Why the iPad Mini Is a Disruptive Technology

The "PC Cliff" -- and why small tablets will become the most important tablets for consumers.

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Now that the iPad Mini has been out for a while and many of us at Creative Strategies have been testing them, it is becoming clear to us that this 7.9” form factor (or most 7” inch models) will become the most important tablets for consumers in the future.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is that these tablets are light, thin and, in the iPad Mini’s case, deliver a best in breed tablet experience. Also, these smaller tablets will always be cheaper than larger tablets because the bill of material (BOM) cost for smaller versions will always be less than the bigger models.

As I have personally used the iPad Mini for some time now, I have begun to see my usage patterns with tablets change significantly. Before the iPad Mini, the tablet I used the most was the full-size iPad. Although I also used my 7-inch Kindle Fire HD often for reading and media consumption, the iPad was my real go-to tablet device. And it became even more important to me once I added the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover to it: It’s now used for content consumption as well as productivity.

However, there is an 80/20 rule that is becoming an important metric when it comes to tablets and PCs. It turns out most consumers can do about 80% of the most common tasks they do with a PC on a tablet, and any other key tasks, such as media management, large spreadsheets, music and video servers, and the like are designated to the computer. But once I started using the iPad Mini, I found that it became my go-to device because of its lightweight, small size and literal duplication of everything I have on the iPad.

There is an interesting twist to this. When my only tablet was my iPad, I defaulted to my laptop for heavy lifting tasks. But once I started using the iPad Mini, I found myself defaulting to the 9.7” iPad with its keyboard as my main productivity device. I found that in this case, a 90/10  rule kicked in. I spent 90% of my time on these tablets and only about 10% on my laptop.

Now I realize that this may not be a broad trend, but we are hearing the same type of feedback in our early consumer interviews. Although fresh and not fully completed research, many people who have an iPad Mini are sharing similar stories. Almost all that we talked to told us that the role of the laptop has diminished for them significantly since they got the iPad, and were now using the iPad Mini more frequently than their larger iPads.

When I asked them if they were interested in buying a new Windows PC or laptop, their comments were pretty consistent. They said that if the PC were only used 10-20% of the time, they would most likely just extend the life of their PCs or laptops instead of buying new ones. And if they did buy a new PC or laptop, it would be the cheapest they could find. They could no longer justify a more expensive and powerful version if it mostly sat at home and was used infrequently for more data- or media-intensive apps.

I suspect that this scenario with consumers may play out a lot more in the future, and at the very least, their tablets do handle the majority of their daily digital needs. I believe that a PC as we know it today will continue to lose its primary role in the home given its lack of use more often than not.

If this trend does play itself out as I have suggested, the impact on the traditional PC market could be very disruptive within two to three years. As consumers buy inexpensive small tablets that will only get better in performance, screen clarity and apps, the use of these tablets will supersede their PC use, and demand for PCs and laptops could decrease significantly.

While PCs and laptops will never go away, they may soon play a different role for consumers than they have in the past. And if tablets increase their role as the dominant devices consumers use to access the majority of their digital needs, then the impact on PC demand has to be affected down the road. In fact, some key industry insiders call this the “PC Cliff,” suggesting that we could see a time in the not-too-distant future where demand for PCs falls by a steep amount, giving way to tablets as the major growth segment of the PC industry.

Interestingly, there could be a silver lining for traditional PC vendors if they innovate quickly. In my comments above, I mentioned that the iPad Mini has now become my go-to tablet while the original iPad with the Logitech keyboard is now my cross over device handling consumption and productivity. And my use of my laptop has declined as a result of this. But for me, the iPad with a keyboard has become kind of a laptop replacement. It is touch based, lighter than any laptop I could ever own, has an average 10-hour battery life, is instant-on and runs most of the apps I need, as well as giving me a very rich web browsing experience.

