EL SEGUNDO, CA — Shipments of traditional PC-type tablet PCs will be dwarfed by the newer media-type tablets like the iPad from Apple Inc., with the media category outshipping the PC variety by a factor of 10 during the period from 2010 to 2015, new IHS iSuppli (NYSE: IHS) research indicates.
From 2010 to 2015, a total of 888.7 million media tablets will be shipped, compared to just 88.8 million PC tablets. A total of 45.2 million PC tablets will be shipped in 2015, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 81.5 percent from 2.3 million units in 2010. In contrast, media tablets will reach 262.1 million units by 2015, rising at a 72.1 percent CAGR from 17.4 million units in 2010. Media tablets, built on ARM microprocessors and utilizing mobile operating systems, have already surged past the 25 million sales mark—easily surpassing the last decade’s worth of fully configured PC tablet sales.
“While there’s clearly a need for tablet PCs with full PC functionality, the media-type tablet pioneered by the Apple Inc. with the iPad will reign supreme during for at least the next five years,” said Rhoda Alexander, director of monitor research at IHS. “Because the tablet form factor will favor media consumption—rather than content creation—media tablets will massively outsell their PC-type tablet alternatives.”
Take two tablets
While the media and PC tablets are both considered tablet devices, the categories differ greatly in terms of construction and usage. Media tablets—such as the iPad, Xoom from Motorola Inc. and Galaxy Tab from Samsung Electronics Co.—typically are slate-style, utilize a mobile operating system and ARM-based or mobile CPU, and employ a touch screen as the primary interface. PC tablets, in contrast, can use slate or convertible/hybrid form factors based on Atom or x86 architecture, and incorporate a full PC operating system such as Windows 7, Linux, or Mac OS.
Media tablet usage is largely concentrated on Web browsing, social networking, email and consumption of a range of media content such as video, music, e-books/magazines and games. The applications are touch friendly, evolving from a smart phone environment, with touch as the primary interface.In contrast, PC-based tablets have incorporated touch but made poor use of it in the past, burdened by legacy applications heavy with pull-down menus and a dizzying array of choices.
Still meeting a need
Yet for all the frustrations inherent in a fully configured PC tablet—the slow boot-up time, the tendency to crash or freeze and the awkwardness of the touch integration—they still meet a need that the media tablets do not. They are designed for work, allowing users to quickly accomplish data input, analysis and creation-oriented tasks that are still less than realistic to perform on a media tablet. While improved productivity applications, incorporation of additional functionality and expanded access to the cloud will all work to expand the functionality of media tablets, it is not clear that they will be able to cross the line from consumption to creation devices for many in the corporate environment.
The emergence of a hybrid class of products combining aspects of the media and PC tablets holds promise for providing a bridge between the universes, allowing data-intensive workers access to the full functionality they have grown to rely on in a fully configured PC system, while still providing access to the speed and ease of use of a mobile system. The system functions as a media tablet in a mobile environment but converts to a full operating system when linked to a docking station. The docking-station approach also allows for the easy incorporation of peripherals, including a full-sized keyboard, mouse and additional displays.
Will it blend?
The blended approach offers an opportunity for PC vendors to continue to distinguish their products from the growing competition in the mobile arena and will eventually work to slow the growth in the pure media tablet category. As appealing as the media tablets are, many users still need a more robust system. However, wider adoption of the hybrid PC tablets is likely to take several years, as there are still some issues to be addressed.
The first issue is faster start-up: The instant-on allure of media tablets is significant. While fully configured PC tablets are unlikely to match the start-up speed of a media tablet in the short term, substantial effort is being invested in narrowing the current significant time gap between the two devices.
The next issue is Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 8 operating system. Improved touch performance and a further evolution of graphics-based menus will help to make the systems more suited to a touch interface, both in the mobile and docked mode. The timing and performance of this release will be critical; IHS expects it won’t be until mid- to late 2012 introduction and an 18-month to two-year lag before there is significant business adoption.
Finally, there is a need for improved mobile operating systems. With Apple still owning the media tablet space, competitors are still struggling to match Apple’s OS capabilities. As Android and the others improve, the performance gap between the operating systems will narrow.
The nature of the computer market is change, with competitors leapfrogging over each other in the ongoing race to market share. At present, media tablets have the momentum, but the PC tablet is not finished yet.