Falling tablet sales: The problem is they're just too good

Falling tablet sales: The problem is they're just too good

Summary: Falling tablet sales make the news regularly with folks concerned that the buying public is ready to cast tablets aside. The fact is they're just too good, and owners feel no need to upgrade.

Tablet use
(Image: ZDNet UK)

If you follow the news of the mobile tech industry, you have likely seen stories about dropping tablet sales. These are often accompanied by an analysis that wonders if the buying public is ready to cast tablets aside and move on the something new.

The latest example of tablets in the news was an interview of Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly by Walt Mossberg of Re/code. Joly made the statement that tablet sales are “crashing," and that set analyst pens into overdrive. Fact is, Joly went on to admit that “crashing” is a strong term.

I don’t think that interest in tablets is waning, everywhere you go you see owners happily using one tablet or another. They carry them everywhere they go and whip them out every chance they get. They have replaced the laptop in many cases for many owners.

So why are sales dropping? I think the reason is simple, and a tribute to the evolution of the tablet. The fact is, current tablets are well-made and fill owners’ needs nicely. They do what the owner wants, simply and enjoyably, and the hardware is very solid.

Also at play here is how fast the tablet space exploded. Sales have been huge, and odds are most prospective tablet buyers have already bought at least one. Factor in the lack of upgrade purchases and sales almost have to go down.

This applies to both Andoid tablets and iPads. They are good devices that owners find to be just what they need. This has the undesirable effect (for tablet makers) that when the next generation model is released, owners feel no need to upgrade. The new model may have better hardware inside, but they do the same things the older model can do.

In the Mossberg interview, Joly admitted this is the case:

The issue has then been that, once you have a tablet of a certain generation, it’s not clear that you have to move on to the next generation.

This may be catching tablet makers by surprise, especially those that have been in the smartphone business for a while. Unlike with tablets, smartphone owners have been known to anxiously await the next iPhone or Android smartphone to upgrade as soon as their carrier contract is up.

That’s the big factor in smartphone upgrades, the contract. One impact of the phone contract is it causes the customer to start thinking about getting a new phone, even if his/her current one is working fine. As the contract end date approaches, many owners start doing market research to pick a new phone. It’s like the contract gets people pumped up to buy a new handset.

Smartphone OEMs have come to count on these upgrade sales, so once they entered the tablet business they expected the same behavior. They saw some customers upgrade in the early days of the tablet, as many models were, frankly, not that good. The tablets evolved over time, however, and now most major brands on the market are more than good enough.

With tablet owners finding their needs adequately met, they don’t think about getting the latest and greatest. They keep happily using their old tablet, and OEMs feel the pinch of lower sales numbers. Meanwhile analysts decide that tablets are doomed, even though millions are using them and satisfied with the experience.

See related:

Topics: Mobility, Android, iPad, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The quality of the hardware is often good enough

    And with the continued software improvements to each version of your chosen platform, the hardware only gets better.
    Personally, from a Jelly Bean 4.1 tablet now with KK4.4.4 on it, it just keeps getting faster.
    • Speed Not Necessary

      The tablet is just one of my arsenal of screen sizes: cell phone, tablet, laptop(hybrid), desk top. They are 3.5", 9", 15", 3X24" respectively. The tablet niche is for book and news reader. The tablet that I have does it job nicely. The battery makes it threw the day. You do not need a lot of speed. All you need is a high resolution screen.

      I find that over the years I have had to upgrade my laptop now hybrid more often than anything. It provides my real computing power on the go. I keep looking for more processor power, Wi-Fi speed, storage, and battery life. Also, I use them so much I occasionally kill keyboards. I do not see and end to the pursuit of the laptop/hybrid upgrade cycle.
    • don't believe this iLimited autor :)

      1) tablets are up (Android) between years
      2) just ipad go down
    • Honestly, that's not it at all...

      Pretty much anyone who wanted a tablet has already purchased one.

      Many have moved back to Laptops, Desktops, eReaders, or Phablets instead of grabbing another Tablet.