But my iPad with keyboard is really what we in the industry call a hybrid. It’s a touch-based tablet tied to a detachable keyboard. Microsoft’s Surface falls into this category as does HP’s Envy X2 – which HP calls it a convertible. The nomenclature for this seems to be ever changing but we define a convertible as a tablet/keyboard combo that does not detach, while a hybrid is a tablet with a detachable keyboard.

The interest in the hybrids, as we define them, is high, especially in enterprise. However, the demand for Windows RT-based hybrids like the Surface is somewhat muted since it does not have backward compatibility with existing Windows software. Instead, the hybrids we are seeing great interest in, both with consumers and business users, are Windows 8 devices that use an x86 chip and have full backwards compatibility with existing Windows software, like HP’s Envy X2 Convertible. But if the scenario I suggest plays out, it will be these hybrids that drive some of the “laptop” sales in the future, while demand for more traditional laptops could wane.

I believe that the iPad Mini and smaller tablets will be even more disruptive to the traditional PC market than the full-size iPad has been to date. We can envision a time soon where a user has a 7” tablet that is used mostly for content consumption, email and web browsing, and a hybrid to pick up any productivity slack they may have. The bottom line is, the more consumers use tablets of either size, the more they realize that the laptop or PC in the home is overkill, and decide to either just keep the one they have longer or buy the cheapest PC they can for any extra computing needs they may have that a tablet can’t do.

There is another scenario that could play out that is not as drastic as a PC cliff. This is where people decide they want the best tablet they can buy as well as the best laptop, no matter its price. However, even if that does happen, the amount of premium laptops sold compared to cheap PCs will be small. Still, a premium PC or laptop has solid margins, while laptops under $499 have small margins.

I believe that some type of PC cliff could happen, and if so, it could change the fortunes of the traditional PC vendors considerably. We don’t ever expect the PC to go completely away, but its role in a family or even in business could change in ways we don’t even understand at this early stage of the tablet market. However, the more research we do on this subject, the more we see the writing on the wall. We think that the PC industry is going to suffer a major adjustment in the next two to three years.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.

61 comments
dmhernandez061
dmhernandez061

For the casual user who just surf the net or watch youtube, clips, facebook and the like it is great. But for heavy gaming a tablet will never compare to a pc or at least to a pc monitor. The day the tablet processing power equals that of a pc  you will attach a 27inch monitor and a physical keyboard and voila! you have a new pc to run 3dmodeling software and more that many people also use. The modular pc age is coming.

markallan121
markallan121

@brianwhalley have you had a chance to try the mini yet? Debating on dropping iPad for one... Maybe wait until improved screen resolution

carambs
carambs

@candicequimpo …great combination. Mini for the most mobile stuff, Air for most work stuff, and iMac as my main home computer.

carambs
carambs

@candicequimpo But the iPad Mini replaced the big one, I don’t use them together. I find that the iPad Mini + MacBook Air + iMac is a…

carambs
carambs

@candicequimpo Yes and no. I use the iPad Mini way more than I used the big iPad because it was just too damn heavy.

mahadragon
mahadragon

I don't understand why so many people say, "I don't think I would like the smaller iPad cause it's too small" and then they use it for a while and they fall in love with it. I played around with the Android 10" tablets and the 7" tablets when they first came out couple years ago and I knew instantly that the 7" form factor was much more desirable because it felt more natural and easier to hold in the hand. Not to mention, the screen size is just right to be able to easily read web pages, emails, and such.

Are you people not bothering to try the device before you buy it or form an opinion on it? I for one, always try to make an attempt to look at it and feel it before coming to a conclusion.

groblewis
groblewis

Jobs said it years ago: "PCs are the trucks of the computing industry." 

liz78254
liz78254

These devices are convenient up to a point. As a student, typing a 5 page report on an tablet, whatever brand it may be, would be highly annoying. So many applications I need for school and work for projects that just can't be done on a tablet. I use desktops probably 40% of the time, my smartphone constantly for emails and facebook, and laptop where ever. I will be using my new tablet for taking notes with a stylus, I want to try use less paper, but I can't let go of handwritten notes. My laptop is also getting old and has problem booting, so I am using the purchase as a laptop replacement as it is fully functioning in excel, one of the few microsoft products I can't live without. I do like the idea that people are pushing to make their laptops last longer. I feel we are pressured too much to get the newest and greatest device. Not focused on what we need our devices to do. Like I said I can check my email and facebook on my phone, do I need another advice for entertainment or to get work done. I have to ask myself though, are any of these items saving me time or make me more productive? This article seems like a big advertisement for apple products, I don't like how every apply product seems to have its own charger.

