Tablet Trifurcation

images-46Yesterday, Tech.pinions columnist, Patrick Moorhead, discussed the implications of the growing popularity of the 7 inch tablet form factor.


I think that Patrick’s analysis of the schism between Apple’s iOS tablets and Android tablets was spot on. While Apple encouraged their developers to create apps that were optimized for the larger 10 inch tablet form factor, Android eschewed optimization and encouraged a one-size-fits-all approach. The resulting “stretched” Android phone apps worked poorly on the larger tablet form factor. However, “stretched” phone apps seem to work well, or at least adequately, on the slightly smaller 7 inch screens.

This divide in approach between iOS and Android tablets has at least two major implications. First, Apple’s iOS tablets will most likely continue to dominate the 10 inch tablet form factor. In fact, Android has all but ceded the 10 inch form factor to Apple.

Second, because both Apple’s 10 inch iPad and their 7.9 inch iPad Mini run optimized tablet apps, the iPad will most likely become the “go to” tablet for high end users. This means that professionals, businesses, government entities and educators will gravitate towards the iPad. And as the virtuous cycle of developer/app/consumer continues the spiral upwards, the high-end iOS applications will make iOS optimized tablets even more appealing to high-end consumers and even less approachable to Apple’s competitors.


It seems to me that the tablet market is trifurcating. Apple’s iOS is taking the larger 10 inch form factor and the up-scale markets. Google’s Android may command market share in the mid-level markets. And forked or non-Google Android tablets will take the low end of the market. All can survive, but only Apple has proven that it can profitably thrive in such a setting.

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John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

637 thoughts on “Tablet Trifurcation”

  1. The thing is, that none of the Android tablet makers who are selling in North America appear to have brought their A-game to the table. Price aside, the point of getting a small tablet is to get something that’s easier and more comfortable to hold… and the Mini’s extreme thinness and ultra light weight just completely blows away all of the other tablets out there in terms of size/weight. Part of this is I guess due to what I’ve heard is the poor battery performance (on a per watt hour basis) of Android vs IOS. But part of it is that they didn’t really try to push the envelope — and I suspect that it’s going to hurt them badly, especially when Apple reveals their 2013 tablets and (based on their pattern to date) puts the 1st gen Mini on sale for, say, $250-270.

    1. How can they bring an A game to the table when Amazon and Google have sucked out the potential for any profit? Competing against Apple would be tough but is doable as some will want the A-quality tablet that runs Android OS. But what do you do when a B-quality tablet sells for half your A-quality tablet? It seems to me you can only offer a C-quality tablet at a price that has potential to bring a profit. Does someone see an alternative to this? (I would like to be wrong on this as I believe healthy competition leads to a healthy sector for everyone.)

      1. Google *thought* they were bringing their A-game to the table — when Google introduced the Nexus 7, you may recall that the reviews were all basically saying “not only is this cheap, it’s also a very nice tablet.” And compared to the full size Ipad, it was. But compared to the Mini that came out a few months later, it’s a chunky brick. The Ipad is a moving target, and both Google and Amazon appear to have aimed for where the Ipad was rather than tried to aim for where it’s going.

  2. “Trifurcating.” I like your observation John. Does the large-phone-small-tablet result in “quadrafurcating?” The 5″ phone must also impact the 7″ tablet market. I don’t think I would want to carry both devices. As Patrick pointed out that 7″ tablets leave more room for notebooks, the large phone may leave more room for the larger tablets.

    1. I like where you are going with that and I have been thinking through the same thing. I only have anecdotal evidence thus far but it seems that is likely. When I first started using the iPad mini, I used my iPad less. When I started using the Note 2 (which I did for about a month) I used my iPad mini less and my iPad more.

      This is one scenario I see happening if jumbo phones do grab a hold of the market. t at least makes the case for larger tablets. Especially where those tablets can replace PCs.

      1. I also would like to know more about your thoughts on what impact these Phablets are going to have on the tablet space. From what I have seen there does seme to be a difference with what we do with our smartphones and tablets. However I can see where some users are going to be looking to have just one device they take with them everywhere along with the fact that they not need to have tablet with them when they are talking on the phone. So different use cases for different users.

    2. I think we are looking at “multifurcation.” Devices will be available in a variety of size and users will be able to choose the set that best fit their needs. My current set is a desktop (mostly a 27″ iMac), a 13″ MacBook Air, a 9.7″ iPad, a Kindle Fire (used almost exclusively as a reader), and a phone (mostly an iPhone 5.) This is probably a richer set than most people would chose, but the point is that each of these devices fills a different need.

      The big problem with this profusion of devices is that the services behind them are inadequate to a truly seamless experience. This, as has been noted, is Apple’s weakest point, with iCloud falling short in many key respects. I find myself relying on an assortment of services for different purposes, and that is far from optimal.

        1. iCloud does a nice job of keeping contacts, calendar, bookmarks and photo streams in sync among iOS and Windows devices. It pretty much sucks at anything else.

          For a deep dive into the difficulties of iCloud from a developer’s perspective, read this from the Verge.

          My biggest frustration with iCloud is that it utterly fails at general document handling unless you are using iWork applications.

          1. My biggest frustration with iCloud is that it utterly fails at general document handling unless you are using iWork applications.

            Then use iWork applications. Also, if you drill down a little deeper, you’ll come to understand that there are two iCloud experiences, 1) consumer and 2) developer. I’ll grant you the developer experience is a mess, but the consumer experience, for the most part, meets expectations.

          2. You have to purchase iWorks in order to use it, no one is being forced to use iWorks.

            But yes, I agree, it would be great if Apple could get its act together and provide third party developers with the tools that Steve Jobs himself said were going to be “easy to use” and yet, to this day are not. I’m hoping Apple’s next WWDC will address many of these issues.

