Tablets, Seasonality, and Adoption Cycles

on July 24, 2013

There is an interesting shift happening in the hardware release cycle of the computing industry. When the PC was the only game in town bi-annual release schedules were the norm. Now with the increased growth in smartphone and tablets, it looks as though the industry may be shifting to a much more seasonal release schedule. In consumer markets seasonal purchasing has always been the norm. But in enterprise markets the bi-annual release schedules allowed flexibility to purchase new hardware to meet demands throughout the calendar year.

The entire industry appears to be shifting away from that bi-annual schedule and to a more consumer friendly seasonal emphasis. This is evidenced by the slowing growth of both smartphones and tablets on a quarter-over-quarter basis according to some of the latest device shipment data. My conviction is not that we are seeing saturation but seasonality. There are other factors at play which I will get into.

This does not necessarily mean that the tablet category is slowing. Rather, what it suggests is that the buying cycles for tablets are shifting to be more seasonal at large. This was always the case for smartphones at large, but it appears the end of the year is now also the hot cycle for tablets and traditional PCs.

What this means is that we are lining up to have a very loaded holiday quarter with new smartphones, tablets, and PCs competing for consumer dollars. This by itself brings with it ramifications for consumers and enterprises alike.

For the consumer market the challenge is going to be for OEMs to cut above the noise in what is going to be an extremely competitive holiday season. Retail placement, promotions, and online / offline marketing are going to be keys to success.

Market Experimentation

Earlier this week I wrote for my TIME column a piece titled “Why I’m Not Switching from the iPhone.” My overall point of the column was to paint the picture of a mature smartphone consumer. Someone who, through experience, has vetted the options and defined specifically needs, and wants.

This has always been at the base of our adoption cycle market methodology. When we research consumer markets and try to get the pulse of the consumer in our interview and observational research, much of our goal is in understanding how mature they are in understanding what they want and why. This was also why I wrote the article on our site here called “I need a PC and I know it.” Again emphasizing a self-awareness of technological needs.

We do not have this with tablets. Where I point out in my TIME column that most mass market consumers at a global level are only on their first or second smartphones, tablet owners are largely on their first tablet and the market for non-tablet owners, or tablet intenders is massive. [pullquote]When we are in a position to get our first car we will take it any way we can acquire it.[/pullquote]

We have gathered quite a bit of research suggesting a high level of buyers remorse for low-cost tablets. This backs up our points of where we are at with adoption cycles of these devices. I liken what is happening with low-cost devices for places like emerging markets or first time owners to our first cars. When we are in a position to get our first car we will take it any way we can acquire it. Then after time, generally speaking, more options will emerge and the choice and preference will become more refined.

For many first time tablet owners who just wanted to get in on the hype they wanted to see what the tablet buzz was all about. So they got one any way they could and for a portion of the market they went with cheaper devices. What our research is suggesting is that they learned their lesson, liked the form factor and the upside, weren’t happy with their choice and are looking to spend up on the next one. This data comes from all markets including emerging (like China) as well.

This point about buyers remorse feeds nicely into the data we see about why iPad usage remains so dominant compared to the competition.

So What Does it All Mean

It means that competing for the mind of the consumer is becoming harder and harder. Consumers are going to be faced with an overwhelming plethora of choices. For the masses who still may be defining and refining their needs and wants, as they look to spend up it will favor certain brands they trust or perceive as the market leader. This is why I have no doubt the iPad will sell marvelously this holiday season and why both the iPhone and Samsung phones are still the dominant global players.

Seasonality is going to change things in my opinion. Marketing for one is going to get much more tricky when we have the kind of loaded and confusing holiday quarter I think we are in for the next few years at least. How companies market and position their products to cut above the noise and gain consumer mindshare will be key.

One thing that our data and even the recent research we have compiled continually emphasizes is that as the adoption cycle moves from immature to mature, cheap goes off the table and the masses begin looking for value. This is why I’ll argue until I am blue in the face that a race to the bottom is not actually what consumers want. It may be necessary in some regions, but over time, even in emerging markets, I believe value is what we will be demanded.