I think I have become addicted to my iPad. — my mom ~ Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie)

Sometimes tech people outsmart themselves. You’ve got two pieces of evidence before you. Customers love their tablets. Tablet rates flattened for two quarters. For one to assume that tablet growth is over, one has to ignore the former and put all of their analytical weight on the latter.

There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them. ~ George Orwell

Post Script

For an excellent analysis of what’s really happening in tablets, check out “Why Ipad Shipments Aren’t Growing, But Might Start Again Soon” by Jan Dawson.