Are We Losing Interest in Tablets?

The teleautograph is considered by many to be the first tablet.

Tablet computers were first conceptualized in the late 1800’s when inventor Elisha Gray created the telautograph. His creation was a precursor to the modern fax machine and was the first device that transmitted handwriting to a stationary sheet of paper. For the first time ever, people could send their handwritten message to a distant point by using a two-wire circuit – and they loved it.

The telautograph quickly became the standard method of obtaining signatures over distances and was installed in banks, hospitals, and anywhere else that needed to send information quickly and accurately. The telautograph was so popular, that it was still being used as late as 1960 in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal to display train information.

Around this time, filmmakers and authors began experimenting with the notion of an advanced type of telautograph and inserted tablet computers into some of the most notable science-fiction works of our time. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and many other TV shows, movies and books sparked the public’s interest in tablet computing. But it wouldn’t be until 2010 when we would be able to get our hands on one in earnest.

A tablet as portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey

A tablet as portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey

While there were several tablet computers available throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, these were marketed toward business users and not the general public. And by the time Android started making tablets for the masses in 2009, their operating system was still in its infancy and not as reliable as it is today. It was the Apple iPad that revolutionized the way we use mobile technology, and just like the telautograph, people loved it.

Apple sold over 7 million iPads in 2010 and that number steadily rose year after year as consumers snagged them off store shelves. Although initially met with strong skepticism, the iPad sparked a major influx of competitors trying to replicate its success. Before long, tablet computers from every major manufacturer would become readily available.

For the last four years, tablets have been a major part of the mobile ecosystem. Over 475 million units have shipped around the world since the iPad’s release and 20% of Americans claim to own one. But as consumers are now being bombarded with tablet alternatives like bigger smartphones and hybrid laptops, it appears that our interest in them isn’t as strong as it once was.

For the first time ever, iPad sales have fallen in two consecutive quarters.

iPad sales are dwindling.

Earlier this week, Apple announced that for the second consecutive quarter, iPad sales fell 9.2% after a 16% drop just three months earlier. During this same quarter two years ago, iPad sales were at an all-time high with a whopping 84% increase from the previous quarter. In 24 short months, the iPad went from being the hottest tablet on the market, to one that is struggling to make a profit.

Apple isn’t the only company having trouble selling tablets these days. Their biggest competitor, Samsung, also reported dwindling tablet sales for the second straight quarter and puts the blame entirely on smartphones.

“For tablets, shipments declined more than expected level due to weak overall market demand and, unlike smartphones, lack of carriers’ subsidies policy led to low replacement demand. The demand for 5-to-6 inch smartphones also cannibalized the demand for 7-to-8 inch tablets”

–Samsung Second Quarter Earnings Estimate

It is estimated that by the end of 2014, smartphone sales will add up to $41 billion. And according to Business Insider, phablets are the fastest-growing smartphone category with an annual growth rate of 27%. If this number holds steady, phablets will outnumber tablets by a three-to-one ratio by the year 2018. In other words: tablets won’t matter.

Because tablets are essentially an enlarged version of a smartphone, they rely heavily on having Internet access. To date, most tablets aren’t able to connect to the Internet unless there’s a Wi-Fi signal, and purchasing a data plan from a cellphone provider is an added expense many people can’t afford. For this reason, many consumers are finding themselves purchasing larger smartphones instead of tablets.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is one of the best-selling phablets on

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is one of the best-selling phablets on

Apple’s iPad Mini costs $200 less than the $499 9.7-inch version, and the average price of an Android tablet is now $228. But even with tablet prices dropping, sales have not increased. Could it be that the public simply doesn’t care anymore? Are tablets becoming obsolete like the telautograph? Maybe — at least here in America.

When asked in a recent interview why consumers weren’t buying tablets anymore, Jeff Orr of ABI Research said: “Those that are going to be interested in buying a tablet in the U.S. by this point already have.” Expanding on his theory, it seems plausible that countries who haven’t wholly adopted the smartphone could be potential tablet consumers in the future.

