Tablets are everywhere, everyone will be buying tablets. That seems to be the mantra for those forecasting consumer electronics sales, but the truth is the iPad is the only tablet that is selling in numbers. While it may seem prudent to base tablet forecasts on the healthy sales numbers of the iPad, the fact is the only proven market for tablets has been built by Apple. Not a single competing tablet has garnered enough consumer sales to even prove there is a market, much less affect it.
The latest numbers by IDC as reported by Between the Lines show this is the case if you read between the lines. That forecast showed that tablet shipments dropped 28 percent in the first quarter of this year, failing to meet previous expectations. A factor in the lower shipping numbers was supply-side problems causing Apple to move less iPads than expected. In spite of the rash of Android tablets released to date, not a single one of them has sold in volumes to prove a sizable market exists for non-iPads.
In spite of the drop in tablets shipped in the first quarter, IDC raised its forecast for the rest of the year to 53.5 million. It based that increased forecast on "the entrance of competitive new devices in the second half of 2011", while admitting that "demand for the category may not be quite as strong as recent media hype suggests". In other words there has been no proof to date that a sizable consumer market exists for tablets that are not iPads.
It is not clear what competitive new devices might be hitting later this year to grab a big piece of that tablet pie. Android tablets released to date haven't set any sales records, in fact some companies producing them have reduced production capacity for them due to low sales. On the non-Android front, neither the PlayBook from RIM nor the recently released TouchPad from HP have gotten good press. Both of those companies have stated they are focusing those tablets on the enterprise due to worst-than-expected launches. That doesn't sound like either will set the consumer world on fire.
Should companies producing consumer tablets give up? Heavens no, I hope they keep making lots of shiny new tablets to keep us entertained. But I don't believe they should bet the farm on the commercial success of them just yet, and I certainly don't think analysts should be forecasting huge consumer sales. I have two Android tablets, a PlayBook, and a TouchPad, but I am still not convinced there is a consumer market for tablets without an Apple logo on the back.