Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Wednesday June 18, 2014.
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Tablets aren't as hot as they used to be. When I recently appeared on the Booredatwork podcast and the topic came up, we struggled to find a reason someone would want the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, and the conversation led to wider questions about tablets as a whole. The IDC released a report stating that tablet sales are not growing after years of skyrocketing, and even a new tab with a stunning display might not change it.
What will reignite growth in the tablet market? That's a complicated question. As I sought to find the answer, I had a chat with Sean Mulroy, director of Product Management at Ingram Micro Mobility. Micro Mobility is a logistics and supply chain solutions company that has been involved in 1 in 3 mobile devices sold in the United States through refurbishment or recycling. Samsung, LG, Nokia, HTC, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile are among the companies that have been customers of the company, so Mulroy definitely knows a thing or two about consumer behavior. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
MobileBurn: Why do you think tablet sales slowed?
Mulroy: The landscape changed. Apple got [the iPad] to market and then the fast followers, the people like Samsung who responded with their own products, came around, and then the third wave came where the market was saturated. You started to attack the different segments like the early adopters, even though it's a larger horizon than normal, and there were so many products of people who purchased a tablet and the question became, "Why should I upgrade?" and there hasn't been a compelling answer yet. Tablet sales aren't going to stop, but i think we're seeing the market take a breath before the next cycle comes around and more people are motivated to buy.
Capabilities and use cases for those mobile computing products are being further developed and additional markets are being explored. I don't think we've peaked and it's on a downturn. This is a plateau ahead of more growth. We're just seeing the additional wave of deployment to schools and I think we'll see a rolling adoption there. The generic phrase 'tablet' is adopted by the primary and secondary education systems throughout the country in replacement for textbooks. That's something that's been talked about but hasn't been done on a large scale yet. Enterprise pushed to mobilize the workforce, possibly before the real functionality existed to do that. We're seeing the reassessment and a more structured deployment will begin there. We?ve got an overall comfort level that will support secondary deployment.
MB: What about the increase in phones with giant screens? There have to be people who didn't buy a tablet because they had huge phones already.
Mulroy:Where does that convergence truly take place? When i spoke about the extended early adopter phase, consider this. If we say 100 people would have bought a tablet if not for a phablet, with that Samsung Galaxy Note class device having been introduced, maybe those 100 people buying a tablet would have been reduced to 90 or 80. Some of those tablet users were looking for a larger screen device as opposed to looking for a tablet. Larger handsets have definitely played a role... do i just want a larger screen device or do i need two separate devices to accomplish two separate tasks? While the phablet adoption has definitely affected tablet sales, it's not the sole reason.
MB: What would it take to make tablet sales increase again? Is this an issue about waiting for people to renew interest or are we waiting for the technology to advance and do something new?
Mulroy: My gut tells me it's going to be a passage of time. Technology will advance at that time and we'll see the renewed capabilities that I mentioned earlier, but it's more about the market being ready to grow again. As time passes, we'll see more people realize the benefits.
I have to fight my children to have access to the tablets at home, but I think you're going to have an increased familiarity with the [form factor]. It could be the parents recognizing that my son or daughter uses this device at school for learning, having one at home might make sense. It could be someone having that one device for work that travels well and does more. If you believe some of the rumors of what we might see on iOS with running multiple applications at the same time with a split screen, we're going to see an increase in purpose-specific adoption of what will drive tablets versus the laptop. With the passage of time, the advancements in capabilities will renew growth.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.