Tablet Market Misconceptions

The vast majority of commentary on the tablet market have a fair number of misconceptions about the segment. The tablet market is both a unique computing category as well as the most diverse one. So it is not surprising so many people misunderstand it.

The biggest fundamental mistake most make when they think about the tablet category is to see it as only one thing. When, in reality, there are many tablet markets. To use a somewhat imperfect analogy, we can use the automotive segment. The auto industry will lump annual sales of all motorized vehicles, cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, RVs, etc., into a single statistic. The point of this statistic is to simply show how many motorized vehicles were sold each year. Yet, to truly speak accurately about the automotive industry, it is more helpful to see the entire category broken out into each segment. At a big picture level, it is fine to know how many motorized vehicles were sold each year, but that alone doesn’t actually tell us anything truly helpful. It is more interesting to know how many small cars, or large cars, or trucks, or motorcycles, or RVs, etc., are being sold. Growth or decline in each category tell us more about the market than simply lumping all of them together.

This is exactly what is done with tablets today. The fault many make is when they think “Tablet Market”, they think iPad. Yet the iPad is only one kind of tablet — albeit one more similar to a computer that happens to be in tablet form. Yet the iPad’s growth or decline is currently lumped in with kid’s tablets. The two are entirely different in their usage yet spoken about without the key functionality of each being understood separately. The tablet market is harder to analyze than the market for motorized vehicles because of the computing power and underlying software contained in tablet devices. One form factor can genuinely be used in so many different ways.

I have consistently tried to look at the diverse ways the tablet market is segmenting. Below is a chart I use during my presentation on the category.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.17 PM

When I see a forecast saying the tablet segment will be up or down in 2015, I like to ask, which segment? Will gaming tablets be up or down? Computing tablets like the iPad? Tablets that get stuck on walls at retail? Which ones are growing and which are not? No good answer exists to these questions because those projecting such numbers are not looking at the market this way. Yet this is the most helpful way to understand the category.

The Rise of Appliance Tablets

With this in mind, I want to make a comment about something fascinating happening at the sub $100 tablet segment. In this article on the low-cost tablet era for our Tech.pinions subscribers, I explain how usage of devices in this price tier are starting to cause people to do a double take. Most never anticipated the way these low end tablets are being used. I explain that, under $100, the tablet becomes a cheap, somewhat disposable piece of smart glass. Walmart sells an RCA 7″ Android tablet for $59.99. At these price points, some fascinating things take place with smart glass. Buy one and stick it next to your bed and use it as an alarm clock with widgets for weather, stocks, etc. Buy one and put it in your workshop as a TV. Buy four and have them in your car for the kids to play with and use. Buy several and have them in every room as a quick and easy web browser. Our research of how these low cost tablets are being used by consumers in every country continue to highlight new uses cases — these devices are being used in ways most don’t understand.

What is intriguing is, while these tablets may be capable of quite a lot, the price is so low they are actually becoming more specific in their use. The other very clear trend of a large number of tablets is how they are being shared. Over a year ago, I was among the first, if not the first, to highlight data showing over 40% of people we researched indicated they shared their tablet with at least one person. Our most recent research near the end of 2014 indicated that number had grown to over 50%. Each group of sharers — sharing with two people, three people, and four people — grew in percentage in our recent data. The striking one that stood out was how many responded they shared their tablet with four or more people. At the end of 2013, 7% of respondents indicated they shared their tablet with four or more people. By the end of 2014, 21% of respondents in our global survey indicated they shared their tablet with four or more people. What becomes clear is, for a large number of the tablet installed base, it is more of a communal than an individual product.

What is happening in this category is fascinating. Most of this heavy segmentation and diverse usage is being driven by the sub $100 category. In fact, while many will argue the tablet market overall will be down in 2015, I’d argue they will actually be up because of quality sub $100 tablets hitting the market from recognizable name brands. How these will be used will be diverse and somewhat hard to predict. But as we research the market and hear from consumers themselves how they use these products, it will help us understand the market at a much deeper level.

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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

238 thoughts on “Tablet Market Misconceptions”

    1. Have you seen the mac rumours article on the fancy stylus patent from 2010. Ming is suggesting it will be an optional accessory for the big pad.

    2. That would be funny: (Steve Jobs) “It’s like we said on the iPad: if you see a stylus, they blew it.”. Goes with “Designed for your hands” in the “F*** it, let’s do like Samsung” pile, I guess. Next: split-screen or floating window multitasking ?

      1. It’s only “funny” if you are being disingenuous or making no effort to think about it…

        Obviously, Jobs was talking about stylus failing if it is a necessary part of the continuous UI — such as to hit small, fiddly touch targets that were not thought out, touch targets that are carry-overs from a desktop UI, for example. But what companies wouldn’t think out their touch UI to make it consistent and usable for fingers, and who would reuse parts of a desktop or “web” UI, right?

        But, iOS has established a consistent and usable touch UI for even the fattest fingers, along with predictive software. Now, Apple appears to be adding tools for designers, engineers and artists. Nice.

        Yep, it’s “funny”. Funny how you hear “stylus” and like to think Apple is going back to the Newton or Palm Pilot of 25 years ago; being as how Apple did just fine with the stylus first time around and no-one has moved the stylus or stylus UI on significantly in the last 25 years. Of course, it’ll take Apple to move it on, as with anything it does, as usual.

        1. So now we’re going to have to use the stylus for content, and put the stylus down for UI access ? Or maybe, just maybe, Jobs was the one ” being disingenuous or making no effort to think about it” and sometimes the stylus *is* a good solution, like when it is required for content anyway.
          Stylus interfaces have made some progress in the mean time too, with pop-up wheel menus, on-pen button, hover detection, even an eraser on the other end… I’m curious what Apple will contribute to that. To me the main hassle is that a big pen is not very “mobile”, and a small one not very ergonomic, the best solution I’ve seen is a large-ish externally-stored pen, either magnetic or elastic loop.