Jayman
Jayman

Nexus 7 is the tablet to beat in the 'mini' category. iPad Mini is not even close. Laptops are totally redundant in the age of tablets. With most users being merely content consumers, the PC is doomed to a much smaller share of the computing pie (20%?).

Somnonaut
Somnonaut

The Google Nexus runs rings around the stupid Mini. How ridiculous an operating system that cannot multitask in the 21st Century. TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE operating system. Mac will be dead in about 4 years anwway now that Jobs has died. There is no life left in the company.

christopherchu518
christopherchu518

Awful piece. The title was a total lie. Ipad mini is late in the game of 7 inch tablets. Author is just trying to stay relevant by posting redundant rubbish. 

matthewsimpso
matthewsimpso

Now imagine if you have a keyboard case for your iPad Mini? Your laptop would become a long forgotten relic of a world that you used to know....

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Yet another drooling, rabid fanatic trying to put a positive spin on a device that is clunky, out-dated, contains nothing whatsoever that's innovative or really new, has a crippled form factor to begin with (all tablets do), is not as portable as other tablets, is made from left-over material from a tablet two generations old that costs fifty percent more than other devices that are more advanced, faster, and better.

I mean, wow, really?  What's next on the rabidly delusional advocacy parade?  Lining up to pay to do some face banging against a really nicely painted brick wall because it feels so good when you stop?

TomJones
TomJones

Oh, I am a bit on the slow side today! I thought he was gonna say "disruptive" in the sense that these things are little better than toys (you know, entertaining things made for us to waste our time on) kind of disruptive.

What he's really saying is that we all oughta just drop everything and rush to the nearest iWherever and waste time in line buying yet another iGizmo we could probably do without, because Apple once again says we CAN'T do without (put name of gizmo here ____), so we can play Angry Birds is all it's HD, shiny Apple coated, patented rounded rectangle thingy glory!

And still not be able to produce work on it. Yup, I'll get right on it.

TobyMutambo
TobyMutambo

But just as a non-geek from Uganda in Africa where an ipad costs a fortune if you have an ipad what added value is there in owning an ipad mini ??? is it not just the same thing only smaller ? might i not call that extravagance ? in a world where some people live on less than a dollar a day

TobyMutambo
TobyMutambo

I am a Land Surveyor who uses my laptop a lot for CAD drafting which I can never do with a tablet. I actually bought a tablet and gave it away because it was so awkward to use without a stand. There is no way you can use a tablet for CAD drafting unless there is a tablet which uses a mouse so in my opinion I would agree with the previous comment, that at the end of the day for the average everyday user, work will still be done on traditional pcs and laptops and tablets will be more recreational

Chosun1
Chosun1

As far as I'm concerned, tablets are somewhere between glorified toys and glorified smart phones.  I am a law professor and before that I was a practicing finance lawyer.  There is no way a tablet comes close to being able to do the work necessary for anyone who has a document intensive life.  The 80/20 rule is nonsense.

ScottSernaker
ScottSernaker

I gotta agree with some who feel that most of the predictions have already happened.  The PC cliff has already happened, and the Laptop/Netbook cliff is in progress (from smart phones and tablets).  They'll still be around with us having one per household instead of one per person, but they've become minor players.  The next game changer will be the dirt cheap Android tablets from India and China.  A year from now a 7" tablet with good specs will be under $50 (currently on sale for $60), and a 10" tablet will be below $100.  It wont be an either or but rather we'll have both, and people who need something a little larger will have it as well (might have to pay $120 for a 14" tablet).  Android is a solid platform and with heavy use in China and India, apps will be written.  We'll be using a large tablet for watching videos and playing games while the smaller tablets will have other uses (carry in your purse).Yeah, workstations will still be around for power users, but it isn't like I can't use the HDMI outlet on my $100 tablet, plug in a mouse/keyboard, and use web based applications.

