Whatya got? And how many?

Posted: 09.26.12

If you are a regular sufferer of this page, then you’ve heard me rant on (and on) about the misconception that tablets and phones are killing off PCs. My position has been, and is, that one new thing seldom kills off an existing thing, especially when commerce, productivity, and creativity are involved with the existing thing(s). Notice I didn’t include entertainment in my litany. That’s because entertain­ ment devices do seem to kill off the previous generation—cassettes knocked off 8­track, only to be killed by CDs, which in turn were abandoned in favor of MP3.

And even as one entertainment de­ vice replaced the other, both were kept and overlapped in their use. The invest­ ment in libraries of cassettes wasn’t changed out overnight by CDs.

The overlap is all the more true when dealing with productivity and data transfer. A perfect example of that concept is all the computers that are three to ten years old still running XP. And yet, the users of those systems cer­ tainly have a smartphone, and probably a tablet—and those shiny new toys did not kill the PC being used.

CEA ran a survey in the late spring (see chart) and found that yes, tablets are indeed popular, and they are being bought at a rapid rate, but the buyers are not abandoning their PCs.

And even though tablets are growing at a phenomenal rate—83% in 2012, dropping to 23% in 2013 in the U.S. (according to CEA’s report)—it’s going to take a while for tablets to reach par­ ity with PCs. Forecasts vary, and using ours, we think if the education mar­ ket for tablets clicks in, then tablet sales could surpass PC sales worldwide around 2018, give or take a year.


However, as the data shows, tablet owners tend to be technology consum­ ers, and therefore if that characteris­ tics prevails, they will continue to pur­ chase PCs as well as tablets, and smart­ phones—but the rates will be different.

But here’s the irony: the thing that tablets and smartphones are killing off are the entertainment devices. Smartphones have all but killed off MP3 play­ ers, and tablets are killing off portable DVD players, and they both are killing off GPS units.

Will tablets kill off the e­book read­ er? It’s an entertainment device; how about a DSC digital camera, what about game consoles?

Will tablets kill off TV because you can watch videos on them and stream live TV to them? After all, a TV is an entertainment device. It begs the ques­ tion—will motorcycles kill off cars, or visa versa?

Have tablets and smartphones slowed the sales of DSCs? Yes. Have tablets slowed the sales of TVs? Yes. Have tablets slowed the sales of PCs? Yes. But TVs and PCs are not like cas­ settes, MP3, or CD players. TVs and PCs are multifunction devices, and the tablet can’t match either the PC or the TV on all the functions with the same level of delivery and usability. And al­ though e­book readers are basically a single­function device, in a jujitsu­like twist they are becoming tablets.

Therefore, we won’t have one or the other, we’ll have all the above, and now the data proves it. And it’s my pos­ tulation that not only will tablets and smartphones not kill PCs or TVs, and not only will we have them all, but we’ll have multiples of them. Just as we have multiple TVs and PCs, we’ll have multi­ ple phones and tablets, too. We’ll have a 7­inch and a 10­inch tablet, and prob­ ably an e­book reader too.

The factor that’s going to warp the data in the next few years with regard to tablets’ growth is the education mar­ ket. When it finally kicks in, probably in 2014, tablet sales are going to grow dra­ matically, and all the pundits and stock pickers will see that as meaning the end of TV, PC, cameras, and e­book readers, GPS, and maybe game consoles. The ed­ ucational tablet sales are going to chal­ lenge the survey takers to tease out what devices the consumer owns vs. what he or she does with them.

This issue isn’t settled yet; don’t be­ lieve everything you’re told without looking behind the curtain.