          1. Sounds like you don’t disagree: “sometimes the stylus *is* a good solution, like when it is required for content anyway”

            As I said, it’s a failure when certain general UI elements really depend on it because they don’t work well with the finger, were borrowed from desktop or web UI, or the software isn’t predictive enough, etc. Now, Apple is ready to move the stylus on again, and I expect great things that will differentiate theirs from others.

            And, no, I don’t think grabbing a stylus when I actually want to start drawing is suddenly an onerous task, I’ve done it all my life (with pencils).

            The difference this time, which perhaps you haven’t grasped, is that formerly we would let go of the keyboard and mouse in order to do something more immediate, tactile and visceral with the pen/pencil on paper. The pen/pencil brought us closer to our work…

            But, as Jobs fully knew, however, the finger is even more immediate, tactile, compelling and visceral than the stylus. Unless you are actually drawing or sketching or something similar, picking up a stylus and continuing to use it (because presumably you can’t be bothered to put it down again in your straw man scenario) is actually like going back to a mouse and keyboard — for most UI purposes, the stylus is less immediate, tactile, personal and visceral than the finger and gestures. See how that works?

  1. I’m intrigued by your categories, especially because:
    1- Media and Gaming have fairly different tech requirements (Media needs a solid VPU and good sound, Gaming needs a good GPU and CPU), and only partially overlapping demographics. I’d assume them to be different segments served by different products ? Lenovo’s Yoga line for example is an excellent media tablet, and a very sub-par gaming one (unless you exclude anything 3D).
    2- You don’t have separate “Pro/Content Creation/Laptop Replacement” and “Basic usage” categories. Around me, I see quite a divide between people who take their tablet with them to work/study on (with some office suite..), and users who mostly relax with it at home (with mail/messaging, web, Skype, social/2D games, TV/films…) ?
    3- I’m wondering if segmentation on portability wouldn’t be relevant. Some tablets barely ever leave the home (and then only for long trips, holidays…), some live in a bag or even pocket (probably good candidates for phablets ?) ?

  2. “Walmart sells an RCA 7″ Android tablet for $59.99.” Ben, I just checked this at Walmart’s site. Users only rate it 2.8 stars overall, and the majority of users rate it 1 star! Let’s not get too excited about a poor-quality product and suggest that your readers buy four of them. They might regret your recommendation.

    1. That is now. This will resolve itself over time. Its how people have been using them as appliances that I believe will stick. The reviews you mention are people trying to use it as a computer. Once folks realize a low-cost tablet is more utility based these devices will take off.

  3. I consider myself to be as enthusiastic about the possibilities of these utility tablets, but I still struggle with some use cases.

    In particular, you often mention a tablet as an alarm clock. I’m confused. I thought that mobile phones basically replaced alarm clocks ages ago, during the feature phone days. If what you want is weather or stock information, you can just unlock your smartphone. I have difficulty understanding why people would buy tablets (even $50 ones) for this task.

    I understand using tablets for TV, web browsing and games. However, that’s hardly exciting. I’m sure that there are some profoundly more interesting use cases that can emerge. I just can’t pin them down.

    In our household for example, each of our children has an iPad. This is because I believe that the wide variety of creativity apps can help and incentivize my kids to learn. Instead of games, I would like to see innovation in things like this. Cheap tablets combined with our local library, printed books, text books, toys, communal activities, etc. It seems such a waste for the use case to be only TV, web browsing and games.

    1. I can answer the alarm clock one, since I use my tablet (not a dedicated one though) rather than my phone to wake up: I might forget my phone far from my bed, or, on the contrary, it might be all muffled if I fell asleep using it and moved around a lot during the night. Plus it’s not loud enough to always wake me. Those 3 things are life-tested ^^ My tablet is safely on a stand next to my bed, and louder.
      As for making learning and creating fun, teachers have been trying for ages. Books were supposed to do it, then radio, then TV, then PCs, now tablets… I think it’s just hard to do, and nothing beats peer- or adult- created emulation and stimulation.

      1. Regarding learning, I’m convinced that tablets can be revolutionary. Although adult expert stimulation is ideal, you mostly don’t have access to that, except from the relatively few things you learn at school. Tablets allow children to get access to vast amounts of great learning material from the living room sofa (if you don’t mind paying a bit for the better quality apps). Compared to my time, it’s insane.

        At the same time, there’s a lot of low quality stuff that has low educational value. If you rely on TV, web and games, the S/N ratio is too low. I think it’s a consequence of the Ad sponsored business models. That’s why I prefer to give my kids paid apps.

        My hope is that cheap tablets will be bundled with high quality paid-for educational content, services or activities.

        1. 10 yrs from now we’ll have pet/doll/human-like robots able to gauge tiredness and mood, and everyone will be convinced that *those* will be revolutionary for teaching. See Ray Bradbury’s “The Electric Grandmother”… “I sing the Body Electric” got renamed in French to “Happiness Machines”…

          1. Sorry, I don’t know the story.

            But seriously, if there is a machine that can gauge tiredness and mood, I can easily see how it can really, really help teachers and parents alike. I think there is one in the works for stress levels, and in my opinion, that would significantly impact how managers treat their subordinates, at least in Japan where there are still incidents of managers working their subordinates to death.

    2. I can give you a good reason. Multiple devices save battery life.
      I keep a tablet by my bed on a wireless charger. I can fall asleep watching a movie, or do other tablet tasks, and it wakes me up in the morning. My phone is charging away from me in the basement.

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