Lucky2BHerre
Lucky2BHerre

Mr. Safe. Mr. Behind-the-curve.

Bajarin, your prognostication is ... not at all a prognostication. Things you believe will happen are common sense and have already been beat to death elsewhere. I wish I had a job like yours. State the obvious, then get a check.

Of course 7" tablets are handy. Wonder of all wonders, it's their - wait for the orchestra's crescendo - size! Unless you have a major investment in Apple, or you were a great friend to We-will-never-make-a-7"-tablet-Steve Jobs, join the rest of the world; they've figured this out already.

I would also put a dollop of sense into your tablet-replacing-PC theory, which, by the way, is already playing out. If you haven't noticed, myriad tablets are already coming from established PC brands, not to mention the OEMs who build them. It's not rocket science, and it doesn't require a crystal ball (or a bunch of "research") to see as the price/value/utility ratio changes people will buy more of what allows them to work and play with more ease and less cost. As processors and memory get cheaper, faster and smaller; form factors become more rational (7" vs. 10" for daily use); OSs become better; and software developers create better applications, people will find - and I'm going out on a limb, here - more value.

Really, the only question is which companies will move quickly and most effectively as the landscape changes. I dare say, many of them already have plans in place. Why don't you spend all that research acumen on that question?

Jazz
Jazz

I'm so unbelievably tired of computing publications telling me that I can do 80% of everything I need to do on a tablet. Really? So you're saying I can:

• Run PostgreSQL in the background,

• Run a Ruby on Rails development environment in the background,

• Inspect the source HTML, CSS, and JavaScript of a web page I've loaded,

• Run arbitrary JavaScript from the console of that web page,

• Edit Ruby and PHP source code in an editor with syntax highlighting and predictive completion,

• Specify exactly what filesystem path my edited source files save to, so that they can include each other,

• View the filesystem and move source files around, including duplicating, deleting, and renaming them,

• Bring up a website and a database client side-by-side in two windows, and watch the site change as the database is edited,

• Install and run OpenVPN (without jailbreaking my tablet) so that I can connect to our production stack,

• Run Internet Explorer so I can verify that my CSS and JS will work on that browser, and

• Have multiple bootable partitions on the tablet, with multiple versions of the tablet's OS, for regression testing

... on my iPad? Really? Because that's what I do with 80% of my time. When an iPad can do that, then all of these computing blogs and magazines can tell us that we're living in the post-PC world. Until then, we would really appreciate it it if they toned down the hyperbole and focused a bit more on reality. And the reality is that for anyone who does anything more interesting with a computer than reading their friends' inane prattlings on Facebook, we are still living in a very PC world.

How many serious composers or producers are there out there who have thrown out their laptops, and now have a slower USB controller so they can record directly to their tablet and multi-touch their way to a grand and sweeping film score? NONE. How many video editors do you know who are ditching their towers with 4TB RAIDs and 30" dual monitors for the microscopic 64GB and 10" screen of an iPad? NONE. How many of the thousands of apps in the iPad's App Store or Android Market or Google Play were coded, start-to-finish, on a tablet, without needing a full-blown PC to compile and test? NONE. How many web apps have been coded, tested, and deployed all from a tablet? NONE.

When these numbers are above zero, then, and only then, can computing journalists tell us we are living in a post-PC world. Until then, you're full of bunk, and we'll thank you to shut up so the rest of us can get some work done.

