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9/2/2014
10:40 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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No Reason To Buy A Tablet Anymore

The natural number of personal electronics devices is two: one in the pocket and one in the bag. Now, thanks to ever-larger smartphones and the latest 2-in-1 laptops, order is being restored.

When the first tablets bounded onto the scene four years ago, everyone wanted one. They sold quickly and immediately snagged our time and attention away from our smartphones and laptops. No wonder: They were more responsive than our laptops, and the no-keyboard design made them easier to read, watch videos, and scan social networks. The screens were much larger than our smartphones, so they were easier on the eyes and more pleasant to navigate. And every time we picked up our tablets, we were saving precious battery on our go-to devices.

It's a very different story today, however. Smartphones continue their ascension. And notebook PCs are resurgent. But after growing 52% in 2013, according to IDC, tablet shipments are expected to expand just 6.5% this year. Demand is even more anemic when you consider that a major growth driver this year is tablets that aren't even sold as tablets: low-cost 7-inch and 8-inch models with cellular capability. They're being billed as big, cheap smartphones for consumers in emerging markets.

What's happening here is that we're returning to what I call personal device equilibrium -- one in the pocket and one in the bag -- which is something I predicted would happen from the get-go. Consumers are finding that they just don't need tablets anymore, because ever-more capable smartphones and 2-in-1 notebooks are squeezing them out of their personal quivers.

The smartphone has been siphoning more of the tablet's load recently, for a couple reasons. First, smartphones are much easier to view for long periods than they were when the first iPad shipped in 2010, primarily because displays are much larger -- and growing larger still. Shipments of so-called phablets -- smartphones with displays measuring at least 5 inches -- are growing more than three times as fast as the overall market this year. Total units are now approaching tablet shipments. Apple, one of the last phablet holdouts, is expected to announce a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 on Sept. 9.

[What do you want to see from Apple next week? See 8 Things We Want In iPhone 6.]

Second, battery life is improving dramatically. Part of that is simply because vendors can fit a much larger battery into a smartphone with a larger display. But the suppliers are also paying more attention to power management because they understand that consumers want to rely on their smartphones more -- but only if they'll still have enough juice to take a call at the end of the day.

Battery life, in fact, has been one of the greatest areas of advancement in 2-in-1 notebooks -- and a big reason tablets aren't needed anymore. There was a big leap in battery life late last year -- at about the time tablet shipments began slowing, interestingly enough -- and another impressive boost is coming with the new fifth-generation Core M processors. The new chips boast twice the battery life with a battery only half as large as laptops that were selling when the first iPad arrived. And they run cool enough for PC makers to produce full-fledged 2-in-1 PCs that are as thin and quiet as traditional media tablets. The first of these systems will be unveiled Friday, ahead of the Intel Developer Forum.

Asus Transformer Book T100 2-in-1
Asus Transformer Book T100 2-in-1

Some of the new 2-in-1s actually adopt the tablet form factor and come with detachable keyboards. I prefer a few of the hinged clamshell-type models that fold into what the PC makers call "tablet mode." It might be a little heavier and thicker than the tablet-first implementations. But I never have to worry about losing the keyboard or being without it when I need it. For many -- me included -- 12-inch and 13-inch 2-in-1s offer the best mix of tablet portability and productivity. I do know plenty of people who still prefer 15-inch displays, and there are 2-in-1s coming that fit the bill for them, too.

Travel tip: Airlines nowadays allow only smartphones and tablets to be used during taxi, takeoff, and landing. But I've found that as long as the keyboard is detached or tucked away, flight attendants won't stop you from using a 12-inch or 13-inch 2-in-1.

That's just another in a long list of reasons we don't need tablets anymore. Smartphones have picked up some of the slack. But the transformation in the laptop that's happened over the short life of tablets is truly amazing. Many of the new 2-in-1s are thinner than the disk drives inside a four-year-old laptop, with far more capability and battery life.

If you're reading this on a four-year-old laptop, then I don't have to tell you. You're living it. So you probably don't need a big incentive to go out and snag one of these sleek new systems. But just in case you do, consider this: There may not have been another four-year period in the history of the PC where it's changed so much.

Plus, if you've been saving up for tablet, there's another few hundred dollars you can put toward a 2-in-1. Because, as I've said, there's no reason to buy a tablet. Not anymore.

Interested in shuttling workloads between public and private cloud? Better make sure it's worth doing, because hybrid means rethinking how you manage compliance, identity, connectivity, and more. Get the new New Tactics Needed For Hybrid Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today. (Free registration required.)

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market strategy and analysis firm focusing on mobile ecosystems and client technologies. You can reach him at mikef@feibustech.com. View Full Bio
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mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2014 | 1:53:13 AM
Re: Still happy with my tablet
"I think the smartphone competition is for those who have, or are considering, a tablet with a 7 inch screen"

I agree with this. Moreover, don't people usually get some sort of discount for their phone when they sign a 2 year contract? Tablets don't get this discount, do they?

