The Great Tablet Debate: Fads or Here to Stay?

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Adam Hunger / Reuters

Shoppers look at the tablet computer IPad 2 at a Best Buy Store on the shopping day dubbed "Black Friday" in Framingham, Massachusetts.

What is a tablet and who needs one anyway? Are tablets a fad and will they soon fade into irrelevance like Netbooks? Will tablets replace traditional PCs? Is there a tablet market or just an iPad market? I hear there and other questions raised from industry executives as well as many in the media on a regular basis. There are a range of opinions all over the place on this great tablet debate and I hope to add some perspective to the conversation below.

This Market is Very Early
My firm’s analysis of the market suggests that the overall tablet industry is growing at a rapid pace. We estimate just over 50 million tablets will be sold in calendar 2011 and around 100 million in 2012. We, at Creative Strategies, Inc., believe that the majority of those will be iPads and there are some key reasons why.

The first can be attributed to the early market momentum of the iPad. When we look historically at how products get adopted, history generally favors the market leader. As products mature and consumers are experiencing ownership with a new product category, they generally go with the safe bet, and right now that’s the iPad. The iPad is by far the best general purpose tablet on the market and at the moment it commands the most consumer mindshare when considering a tablet purchase.

However, the tablet is a maturing category. This is a very important point to understand. Although technology products overall are being adopted more rapidly in mature markets, the products themselves still go through their own maturity process.  Tablets are no exception, which is why many consumers will look back at these early days and think of the iPad as the first tablet computer.

But a new wrinkle in the debate that’s come to light recently relates to the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Both of these products have been reviewed in view of the iPad, which is the wrong approach. In reality, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablets are interesting to the market because they’re not trying to compete with the iPad. Rather, both take a more specific use case approach. What I mean by this, is that the Fire and Nook Tablet were built with things like e-reading, and content consumption in mind.

The root of this understanding comes from one of the best technology industry books ever written by Clayton Christensen called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” In this book, Professor Christensen brilliantly explains how consumers “hire” products to get jobs done. That job can be writing, reading, producing, creating, etc., but the point is that there are tasks and jobs to be done that products fulfill. The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet were built for specific jobs, whereas the iPad was built to be more general purpose, similar to a PC.

As this market matures and the tablet category evolves, consumers will refine for themselves which jobs a tablet fulfills. In that process the role of the tablet in consumers’ lives will flesh itself out. I don’t believe tablets are a fad and will find a very important role in the life of the global consumer.

(MORE: Addicted to Power: Using Technology to Build Better Batteries)

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