After the iPad was announced in January 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “iPad is a bit underwhelming,” in which I pointed out that Apple was “trying to create a third category of devices somewhere in between a smartphone and a laptop, but the problem with the iPad is that it doesn’t do anything that you can’t already do with a smartphone and a laptop.
I wasn’t entirely correct. Tablets like the iPad do make it easier to do certain tasks that are hard to do on a small screen with a tiny on-screen keyboard and drawing surface, and awkward to do on a larger laptop that you can’t easily use while standing
The market certainly didn’t validate my comments. For the first few years of its life, iPad sales were spectacular. As of last month, Apple had sold a total of 200 million iPads during a period when PC sales were in a sharp decline.
As per competition, Apple is still the largest single tablet maker, but Android tablets — some of which are much less expensive than iPads — are collectively outselling Apple. According to Gartner, Apple had a 36 percent market share in 2013, down from 53 percent in 2012. Android tablets, meanwhile, claimed a 62 percent market share in 2013, up from 46 percent the year before. Microsoft had only 2.1 percent share last year.
But iPad sales are on the decline. During last week’s earning report, Apple CEO Tim Cook reported that unit sales fell 9 percent from the same period last year — the fourth sales decline in the past five quarters. But Apple’s personal computer sales are going in the other direction. It sold 4.4 million Macs during the quarter, up 18 percent from the same period last year.
iPhones are also flying off the shelves, despite widespread reports that there will be a much-improved version coming out this fall. Apple sold 35.2 million of the little phones last quarter, a 13 percent increase over the same period last year.
As someone who called the iPad “underwhelming,” it would be easy (though not really forgivable) for me to gloat over the decline in iPad sales along with the increase in Mac and iPhone sales, but even a few quarters does not necessarily indicate a permanent trend.
Just as some thought the PC was dying –Apple is one of the few companies not to experience a steady sales decline in its PC, the Mac, over the past few years — I’m not about to declare the death of the tablet. To the contrary, I think tablets are here to stay and will play an increasing role in the technology landscape. One reason for this belief is the recent announcement that IBM and Apple are teaming up to promote iPad sales in large enterprises.
Young people are accustomed to touch-screen interfaces, and as they enter the workforce, more and more of them will want the simplicity of a tablet over a PC for many tasks. Tablets make sense for anyone who needs to consume data while mobile. It’s a lot easier to take a tablet out of your bag or purse than to pull out a laptop if you want to look something up. And depending on the size and the brand, they can be cheaper than PCs, though that’s not necessarily the case with some iPads.
Tablets also have some interesting uses where laptops can’t go. Just about every pilot I know — including all who work for American Airlines — uses a tablet in-flight. In announcing its iPad program last year, American Airlines Vice President David Campbell said that “removing the kit bag (of paper-based reference material) from all of our planes saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually based on current fuel prices. Additionally, each of the more than 8,000 iPads we have deployed to date replaces more than 3,000 pages of paper previously carried by every active pilot and instructor. Altogether, 24 million pages of paper documents have been eliminated.”
Personally, I own an iPad mini and two Android tablets, but hardly ever use them, except for reading. I typically look at my smartphone several times an hour and use my PC and Macs throughout most days.
A lot of people have said that a PC is better for creating content while a tablet is great for consuming it. But I’m more likely to use my MacBook Air to watch video because I can easily place it on a table, airline tray or a pillow in bed without having to find a way to prop up the screen, And even though a phone isn’t the best device for reading books or watching video, it’s the one device I have with me all the time, so I often find myself reading or viewing on my phone simply because it’s handy.
I don’t know what future PC and tablet sales will be, but I do see a role for both. And apparently so does Apple which, last quarter, took in almost as much revenue for its Macs than it did for its iPads.