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Why so many failed to see the market for tablets

“The tablet market should top all laptop shipments this year and the entire PC market by 2015, according to a report released Tuesday.

Market researcher IDC estimated that tablet shipments will grow 59 percent this year to 229.3 million units. That’s higher than IDC’s estimate for notebook shipments this year. Topping that, IDC predicts tablet shipments will surpass the total number of notebook and desktop PC shipments in 2015.

“Tablets surpassing portables in 2013, and total PCs in 2015, marks a significant change in consumer attitudes about computer devices and the applications and ecosystems that power them,” Ryan Reith, program manager for IDC’s mobility trackers, said in a statement.

CNET (28 May, 2013)

When Apple first introduced the iPad, I couldn’t quite see why I would need one. I had a great laptop and a great smartphone. So what would this “in-between” device do for me? It was neither fish nor fowl: not functional enough to do the laptop’s work, nor portable enough to displace carrying the phone around.

I was not alone in having doubts. Most of the industry’s revered analysts were scathing in their early damnation of the tablet concept.

However, the minute I picked one up and tried it, I saw the point very rapidly. The thing about the tablet is not that it does LESS than either PC or phone; but that it does MORE than either. It’s way more portable and intimate than a PC; and it gives you a lot more real estate than a phone, for web browsing and video viewing.

Now, tablets have matured even more. Better software apps and cloud storage both allow you to mimic the work you do on a ‘proper’ computer much better. I write many of these columns on a tablet these days, for example, and often create whole presentations, full of detailed charts and animations, on the go. My laptop has become a desktop, as I almost never carry it around.

As the excerpt shows, tablet sales have spiralled upwards. Laptops will be overtaken this year, and PCs as a whole soon after that.

Still, there are doubters. Many ‘power’ PC users tell me they would never switch to tablets; they value their trusty workhorses too much. Trying typing for long on those virtual keyboards, they say; or inputting large amounts of data; or doing sophisticated video editing; or managing complex spreadsheets…

There’s a wider point to be made here. Breaking news, folks: most people on this planet DO NOT do those things, and have no need to do them. Before the advent of the smartphone and tablet, if you wanted to do any computing, you were forced to buy a fully-fledged, expensive computer with heavy-duty software installed. The average user probably never even touched the surface of what was possible with the average PC. Most people think of ‘computing’ as just email, web surfing, social media and looking at photos and videos.

That’s why tablets were so revolutionary: they allowed you to do all of that for much less money (eventually) and in a device that you could carry around easily and kick back on the sofa with. Most of the world, you see, consumes content rather than produces it. For too long, a content production device was being used mostly for consumption. Until the right device appeared, that is.

So it remains true: power users will always need fully fledged computers. I don’t plan to ditch my laptop anytime soon, even though I don’t use it as often. But tablets sell like hot cakes for a reason: they fill a gap. For a different market.

Abiding lesson: don’t judge a product by your OWN needs and preferences; you have to be able to think like the target market. Living in gated mental communities causes us to miss many a train. Like the HUGE train carrying all those tablets to market.

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