 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/4/2014 | 1:44:20 PM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
@Chris.  That is very interesting.  I have a friend with kids and their kids love both their iphone apps and ipad.  My friend whom is a frequent traveler got a large screen android tablet.  He enjoys it very much.  It is light and the large screen allows him to read news and send emails. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/3/2014 | 10:07:08 AM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
I still prefer the iPhone Mini screen for reading, research, etc. than the phone, or even larger phones. But to Tom's point, a foldable display will break the rules, just a matter of when it will be practical outside of research labs.
GlassWriter
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GlassWriter,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2014 | 10:06:21 AM
It's Software, Not Hardware
I've been through a number of tablets and phones since the iPhone and iPad were introduced. Based on all this experience, I feel that the real issue isn't hardware. It's software - operating systems and applications. I have dumped my Nokia 1520 Windows 8.1 Phone (phablet) and Surface Pro 2 (2-in-1), and purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4" (Android), and reactivated my Samsung Galaxy 3 (Android). Microsoft Windows 8.1 is not a mobile operating system. For example, it's too clunky/slow, requires a stylus for accurate selection of menus and other items, still tends to be a battery hog, suffers from a paucity of apps period, especially those that are finger as opposed to stylus sensitive. For work I use a desktop with 27" display.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/3/2014 | 9:54:53 AM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
Pedro, When you hand your tablet to your kindergartner, that's a sure sign that it's lost most-favored-device status. Agreed on 2-in-1s and raise you Chromebooks.
ITPolicy Guy
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ITPolicy Guy,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2014 | 9:23:35 AM
Still happy with my tablet
I think the smartphone competition is for those who have, or are considering, a tablet with a 7 inch screen. if you have a tablet with a 9 or 10 inch screen, 2-in-1 laptops are the competition. I bought a smartphone after having an Asus tablet with a 10" screen and I would not give up my tablet. It is handy for me to use and I don't worry/bother with a separate keyboard. It is smaller and lighter so traveling with it is good for me (plus I do genealogical research).
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2014 | 9:20:00 AM
I disagree 98.5%
Slowdown of sales growth doesn't prove your previous conjecture, nor your current supposition.  It just means that the need has been fulfilled, not that the need is going away.  Once most everybody that wants a tablet has one, they don't need to keep buying them.  We're depleting the pool of people that want one and don't have one, nothing more nothing less.  And as everyone gets sufficient value out of the tablet they have, they'll buy a new one, shinier, prettier, lighter, faster, better graphics and sound, cooler apps, longer lasting batteries, cooler cases, hopefully more external interfaces, and new whizbang features.  I'll never be able to read books and PDF whitepapers on an iPad, and I hate pulling out the laptop.  So tablets fill a major need in terms of form factor.  And if you think I'm going to buy, use, or store in my pocket a "phablet" well you've just jumped the shark to crazy-land.  They're OK for people that can't afford an iPhone or iPad, or don't mind looking stupid (like everyone did with a contact manager back in the day, and the way Palm Pilot people still should feel) using and talking into some monstrosity of a phone.  But the "installed base" of tablet users are still there, and happy using a logical form factor, rather than a "tweener" more adept at marketing to and satisfying cost-sensitive users.  My prediction, years from now I'll still be using an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook.  And no, it won't have voice recognition--enven if it does I won't use it--or mind control, or an interface with my glasses.  And you said it yourself: "The phone is just big enough for reading ebooks, emagazines, and Web surfing comfortably. The tablet still provides a better experience for those activities, but it's not essential."  In other words, phablets are just a way of making do.  They're "almost" useful, and they're just a "tad" smaller.  A tweener solution, some will like it, some will stick their noses up at it.  But it's not putting tablets out of business anytime soon.  If anything, you'll see iPads gradually replaced with Minis and new form factors that try to find the perfect mix of form, fit, and function.  It won't be a phablet though.  And if the Mini comes out with a 4G phone capability, bye-bye phablets.  People will still need their iPhone, though, because a mini will never fit in our pockets.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/3/2014 | 9:18:57 AM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
It's a good point about kids/travel, but I think Mike's point still holds -- increasingly you'll just do a large iPod/Android device, and a laptop if you need more. I just took a trip with my middle school kids, and they had access to their touchscreen iPods and my iPads (full and mini), and the iPod was always the preferred option. 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/2/2014 | 10:15:56 PM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
I feel the same way.  Tablets are unable to compete with their two in one counterparts.  They offer the best functionalities of both worlds.  I won't be surprise if in a soon to be future all laptops will be 2 in 1.  I did notice that people with kids(I'm even seeing tablets for children) and constant travelers are keen in using tablets.      
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/2/2014 | 6:40:21 PM
Re: Tablets stuck in limbo
If anyone can figure out how to create a phone with a variably sized screen (with fold-out or sliding tiles that lock together seamlessly), tablets will become redundant. I give it five to seven years.
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