Joy11455
Joy11455

As the owner of an iPad 2, a netbook and a desktop PC with 8 GB RAM and a 1 TB HD, I can tell you that I do most of my work on the iPad, save my files to DropBox and do final tweaks in Office 2010 if needed. I do use the PC for Adobe CS 5.5. I do use a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad at least part of the time. Regarding screen size, there's an app for that...I can clone my iPad display to my PC monitor, but typically don't as the iPad is a more personal device and the resolution is excellent - I'm 57 years old and have already had cataract surgery on both eyes, so I can speak to this issue. I plan on buying an iPad Mini 4G 64GB after the holidays. My hope is that eventually Microsoft and Adobe will make iPad versions of Office and CS available, I would be ok with Apple offering a 256 GB iPad as well! I have bought my last desktop PC and while I might purchase another netbook or notebook it would be as a supplement to my iPads!

vermont.hermit
vermont.hermit

How old is this reviewer? Does he suffer from arthritic fingers? How is his vision?  It seems to me that desktops with full sized keyboards and large monitors will always be the pc of choice for seniors. I'm 60 yrs old. I don't use anything but a desktop, and I don't believe that I am losing any "valuable" experience by doing so. I can hit the key I intend to hit, and actually read my monitor screen without squinting.

No matter how cool or cutting edge kids find new technology, it doesn't mean crap if the owner cannot physically use it. 

Alex_Angelico
Alex_Angelico

I'm going to tease out a few statements that I think the article makes, either explicitly or through implication.

1) The full-size workstation computer can't be beaten as a productivity platform (at this point, I'd say the difference between a laptop and desktop workstation is one of degree rather than type, so this statement covers both).

2) The large family of tablet computers (9" to 11") provide adequate functionality for an array of productivity applications.

3) The small family of tablet computers (6" to 8") are, broadly speaking, inadequate for productivity applications.

4) All of the above are suited to media consumption.

I agree with all of these, but I disagree with the conclusions that are drawn from them. As other commenters have already noted below, size matters for productivity--and I think it follows from that, logically and intuitively, that it matters for content consumption too. People like having more space to do things, whether it be office work or watching videos; we like larger displays. As such, everything a small tablet can do, a large one can do better--and not simply in terms of screen space, but the availability of more internal volume to house better hardware. Small tablets don't even offer a distinct advantage in terms of form factor. We use them in the same way and store them in the same places as we do large tablets.

So why do small tablets exist at all? Obviously there is legitimate demand for them, and I doubt it will fade completely. But I think a large proportion of consumers who have recently bought or are soon to buy a small tablet are being driven by novelty (in the consumer electronics market, what a surprise that would be!). I also think a lot of them are first-time tablet owners who didn't want to jump into the deep end of the market, but I don't have evidence for this.

Following from these assumptions, I don't think it will be more than a couple years before want of screen space settles the majority of potential tablet consumers in the large tablet market. And given that full-size workstations will continue to prevail as the ultimate productivity platform, I certainly don't see masses of people dropping traditional PCs in favor of two tablets of slightly different dimensions. They'd be boxing themselves into limited-capability lifestyles with redundant hardware. Furthermore, due to their size I think that small tablets have to compete with smartphones and e-readers. Both of these offer unique capabilities that small tablets don't replicate (that old thing called phone calling, as well as e-ink display technology). So there's another force that will push small tablets into a niche-sized market.

But hey, whatever happens in the short-term, these trends will be irrelevant in 10-20 years when all of the technological advantages of different computing platforms start to consolidate around variable form-factor design principles.

P.S. I think it's silly referring to the iPad Mini generically as a "technology", particularly since Apple was beaten to the small tablet market by Amazon, B&N, and Google.

Reagy
Reagy

Whoever said that people will need a physical keyboard in the future hasn't seen younger kids type out blisteringly fast speeds, approaching 40-60 wpm on their iPhones and iPads.

I think the author of this piece thinks that because he needs a physical keyboard everyone else must need one too - couldn't be further from the truth.

