What happened? Tablet sales have been in the news this month since the Pew Research Center published a report a report saying that total tablet and e-reader ownership jumped in December from 18% to 29% of the U.S. population. This revelation is driving speculation about whether 2012 will be “the year of the tablet.”
Was this expected? No. In fact the Pew Center redid its survey after seeing the first set of responses to be sure they were correct. The huge jump was particularly surprising since it came after several months of essentially flat sales across the tablet market.
One reason for those months of flat sales, suggests Brandy Betz is the lack of practical uses for tablets. Both iPads and the various Android tablets, Betz says, are basically entertainment devices with limited capabilities, making them adult toys rather than real replacements for a desktop or laptop either in the home or office.
Why the Christmas spike? A drop in price driven by the introduction of the Android Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Book Tablet and subsequent price cut of the older Nook Color certainly has something to do with the spectacular December result. But in fact Apple sold 15.4 million iPads in December despite its $499 price tag, indicating that price was not the only or even the primary driver.
Betz suggests that one reason was the holiday mood. Shoppers were looking for toys rather than serious tools. Of course many of these tablets – and the e-reader devices that also sold heavily in December – were undoubtedly purchased as gifts rather than for personal use.
Is this the start of major tablet adoption by the masses? While it is tempting to presume that it is, early indications are that tablet sales are dropping off with the new year. Of course that is normal for retail in general in January as consumers recover from their December splurge. However, Kelly Gallagher, VP of publishing services at R.R. Bowker says that despite a 17% increase in e-book sales in 2011, 74% of book buyers have never purchased an e-book, even though 14% of those people own either a tablet or an e-reader device like the Amazon Kindle. Given that the e-readers are single-use devices, that raises the question of how many e-readers and tablets are gathering dust on closet shelves.
So what does all this mean for businesses? Probably not that much, particularly given that many of these devices were given as gifts to people who may have had little use for them. Also studies have shown that most tablet owners seldom take their devices out of their homes, so few of these new devices are likely to show up in offices.
This may start to change later this year, however. Rumors of quad core tablets are circulating on the Web, and Daily Tech quotes Microsoft CEO Paul Otellini saying Windows 8 tablets are lined up for production later this year. A quad-core Windows 8 tablet with a keyboard docking station and sufficient memory and flash storage, possibly backed up by a large hard drive in the docking station, could provide strong competition for traditional laptops in the office. But that is unlikely to appear until third or fourth quarter and will not start to have a real impact until 2013.