Analyst: Tablet will still remain niche

Hype around tablet PCs will likely fizzle, with devices not getting mainstream adoption in the office or home--with or without Apple's entrance.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

With or without Apple's entrance into this category, the tablet PC is likely to remain a niche device, says an analyst.

John Brand, Hydrasight research director, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia that Apple's much-anticipated device is not likely to "resurrect the tablet PC market".

The tablet, introduced to the market to much fanfare a decade ago, has remained largely a niche device for verticals such as healthcare. Retailers back then put it down to a lack of consumer awareness, but 10 years on, the device segment has not moved on to mainstream adoption.

Brand put it down in part to the tablet's form factor. "Users typically want 'passive' computing environments when they're seriously working. That means their effort should be focused on the work, not the machine," he said, explaining that tablet PCs, touted as "arm-helds", are meant to be cradled in one's arms like a clipboard.

"This position does not suit work styles of concentrated effort, especially for long periods of time," he said.

Data input through a stylus and "handwriting" are deemed more natural, but people are able to enter more data and with less fatigue by typing, he noted.

The current hype over tablets, said Brand, is likely to remain that. "Once people's memories fade and they have forgotten the failures of past experiences, or if they believe the technology has improved substantially since, they will typically be keen to try something new again--at least, they will 'one more time'."

Apple may not add sufficient polish
Some analysts are projecting the rumored Apple tablet to be a game changer for the device segment.

According to an Apple Insider report, RBC Capital Markets' Mike Abramsky expects the tablet to reap as much as US$2.8 billion in revenue for the Cupertino company in its first year. He is anticipating 5 million units to be sold at a price of US$500--the product's sweet spot to be a "hit".

The analyst believes that if the tablet retails at US$800, it might end up a "niche" product, although it would still sell for at least a million units, making Apple an estimated US$777 million.

In a more conservative forecast last year, investment firm analysts at Piper Jaffray said the tablet would go for US$600, retailing about two million units in the first year.

Abramsky added that a tablet from Apple would "create" desire for such a device, but Brand expressed doubt over this.

He said: "It's unlikely that even the power of the Apple brand name will be enough to resurrect the tablet PC market."

The tablet may have value in "limited applications", but it is unlikely to become mainstream in the office or the home, said Brand.

"While it may seem sexy to control a computer by recreating scenes from 'The Karate Kid--think 'wax on, wax off'--the reality is that our fingers still require the least amount of effort to enter vast amounts of data," he said.

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