      The truth is, while they're handy, they're not incredibly useful.
    • 3 tablets in my family.....

      With the oldest going to my parents to finally get them off an XP PC which we're junking. They Skype their grand kids, and email. They love their new 3- year old tablet. Still working like new. I tried to give away my 3- year old laptop when I replaced it with a new HP, but no-one wanted it, and I certainly didn't want to give it to my parents or else I'd be maintaining it for them for the next 5 years.

      The article is correct. The hardware (particularly the Apple stuff) seems to just keep working. I sat on a plane last night alongside a pilot with an ipad 2 which was loaded with ATC documentation. It was battered and not re-saleable, but still working fine. And vital to her.

      My current 4G tablet is a vital part of my life. I take it with me on every trip, even a ½ hour visit to a cafe for an espresso. Through it I remain in touch and connected with the things that are important to me. I never take my laptop unless I am on business, and then it stays in my checked baggage. I won't replace my tablet with a new one unless I there is something compelling. I will replace my phone in the next 3 months, because I know there will be something compelling coming up.
    • Your right, the article is right. Its obvious.

      What works for PC's works for tablets when your dealing with the exact same issues. And essentially with the questions in relation to market action for both, they are pretty much the same and not dealing with radically different dynamics.

      I myself said for ages now, that the issue surrounding slumping PC sales is the bluntly obvious fact that the countless millions of Joe Average consumers and Joe Average businesses with the only bias towards that of being productive, and for businesses making a profit, they are quite happy with their current operating system and hardware and have no particular reason to upgrade. Everyone, at least the vast majority have what the need.

      Unlike the far too often biased opinions of far to many rabid posters around here I also believe that's what good for the goose is indeed good for the gander.

      In other words, where there are not significantly differing factors ruling the dynamics of the market, what applies to PC's will quite often apply to tablets. So.....

      ...it would only stand to reason that if people do typically stop purchasing tech once they have what currently does what they want in a reliable way they quickly loose inspiration to upgrade, and if the market is saturated, new purchases decline enormously as well. Of course.

      Its not because PC's are now eliminating tablets. That is a nonsensical ideology. Ever bit as much the notion that tablets are eliminating PC's explain reduced PC sales in significant numbers. Whats good for the goose is good for the gander; one supposition is fairly similarly as ridiculous as the other for what should be some very obvious reasons.

      I know that there are plenty of those around here that have made it part of their life's goal to go to war against one IT company or another. It makes absolutely no sense to me but then again war seldom does make a lot of sense. Why people cant simply accept that once you have several million people very happily using a product that's works magnificently for them, that even though the product itself may not be your first choice; or even second choice, it dosnt mean the product is crap. The fact actually is that the millions alone that use the product in happiness is usually some very good evidence that while the product may be many things, some of that evidenced in the products imperfections, it is none the less not crap. In fact for many, its inescapably the best thing for them.

      The fact is that for many who bought tablets quite some time back, we have heard numerous times that extended ownership has given them a more fulsome understanding of what most tablets are all about. And for many people what they are all about does indeed turn out to be a little to a lot less then what they thought they might be getting. It doesn't mean they are crap, it just means they are something a little different than what some people felt they were lead to believe they were. The fact remains that practically all modern tablets actually do what they are supposed to do very well.

      The fact also is they are not PC replacements and they indeed will suffer from the same dynamics of anything in this world that only replicates a lesser part of a different products abilities. And that is, even if the somewhat lesser product has built in convenience factors that give them an advantage in convenience, because of the fact they only replicate SOME of the full operating system computers there will indeed be times that for the average consumer, or even business employee, that the added mobile convenience factors just don't translate into over all convenience in many circumstances and as a result they are definitely going to find themselves being used a little les then when curious new purchasers are trying to make the most of them in the early ownership phase.

