The Consumer Tablet Growth Opportunity

on October 24, 2014
Reading Time: 4 minutes

A great deal of my tablet market analysis has been spent exploring opportunities for a PC in the form of a tablet. Opportunities not fulfilled by a PC in the form of a desktop or laptop. As I explained here, the enterprise or commercial tablet market’s upside is still quite large. But the question about the tablet opportunity for the consumer market looms.

Tablets grew faster and were more widely adopted than any previous electronics device in history. Continued triple digit growth was simply not sustainable. The tablet market slowdown was never a question of if but always of when. As you can see by the following chart, that time is now. ((I’m keeping iPads and the overall tablet market separate due to the extremely high sales of white box, low cost Android tablets sold that are used for nothing more than portable TVs and game players.))

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 8.23.07 PM

The tablet market, like all markets before it, is normalizing. Growth rates have slowed and now we can wrestle with the question of how much more growth is to be had.

Replacement Market vs. First Time Buyers

I find it helpful to focus on the question of whether the tablet market for consumers is a replacement market or if there is still a market for first time buyers. If the tablet is only a replacement, then it has peaked. However, I don’t believe that has happened. Apple keeps informing us 50% of iPad sales are to first time buyers. Which gives us an indication there are still new owners to be had. So how may that growth in first time buyers be had? I see two possibilities.

The first could be price. My friend Stephen Baker at NPD gave us some insights and holiday outlook for the tablet market. As Stephen points out for the US market, price could be a driver. I think it should be safe to assume that price war offerings for iPads and other tablets will be fierce in Western markets this holiday. Retailers use this pricing to get customers in stores where they hope they buy a plethora of other items. I’m guessing retailers will hope to leverage Apple’s new lineup with this strategy in mind. I believe Apple has a strong lineup from the original iPad mini to the newest iPad Air 2 covering many price points and giving retailers pricing flexibility with their offerings. In general, other branded tablet vendors have been seeing decreasing sales and Samsung in particular. It’s reasonable to assume Samsung tablets will see steep discounts this holiday at retail.

The second growth area is replacements and additions. It is very hard to predict when consumers will replace their tablets and more specifically their iPads. ((I point out the iPad specifically because it is the tablet brand that has the largest installed base by a healthy margin.)) As often is the case with Apple products, iPads are often handed down to other members of the family or to friends. In this scenario, the new iPad replaces the current owner’s device but another person gets their first iPad. Ultimately this is good because it builds the iPad owner base, who we would assume will be added to the future replacement opportunity. Continuing to build a large installed base will yield rewards. Whether the new lineup drives this upgrade and hand-me-down cycle we literally have no idea. But should it hit this quarter, it could be huge. While the iPad 2 is still a perfectly fine device, it has the highest installed base of all iPads. My firm’s estimates for active iPad 2s in use is over 60 million. We believe this base will upgrade at some point in time — we just don’t know when. It could be this quarter or it may not. But, given the price aggressiveness we assume we will see this holiday season, I’m guessing many iPad 2 owners may be enticed. Realistically, there is no better quarter to find deals than a holiday quarter. So this large installed base of iPad 2 owners would be smart to upgrade this quarter or risk waiting another full year. Given the channels I track, I should have a decent sense of what is happening before the quarter ends.

Stealing PC Owners: I still believe the traditional notebook and desktop form factor is overkill for most mainstream consumers. The decent sales numbers of PCs we are seeing are largely coming from enterprise and commercial markets such as education/students. The consumer market has yet to move in mass to upgrade their PCs. We believe at some point in time those consumers will make the move. And the wonderful unpredictability of many consumers leaves us guessing at what they will buy and when. Will they buy another PC? Or will they move to a tablet? This is the tension we will have to live with until we see a market indication of what is happening. The tablet will still have the price advantage this quarter and I suspect Windows 8 is still a hinderance. I do expect Macs to have a very strong holiday as well and, with the new iPhones in the mix, there is a lot competing for consumers’ wallets this holiday.

These are a few of the scenarios I think about when I look at the upside for consumer tablets. This quarter seems very hard to predict right now for nearly everything but for the  smartphone market. For the first time in a long time it’s hard to say with any accuracy how the consumer market for PCs and tablets is going to play out.