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

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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.

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