      So yes, there is plenty of ample evidence to show the tablet form factor has reached critical mass and until new models with improved abilities that make even more versatile come along, tablets are obviously going to suffer from market saturation from devices that are "good enough".
  • or maybe just useless

    Don't know about too good, yes mine has a larger screen than my phone, but I hardly use my tablet. Its more of a toy, why would I want to buy another one?

    Most of my computing needs are handled by my desktop, mail and phone calls on my phone.
    • Useless?

      I, too, disagree with the author's contention. After owning an iPad and Miix2, I still contend that tablets are good for "media consumption" and laptops and desktops are for "media creation", and I have found no real need for a tablet
      Ira Seigel
  • The problem is that iOS /Android tablets are an utter waste of money.

    If you have a smartphone then iOS/Android tablet is a total waste of money. Consumers have realised their mistake and are not opting for upgrades.

    Windows tablets are different, they can be used for Work and personal use.
    • Evidence says the opposite. as ever.

      Android and Apple devices, as the article says, are used happily in their millions. And they're as good as the day they were made.

      Windows devices sludge up with the sheer weight of redundant software, and need replacing every couple years.

      You can be as snobbish as you like about what people use them for, while you play with your laptop disguised as a tablet. But that changes nothing.
      • happily in their millions, but no one upgrading.

        Why? because iOS/Android tablets are just paper weight or kids toys.
        • Huh?

          How often do people upgrade laptops? If you're happy with something why would you need to upgrade it anyway?
      • Laugh! Hahaha!

        Very amusing... my son's Surface is still working fine and responsively nearly 18 months in... and it lets him look at Flash sites and play nicely with his laptop and phone
      • Soundfss like you're trying to make lemonade out of lemons


        I feel sorry for you, to be honest, you're need to try and spin everything MS related to try and gain some sense of peace. (they do have doctors that can help you with that).

        I mean on one day when someone says that people aren';t upgrading PC's because the hardware is so much better (who needs to upgrades a Core 2 duo to an i3?) you cry "no it's because they don't need MS, it has zero to do with the hardware".

        Then a story like this comes along and you cry "hardware has everything to do with people not upgerading their tablets!"

        You talk out both side of your butt so much, I'm surprised Google still employs you, as nobody in their right mind would go to the lengths you do for their own ammusement.

        that would make you nothing but a petty, childish person, or maybe a little bit on the slow side...
      • Funny guy.

        My Surface Pro is 1st generation and almost three years old. Updates have actually made significant improvement to experience and, to a lesser extent, performance. I would love to know what specific sludge apps you refer to. I could use more cool junk sound effect apps. Grow up kid. Surface is an awesome tablet experience and far exceeds what I got from my iPad or Galaxy Tab and you can't compare the laptop experience since that is, for all practical intents and purposes, non-existent.
        The Heretic
    • lol

      That's why Windows tablets are outselling Android and iOS tablets 10 to 1... oh wait.
    • Losing My MS religion

      After making a living supporting Windows for nearly 2 decades, I've grown tired of features that don't work or get "deprecated" from version to version. The number of issues I've had with Windows Update failures, offline cache anomalies, "libraries" being added then deprecated, and letting MS shift from Backup, to Image, to File History has begun to turn me off on the platform.

      I don't want a tablet that's going to need as much care and feeding as a desktop. I *never* want to have to "regedit" my tablet, nor watch as a Windows Update "Fix It" tool, fails to actually "fix it".
      • Don't forget patch Tuesday

        That's the issue when trying to turn a legacy coded desktop OS into a consumer electronic device.
        • So

          You'd rather they just leave 'consumer electronics' high and dry in terms of getting a decent number of updates?
          Michael Alan Goff
      • Not sure what you're doing to a Windows 8 tablet...

        I have a Sony Flip, A Surface Pro, and other installs of Windows 8.1 and have none of the issues you speak of. Personally because I like to start out fresh every now and then I will even do a factory reset just to start clean and that can be performed in minutes with a few clicks. I also run as Standard User and so can't muck up my OS. And updates just run in the background, I hardly see them.

        Not sure what you're doing to your PCs.
        Rann Xeroxx