What Next for the Once-Mythical Tablet? – Perspectives from the Middle East
There was much dismay across the region recently when the U.S. and U.K. both banned laptops and tablets from the cabins of various airlines originating from the Middle East. But perhaps the loudest outcry came from parents wondering how their children are possibly going to cope on long-haul flights without an iPad to keep them occupied!
Nothing quite sums up the current malaise of the global tablet industry more than the fact that this seemed to be the number-one concern when the bans were first announced. Has a device that was tipped to revolutionize our day-to-day lives in 2010 already been reduced to little more than a babysitting aid in 2017?
The numbers certainly don't make great reading. IDC's latest data shows that tablet shipments declined -15.6% year on year in 2016, and that decline was mirrored here in the GCC, where shipments were down -16.4% over the same period.
It wasn't always this way, of course. Once the sole preserve of sci-fi classics such as Star Trek, we waited for what felt like a lifetime for these mythical devices to become a reality. And when Apple launched its much-anticipated iPad in April 2010, it was greeted with almost universal euphoria.
A whole host of other manufacturers quickly followed suit and tablets soon became the must-have tech accessory for every household. Here in the GCC, annual growth rates topped 100% for a number of years as everyone jumped on board the tablet bandwagon.
Innovation was key in those early years, with each new generation getting thinner, lighter, faster, and more powerful than its predecessor. These were all very welcome changes at the time, and served as key drivers for consumers to keep regularly updating their devices.
But meaningful innovation seems to have stalled in the tablet space over the last few years. Indeed, it's almost as though after just seven years of evolution, we've already reached "peak tablet". And the incentive to invest in the latest generation of tablets has dried up accordingly.
This is translating into longer and longer lifecycles for tablets, particularly as these devices — more so than other consumer electronics — are typically handed down within the household. Consequently, very few high-quality tablets are retired outright, with many staying in service for other family members well beyond three years. The result is a swelling installed base and a lack of motivation to buy new products.
The ubiquitous smartphone has also played a major role in the downfall of the tablet, particularly as their screens have got bigger. Where the 3.5" smartphone was once perfectly complemented by a 10" tablet, they are now in almost direct competition for your attention.
Indeed, many tasks that were previously performed on tablets are increasingly moving to bigger-screen smartphones, while the growth of wearables is adding yet another dynamic to the competitive landscape. All this means that tablets are slowly becoming redundant in the consumer ecosystem of gadgets.
Sure, you can go to pretty much any restaurant in Dubai and still see an army of toddlers watching their favorite episodes of Peppa Pig, but I doubt this was the demographic Steve Jobs originally had in mind. So what does the future hold for tablets?
Education will remain a key area of focus. This space has long been a source of strong demand for tablets, with the numerous aggressively priced tablets available on the market making these devices a cost-effective solution for enabling more widespread IT education.
At IDC, we expect this trend to continue in the years to come, with the introduction of wireless keyboards, longer battery lives, and slimmer, lighter designs only serving to enhance the attractiveness of tablets in the education space.
Other verticals within the commercial segment are also increasingly embracing tablets to address their computing needs. Indeed, IDC expects a growing number of organizations and individual business users to adopt flexible, productivity-focused detachable tablets during their forthcoming upgrade cycles.
However, this growth will come at the expense of demand for notebooks, since the tablet will no longer be seen as a complementary device but a full-on replacement in its own right.
At the top end of the market, notebooks remain the more cost-effective solution. But with detachable tablet prices declining all the time, this is expected to change. And it needs to if higher-spec tablets are to gain widespread traction beyond the existing base of sales personnel and senior-level executives.
Back in 2012, the commercial segment only accounted for 10% of global demand for tablet devices, with consumers responsible for the remainder. This share had increased to 15.0% in 2016, and IDC forecasts it to reach 22% by 2021.
So, while demand is declining, consumers still account for the majority of the market, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But it is clear that tablets are finding growing acceptance among corporate users, and it could well be this space that ultimately shapes the destiny of the once-mythical tablet.