India and Brazil are two prime examples where feature phones still dominate the market, largely due to their dynamic web capabilities. If they ever choose to adopt smartphones, tablets could see resurgence and remain relevant for many years to come. But if that doesn’t happen, it seems like the only place we’ll see tablets will be in science fiction.

Do you think tablets will become extinct? Or do you think there is a future for the technology?

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • I think it’s a bit soon to speculate that the public is losing interest in tablets. One major thing that these tech analysts seem to miss is that a lot of iPad owners are happy with their current models, and have not seen a need to upgrade. I fall into that category. I bought an iPad mini in November 2012, and I have no need to upgrade. I may do so later this year, but that will be over two years after buying the current unit. I think interest is still quite strong, but in the case of Apple, there may also be a resurgence in buying more “traditional” computers. Apple’s Mac sales were up. I think it’s really dumb to start drawing conclusions at this point.

  • Elie says:

    My iPad mini is somewhere in the house eating dust. No point of using it unless your travelling and for that I cannot even justify the expense behind it. Tablets are useless at work or at home. Better stick with laptops and the Microsoft Surface PC Tablet or getting a 5inch phone is good enough at this point.

    • My iPad isn’t useless for work. I use it a lot in meetings, for taking notes, sending and receiving email, and I have a lot of tech utilities on it that I use to analyze networks. Apple’s iWork apps are just as functional as M$ Office, and they’re free. Clearly, it’s the Microsoft Surface that is failing, not the iPad. I love watching those commercials where Microsoft claims that their Surface Pro can replace my laptop. There’s no way it could do that. It doesn’t run Apple’s OS X. That’s strike one. It can’t run several virtual machines at the same time without missing a beat. That’s strike two. It runs Windows. That’s strike three. It sounds like you bought an iPad on impulse when you didn’t really need one. Why don’t you just sell it or give it away?

    • Dan D says:

      iPads are primarily media consumption/communication devices. if you intended to use it as a word processor, you bought it for the wrong reason.

  • Tablets are great for reading news and watching videos. I have big hands so a big screen is nice but I don’t find talking on a phablet I have a phone and a tablet… and a netbook, notebook, desktop,,, oh my!

  • Rich Reid says:

    Previously owned a Asus TF300T tablet, which I would use to watch netflix / read in bed. Now I own a Lenovo Miix 2 8″, and I still use it for netflix/reading, however I now also use it for light productivity at work (easier to just pull up the spreadsheet I need as opposed to logging into a local desktop and pulling it up), and general browsing around the house. The difference between an android and a full blow windows 8.1 tablet is astounding.

  • Varun says:

    I think the utility of iPad /tablet is limited by the amount of apps available that make it useful. Also, when some one picks up a >1/2 pound device expectation is that it will do more for them, rather then just stretching the screen.

    That has largely not happened yet. Tablets will come back when someone finds a way to provide more valuable apps.

  • Michael says:

    Someone can’t read their own data. Q3 and Q4 2013 were also consecutive loss quarters.

  • _Al says:

    My tablet and laptop get used about equally. My desktop upstairs (a Mac Pro with 3 monitors) is now overkill and gathering dust. I use my Verizon connected iPad while traveling, while at the office, in church, and 5 days a week on the train coming and going to work. I also use it to watch an episode of Star Trek every night to bore myself to sleep (seen them all 14 times). The laptop gets used when I’m home the rest of the time, like now.

    I’m a believe in “you get what you pay for” and have many very good ‘paid’ apps for the iPad. I don’t leave home without it.

  • Markets bounce for a long time. It could just as easily rebound in a year or two. Projecting markets is never an easy thing. In the years I have seen this done, I have seen successes and failures. Even with the newer technology to forecast markets it has not changed that much.
    I saw the tablet being more of a fad than a reality, so this could be right, and the fad is played out. Butr even then, fads have a way of coming back.