          3. iWork only works with the file formats it supports. And one very important one it does not support is PDF, a very important document type in my world. So you need a mechanism other than iCloud to get PDFs to your iOS device.

            The difficulty that iCloud poses for for developers immediately becomes a problem for consumers because developers are failing to integrate iCloud into their apps the way, say DropBox is integrated. This severely impedes the usefulness of iCloud.

            It’s just weird to me that Apple, which is so good at so many things, is so far behind the curve on cloud services. You’d think they could take some of that $150 billion they have in the bank and hire some decent engineers who know how to do this stuff.

          4. Fair enough, this is why I stated “for the most part”. Regarding PDF’s, my guess is that Apple assumes you can simply save and Export your file as a PDF whenever you need to. For those of us who’ve been using Apple OS for any length of time have learned, “If you want your file to be viewed as intended, save it as a PDF and export it out whatever way you need. But I agree, I too would like to have dedicated iCloud PDF capabilities. I’ve heard rummers that it will be available in the next OS update. But don’t hold your breath.

            Regarding developer issues, I totally agree with you.

          5. Before iCloud there was MobileMe, which was developed on Steve Jobs’ watch. Eventually Jobs admitted publicly that it had been a failure, and replaced it with iCloud, announcing it as a service that would be free of the problems of MobileMe. Then Jobs passed on and the torch was handed to Tim Cook. But iCloud has had its own non-trivial issues, with the result that Apple has offered two different faulty services under two different CEOs, and both heads of the company have been intent on bringing top-caliber products to market.

            Steve, you say “You’d think they could take some of that $150 billion they have in the bank and hire some decent engineers who know how to do this stuff.” Clearly they could do that, but they haven’t. I’m led to the conclusion that cloud services, under two CEOs, have not been a priority or *focus* at Apple. Why haven’t they been? The answer to that question seems to be buried somewhere in the culture of the company.

          6. Here’s my question of the day. How much should developers depend on iCloud anyway? On one hand the notion of each company creating its own cloud service (such as Vectorworks’ Cloud services which I occasionally use) reeks of proprietary solutions, if all iCloud becomes is another file system based solution is that really moving things forward and just a continuation of problems from decades gone by?


          7. As I see it, one very big issue for productivity use of the iPad is the difficulty of sharing data among apps and platforms–and those are two very different problems.

            Proprietary solutions can solve important problems but have major limitations. For example, Evernote does a wonderful job of sharing information across platforms, but it’s all contained within Evernote and, particularly on iOS, its hard to get it out.

            What we rally need is a solution that can make data available to multiple apps on multiple platforms. This is a very difficult nut to crack and Apple seems well behind the curve.

          8. Apps and platforms that are all things to all people…cool, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

          9. I was pondering this more today and was remembering the old days of Mac OS and the resource and data forks. I don’t know enough about iOS or OS X under the hood these days to know if something like that can be or is utilized and helpful these days. (I surrendered that geek merit badge about 10 years ago). So there is the actual data in a “file” that can be accessed and the application is concerned with formatting that data. I mean, ultimately text is text, a jpeg is a jpeg, data is data.

            But then I suppose Apple would still need to allow apps to access that data. Until they do, none of that really matters, does it?


          10. The resource forks are still around in HFS+, although no one seems to be quite sure about what they do or how they differ from file metadata.

            Of course, iOS has a file system. But it is hidden from users and the sandbox prevents one app from accessing another’s data except where specifically enabled by API (e.g., apps with permission can access the contacts database.)

            More efficient productivity apps will need better way to share data among apps without resorting to somewhat kludgy (and online-only) workarounds such as dropbox. Apple has yet to show any indication of allowing this. But we have seen many times how Apple says “no way” and then suddenly does it.

          11. After reading the Verge post the only thing I can conclude is that Apple isn’t devoting enough resources to correct the problems with iCloud, but *why* they aren’t committing sufficient resources is a big puzzle to me. One question leads to another I guess.

      1. I have a similar setup, but more Microsoft based. Xbox 360 on projected screen 100″, home desktop with 4 monitors (1080p), work desktop with 3 monitors, 11.6″ Samsung Slate 7, paperwhite kindle, 8″ Chuwi Android tablet, & HTC 8X. The computers are running Windows 8, Office 365 Home/work. And SkyDrive runs on all these systems, which actually feels pretty seemless

  3. I think the “middle” is the toughest segment.

    If you define iPads as high end. The mini starts at $329 (Likely $299 or less if they stick around when Mini Retina comes out).

    The low end is Amazon, they own it.

    It is hard to see official Android tablets offering a compelling case at $200-$250.

    Samsung is already third in this market share contest and it seems largely on clearance priced mediocre tablets. They are almost certainly losing money.

    So maybe the market is really effectively bifurcated, with such a weak middle.

  4. Problem is that Android in using 160 ppi as scale factor of 1.
    where as Apple has scale factor of 1 and 2 for retina.
    and scale factor 1 for ipad and iphone is different.

    So what ends up happening is that Android has no choice but
    to stretch into non integer factor which makes Google support
    phone UI into tablet.

  5. Regarding Android vs. Apples and app sizes, I believe it was John Gruber who observed that by starting tablets at 10″, Apple pretty much made the app developers develop tablet optimized apps. (Yes there is upsizing iPhone apps, but that isn’t a great experience.) Then Apple could downsize the screen and have great apps for the mini. Android, by starting with 7″ tablets, made upsizing phone apps a reasonable option. The problem was, at 7″, those apps were already stretched to the limit. Going to 10″ with a phone app isn’t a valid option. This Android is stuck in the situation it is today.

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