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Tablet forecasting is not easy

by Scott Bicheno on 22 September 2011, 16:43

Tags: Gartner (NYSE:IT)

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Think of a number

In the past couple of days two market researchers have published their forecasts for the tablet market. Yesterday Juniper Research said it expects the total tablet market to hit 55 million units this year, and reach 253 million by 2016 - leading me to observe that it will be close to half the size of the PC market by that time.

Today we've got some figures from Gartner, and they deviate sharply from Juniper's - even for this year. Gartner reckons there will be 63.6 million tablets shipped this year and will top 326 million by 2015 - potentially well over half the size of the PC market. Last week IDC offered a similar outlook to Gartner for this year, but didn't even offer up any predictions for the more distant future.

While market researchers are obliged - not least by their customers - to make predictions about the tablet market, which is doing so much to disrupt the tech industry status quo, they're having to extrapolate from very little data.

The entire category has only been in existence for a year or so and, while growth has been exponential, it's very difficult to anticipate when, and to what extent, that growth will slow. It depends on so many qualitative factors, such as the global economy, the progress of non-Apple platforms, the development of killer tablet apps, and their acceptance as productivity devices.

What seems now to be beyond question is that tablets are seriously disruptive to the PC industry. At a price of £400+ many consumers who may had been looking to spend that amount on a notebook may now divert those funds to this newer and more sexy product type. Meanwhile there is a lot of interest from business, even if only for ultra-mobile use.

"Apple had the foresight to create this market and in doing that planned for it as far as component supplies such as memory and screen," said Gartner's Carolina Milanesi, research VP on the mobile - as opposed to PC - side of things at Gartner.  "This allowed Apple to bring the iPad out at a very competitive price and no compromise in experience among the different models that offer storage and connectivity options.

"So far, Android's appeal in the tablet market has been constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications. Google will address the fragmentation of Android across smartphone and tablet form factors within the next Android release, known as ‘Ice Cream Sandwich,' which we expect to see in the fourth quarter of 2011."

Gartner's breakdown by platform is intriguing. While Android's market share is only expected to increase slowly this year and next, Gartner sees it claiming over a third of the market by 2015 - not far behind Apple. RIM's QNX platform is expected to gain a bit of share, but remain in the single figure percentages, and the less said about webOS the better.


Worldwide Sales of Media Tablets to End Users by OS (Thousands of Units)

 OS

2010

2011

2012

2015

Android

2,512

11,020

22,875

116,444

iOS

14,685

46,697

69,025

148,674

MeeGo

179

476

490

197

Microsoft

0

0

4,348

34,435

QNX

0

3,016

6,274

26,123

WebOS

0

2,053

0

0

Other Operating Systems

235

375

467

431

Total Market

17,610

63,637

103,479

326,304

Source: Gartner (September 2011)

 

The forecast for Microsoft - which means Windows 8 - is most intriguing. While over ten percent of the market in 2015 might not seem like a bad effort for a platform that won't even make an appearance until well into 2012, Microsoft is presumably hoping for more. Roberta Cozza, also in the mobile team at Gartner, sums up the biggest challenge faced by those looking to take business away from the iPad.

"Most of Apple's competitors are struggling to meet Apple's prices without considerably sacrificing margins." she said. "Screen quality and processing power are the two hardware features that vendors cannot afford to compromise on. They should consider everything else ‘nice to have,' rather than essential, in order to keep bills-of-materials costs competitive with those of the iPad."

 



HEXUS Forums :: 3 Comments

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“If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three opinions”
A $100-billion-dollar market out of nothing. That's quite something for a technology that'll be just six years old in 2015.

On a purely techy level I'd like to know what kind of chips will power the tablets of 2015. Do Intel and AMD get a serious look-in, or is it ARM all the way?

Having at least one tablet, it seems, is going to be de rigueur, though I wonder if they'll continue to be not much more than scaled-up smartphones. It'll be healthy for the tablet market to go its own way, with genuinely tablet-specific operating systems and software.
Tarinder
On a purely techy level I'd like to know what kind of chips will power the tablets of 2015. Do Intel and AMD get a serious look-in, or is it ARM all the way?
That's the question that I'd like answered too. Consensus - from what I've been able to glean - is that to Intel “mobile” = “Atom” and Atom is a pretty poor performer. That said, since all the current tablet OS's appear to be targetted at ARM, it'd be a brave company that launched a device based on Atom (or whatever AMD have). Unless it was Intel themselves - might see a welcome return of MeeGo.
Tarinder
Having at least one tablet, it seems, is going to be de rigueur, though I wonder if they'll continue to be not much more than scaled-up smartphones. It'll be healthy for the tablet market to go its own way, with genuinely tablet-specific operating systems and software.
Not so sure I agree with the last part of that. Tablet specific operating systems mean more for the poor developers to learn. On the other hand a tablet-aware UI on a smartphone/tablet OS is a different matter - i.e. it'd be a good thing. For example I'm amazed how poor keyboard support is on tablet's, yet keyboards seem to be a widely available peripheral for all of the major tablets. And there's the old conundrum of when does a device stop being a phone and become a tablet - the 7“ Blackberry is a tablet, but what's the Dell Streak (5” screen). Is it merely that phones can make calls whereas tablets can't (Skype excepted)?

Tablet tuned apps likewise would be a great idea. For example I compared the mail client on my Android tablet to the equivalent on my wife's webOS tablet - and the Android one is a distant second, it's really only the standard phone one that knows a little about the extra screen it's got. On the other hand the webOS one works really well. I really think that tablets have the capability to take over a lot of what low end laptops do - office, media, light gaming, etc. But the currently accepted price is too high - maybe as more players enter the market this will change in favour of the consumer?

No, where I think it'll get really interesting is when Microsoft launch something into the space (“Windows 8 Tablet Edition”?). Not only do they have the clout to get some really good app tools out there, but also it means the possibility - as you imply - of breaking the current ARM-only hegemony as regards processor choice.

On a related subject - there's been talk about whether the new captain at the helm of HP will reverse her predecessor's capitulation over webOS. If this was the case, then the tablet market could become very interesting. Especially coupled with the mumblings from Google that they've learned the hard lessons over Honeycomb and Ice-Cream Sandwich will be a lot more capable competitor for iOS.