  • Matthew says:

    How much of it is market saturation? No one (or very few) people had tablets 4 years ago, now tens of millions of people have them. So you’re no longer selling to people who’ve never had one but people who do. I had my ASUS android tablet for 3 years before upgrading to the Galaxy Tab 4, mainly because there was no need. Tablet computing is far outpacing app demands on the hardware so tablets have realistic life spans of 3-4 years, so now that the market is penetrated its not realistic to expect people to buy a new tablet every 2-3 years and the market peaked what last year? It’s far to soon to make this conclusion.

  • Dan says:

    I don’t use my iPad 2 for much other than streaming shows when I lay down and get ready to sleep. I end up using my tablet on a daily basis.

  • Michael Foley says:

    Tablets and smartphones are just reaching stagnation much faster than traditional PCs did. People are still very much interested in them and use them a lot, we just don’t see a need to upgrade every 2 years anymore. I’m still using an Atrix 4G from almost 4 years ago and see little reason to upgrade, granted it was the most powerful ARM powered device at the time.

  • Gimp says:

    Not trying to be silly, but this data is not accurate. Sales numbers is just that sales, not ‘usage’. I’m pretty sure if I bought an Ipad last year and it still works great, chances are i’m not going to buy a new one. Just because ‘sales’ are falling off doesn’t mean that everyone does have their head down using one.

  • I think it’s possible, and agree that the cost of data is a part of the problem. It’s no longer a novel device, and many of my friends who own one say they don’t use it much. I think a greater awareness of cool alternate uses might help sales, e.g. as a second monitor screen with the Air Display app. It’s also too bad a tablet makers haven’t partnered with an auto manufacturers to install a dock in the car’s center console to interact with music, climate control, etc.; that seems like an obvious synergy. I might choose a particular car model just for that feature.

  • Or, how about this. PEOPLE DON’T HAVE MONEY. They don’t have jobs, or they have crap jobs, and they don’t have money for frivolous stuff, or upgrades every year. MAYBE if we had $10-$15/hour minimum wage, people would start buying stuff again, but right now it’s a stretch for the necessary, and stuff that isn’t food, gas, rent, and utilities is not getting bought.

  • Ryan Johnson says:

    If you only making 10 bucks an hour… Learn a skill or trade

    • Ronny Bones says:

      ….. Maybe you missed the point about a lack of funds. Either that or you decided to deliberately be an ass. Education has become a debt racket. If a person isn’t making more than $10 an hour what makes you think they could afford enrollment at a tech school?

  • Tablets are great for media consumption and note taking. They will never replace Mac or P.C.

  • Anonymous says:

    Out of all comments, no one has talked about the 2 in 1’s or windows tablets? Maybe that’s why. Now there are tablets such as the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. It’s a laptop and tablet. It can do full windows programs and run mobile apps too. People just fall for buying the useless ipad.

  • OS Agnostic says:

    I use Windows and Apple machines for biz, productivity, still photo editing, and video editing (where Apple maintains a slight edge, but at a steep price). iPads, which I own and use, are just glorified e-readers. No file management. Jumpy, often unresponsive touchscreen (especially in low humidity). There’s a dramatic difference in website loading speed between my iPad Mini 3 and my 7-year-old Dell XPS running an ancient processor and Win7. Apple’sA7 processor is grossly overrated (and Mackbook Airs use this same crappy chip).

    Most iPad productivity apps require internet connection to work, and a Bluetooth keyboard to fulfill the vaunted Apple ‘user experience’. If all you do is type to Notes, answer emails, and surf (mobile-friendly) websites, iPads are handy (battery life is impressive, and the screen is pretty). Unless you’re decked out wall to wall with an Apple Base Station, Macbook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and iCloud, the iPad is an underperformer for anything other than social media and kiddie video babysitting…which is its most common usage.

    If you’re looking for a tablet COMPUTER, go for a Surface. If you just want entertainment, then the iPad is convenient but surprisingly limited…especially in relation to its hype and pricing.

  • Jane Doe says:

    In order to make the iPad relevant again, I think they need to turn it into something more powerful and productive. They should make the Mac OS X more touch friendly as well as supportive of iOS apps and slap that onto the iPad (a bit like what the ModBook Pro has already done). The iOS joke can then be banned to the iPad mini and iPhones, which are only used as babysitters and by grandmas anyway.

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