Sent from my iPhone!

jpadhiyar
jpadhiyar

Calling an innovative edge a disruptive technology doesn't make much sense. Good points made about how usage patterns shift but then, it's like calling 4" screens disruptive technology when the world of full of 2.8-3.5" screens. Apple has decided that a 7" mini tablet isn't good enough and so they decide on another dimension. What's disruptive here? It's innovation. Tell me who else thought of and implemented the 7.9" display well?

ron_luce
ron_luce

Tech pundits tend to overthink these issues and this article is no different. 

I think the current formats all have their usefulness.

I'll take one of each, thank-you.  

A full computer for working.

A tablet for watching media.

A e-reader (or small tablet) for sustained reading.

And and a phone for walking around.

Which combination of these you buy depends on what you do in life.

kenharmsfl10
kenharmsfl10

There's a few other new Tablets released this month - - I recently reviewed the Novo 7 Flame 32GB Android tablet which just recently launched - and it offers some pretty impressive features - - it's a 7 inch tablet priced at $189 at a site called TabletSprint -- And it's sleek and compact and offers a 1280x800 High Resolution screen, Dual Core CPU, 32GB Memory, MicroSD portable storage, an HDMI connection to your TV with full 1080p (HD) that's great for movie downloads, a 5-megapixel Rear Camera with AF & LED Flash and a 2 MP webcam; Plus great connection - Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet, and options for 3G. The tablet is made by Ainol Electronics, which received a "Best Tablet of the Year" award at CNET Consumer Electronics Show 2012 -

nomadicchick
nomadicchick

@MalloryOnTravel In layperson's, non-techy girl language - iPad mini good, but not useful for blogging or storing photos?

brianwhalley
brianwhalley

@markallan121 Yes, indeed, got one when at AGU. I guess a 'retina' will appear soon but Ver1 is good. R U in Sheffield, could bring it in.

divineplace
divineplace

You are spot on! I think by his "usage" he may mean "spending time consuming media" i.e. watching movies and videos which constitute less than 10% of what a PC is supposed to do...

Lucky2BHerre
Lucky2BHerre

@kenharmsfl10 You keep popping up on other sites. Same spiel. Stop marketing your products in these posts.

MalloryOnTravel
MalloryOnTravel

@nomadicchick I believe its the best of the bunch Jeannie :) so guess that means useful

LawrenceRillera
LawrenceRillera

@candicequimpo @carambs I’m 2/3 there. Waiting for next gen mini.

nomadicchick
nomadicchick

@MalloryOnTravel I have heard it still can't replace a computer though for storage and photos/video editing. Otherwise, I'd like it!

candicequimpo
candicequimpo

@LawrenceRillera Still want a mini! LOL @carambs

LawrenceRillera
LawrenceRillera

@carambs @candicequimpo Rumor is that big iPad will take design inspiration from mini and iPhone 5: thinner, lighter, metal.

carambs
carambs

@candicequimpo @LawrenceRillera or buy one now but you SHOULD get the retina model when it comes out. :) Iba talaga yung retina!

carambs
carambs

@candicequimpo @LawrenceRillera If you haven’t bought yet, wait na lang for the next. Apple trend - within 6 months siguro.

candicequimpo
candicequimpo

@LawrenceRillera When will that be though? I want a Mini now, but I won't be updating if I get one. @carambs

carambs
carambs

@LawrenceRillera @candicequimpo Yes. I think that will be awesome. Retina!!!

nomadicchick
nomadicchick

@MalloryOnTravel For sure. I was THIS close to getting iPad before, but the backlight and cost at the time deterred me. #applegroupie

MalloryOnTravel
MalloryOnTravel

@nomadicchick oh well if you're using a Kindle anyway yeah just upgrade when it dies, be more options then anyway :)

nomadicchick
nomadicchick

@MalloryOnTravel Then when it does, baby's getting an iPad mini! Whoot!

nomadicchick
nomadicchick

@MalloryOnTravel Nah, likely not. I do like e-reading on a portable e-reader, so for now, I'll keep my Kindle till that putters out..

MalloryOnTravel
MalloryOnTravel

@nomadicchick no much less memory for a start, not a replacement but a compliment, though you're a nomad so probably don't need both?