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The Tablet Takeover Is Ahead Of Schedule

Forget laptops, they'll be old hat inside a handful of years.

Back in July, market researchers NPD predicted that global tablet sales would leap above traditional laptop sales by the year 2016—a bold assertion, given that the laptop's been with us for decades and tablets are fresh on the scene. To achieve this growth, NPD guessed 121 million tablets would be sold in 2012.

More recently Gartner's figures showed how much of a stranglehold Apple has over the existing market. They predict that Apple will end 2012 with a 61.4% market share and 73 million units sold, up from 40 million units (and a bigger 66% market share) for 2011. And even though recent court documents show that Samsung's U.S. tablet sales are tiny compared to Apple's, Gartner predicts that the Android tablet market (which Samsung dominates) will rise to 31.9% share in 2012 and 37.9 million units over just 17.3 million sold in 2011.

Note that Gartner's figures total to nearly 111 million units just from iOS and Android tablet sales. But there are four pieces of news that cast an interesting light on this total:

  • We know that Microsoft is launching its highly anticipated Surface tablet in the Fall, and recent scuttlebutt (which may be exaggerated) suggests it could even have an entry price as low as $199. This would drive a ton of sales. Even if it costs more than this, there are many businesses who may prefer to stick with a name they know from years of business IT than buy an Apple tablet.
  • We also think that Amazon is prepping a revamped Kindle tablet lineup, which includes a bigger screen device just seen going through FCC certification. Amazon's original 7-inch Fire caused a stir in the low end tablet market thanks to Amazon's content links and the tablet's low price.
  • And we think we know that Apple's got a 7-inch iPad "mini" on the way, possibly due for a release in October or November. Looking at Apple's typical business model and its control over supply chain prices, this tablet could start at a price below $299. This would really capture many millions of sales, especially in the lucrative fourth quarter holiday season.
  • There there's Samsung's theatrics. It's just launched the new Galaxy Note 10-inch device which is confusingly similar to its 10-inch Tab lineup, and put an emphasis on it's abilities for content production rather than merely consumption (a gentle, and false, sneer at the iPad). The new Note, with its powerful stylus-related abilities, will undoubtedly appeal to many potential buyers. Samsung is desperately aware that the tablet game is blowing up quicker than people thought it would. Hence it's trying a shotgun approach at the market, hoping some of its products hit the target—after all, it's a strategy that's worked very well in the smartphone game.
Wrapping all this data together points to tablet sales that may easily soar well above 121 million units this year. Which means that NPD's prediction of a 2016 date for tablets beating laptops may be a little late—the great tablet takeover could actually happen much sooner than that, perhaps in just two to three years.

As tablets sales surge, with the iPad even succeeding in enterprise, they'll eat into traditional laptop sales much quicker. That is why Microsoft, traditionally a business-centric, laptop and desktop OS maker, has invested in Windows 8 tablets—even MS is sensitive to the changing wind.

And all of this means one thing. Sorry, tablet doubters: It's beginning to look like an imminent tablet world after all.

[Image: Flickr user Traci Lawson]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.