I was one of the people to join in with that first wave of iPad purchases when the original was released in 2010, and had even bought a small 5 inch Archos touchscreen tablet years before. I have owned a tablet of one brand or another since Apple released what was expected to be a game changing device. However, we are now in a place where tablet sales are dropping rapidly, and I’ll be joining millions of others in not upgrading. As a tech lover, I want to be excited about the new iPad, or the long awaited Samsung Tab 5, but it’s just not possible. So, why is that? Well, there have been three big changes in the industry that have affected the market as a whole and contributed to my decision that my current tablet will be my last.
Smartphones vs Tablets
Here is the elephant in the room, the smoking gun, the reason so many people are turning away from their tablets. Smartphones are making a mockery of their bigger brothers and here’s why.
First off is the screen size. The average phone screen size was around three inches at the time of release of the first iPad, whereas the iPhone 7 plus and Samsung S7 both boast screens of 5.5 inches today. This makes the modern phones almost twice the size they were when tablets first became a thing. A huge selling point of the early tablets was the size of the screen was perfect for video playback and enhanced gameplay but, with the extra inches on our phone screens now, that is not the unique feature it used to be.
Another key element, and the reason I used to upgrade my tablets every year, was the screen resolution. With there being such a disparity between a phone and a tablet back in the day, high-quality playback required a tablet. However, today’s flagship phones boast 4k resolution on their vast screens, so where is the need for a tablet? Gone, or at least going, are the days when you need to carry around a whole additional device to enjoy a high definition screen.
The Rise of the Crossover PC
2014 saw the first real influx of laptops that could be separated and turned into a tablet at will. Three years later and there is a clear leader of the pack – the Microsoft Surface. The Apple iPad Pro, with its 12.9 inch mammoth display, is attempting to compete with the Surface. However, the problem with the iPad Pro, which I owned for several months, is that it has failed to specialise at being either a tablet or a PC, and therein lies one of the major issues for tablets. The gap between phones and computers has narrowed, squeezing the purebred tablet out of the market.
The likes of the Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Mix make have no hesitation in asserting that they are a PC first and a tablet second. This means that the user is able to own a fully functional laptop, with the added gimmick of being able to utilise a tablet’s capabilities, whether for reading, drawing, or watching video. Having owned, and then upgraded, my Microsoft Surface, it has become painfully clear that tablets are simply a novelty that adds very little to my life. If my PC is able to fill that small niche then any need for a tablet is eradicated.
The price of a tablet can be the clincher for most people. Although Apple have recently identified this problem and subsequently dropped the opening price of their new iPad called… The iPad to just $329, that is still a lot of money to drop on an e-reader, video screen, or whatever you use your tablet for primarily. If you’re like me, then you want to have the best product on the market. It’s a killer knowing that something you have could be doing better, or giving you a better experience, but there is always a balance to be struck.
“Is the new model and its features worth the increase?” – this has been a point of contention in the ongoing argument between iPhone and Android, specifically questioning whether Apple is doing enough to be worth the premium it charges consumers. Well, as Apple tablet sales have consistently beaten the next closest rival (Samsung) by more than 60%, it’s fair to look at the Californian tech giant as the case study. The answer here is that no, the products do not offer enough of a difference.
There can’t be enough of an increase in quality or power to justify consistently releasing new models. Most tablet users have one or two processes that they use the tablet for 90% of the time and the rest is subsidiary. For most tablet users that 90% is reading, playing games, and watching video. So when the screens on tablets reach their feasible maximum, and the screen resolution is as high as mainstream video playback, where is the room to improve?
The vast majority of improvements in the previous iPads and other tablets have been to do with processing power. The fact of the matter is that this is no longer an issue for the processes most of us are using our tablets for. So, when the new model rolls around once a year, where is the incentive to spend hundreds of dollars on the new model if you are not goign to feel the benefit?
Here we are, stuck in a place where tablets are good enough. They’re good enough for the vast majority of users who want one and, if you want or need more from your machine, you would buy a PC, games console, or TV instead. For that reason, tablets have a severely limited renewability, and that shows up in the buyer trends. This is not about the capabilities of tablets, but rather whether there is anywhere they can go to reinvigorate buyers, and the answer to that seems to be a resounding “no”
The End is Nigh
If we take a look back at when the iPad first came out, what were the main arguments by those people who were against tablets? “It’s just a big phone!”, “Why would I need one?”, “what does it do that a laptop can’t?”. Well, it seems as though we have come full circle. The tablet no longer has a niche in the market. The hole that it filled has grown ever smaller, and the efforts of the big companies to combat this have been futile. The smartphone has come so far in the past seven years since iPad 1, that it has swallowed up (along with many other products) its bigger counterpart, and become the dominating and all-encompassing force in portable technology.
The crossover PC has swooped in and addressed the few remaining reasons for buying a tablet, whilst the technology inside tablets has been capped by the maximum processing needed for the limited activities we use a tablet for.
So, while I love my tablet and it has given me many years of great service, still providing a useful service on flights, for example, it seems as though its days are numbered. Goodbye and good luck tablets, it’s been a fun ride!