While the Apple iPad was a game-changer, the more affordable tablets that came along after the iPad were supposed to change computing forever and take it to people who would otherwise never had the opportunity to do so. For a couple of years, tablets became the common man’s computing device, helping run small shops, power education and even be the only access to the internet for entire villages. However, the tablet story has slowly ground to a halt, and that is because of a slightly smaller device becoming more popular—the phablet.
Phablets are just smaller tablets that come with a calling feature, or larger smartphones if that is the way you like to look at it. Anything above a 7-inch screen size is a tablet and those between 5 and 6.99 inches are phablets. They are more easy to use, almost as affordable, and work as smartphones too, thus negating the need to have two devices.
Biswapriya Bhattacharjee, VP, eTechnology Practice, IMRB International, confirms this. “The tablet as a device did not bring in a clear differentiated proposition vis-a-vis a smartphone or a computer. With the growth of smartphones and the growth of phablets, the tablet market was directly impacted,” he explains how the tablet market has gone into negative growth across the world, including India.
One of the reasons seems to be very valid, especially when you understand how even the affordable tablet was a big investment for a lot of people who bought one over the past couple of years. “During the initial growth phase of the tablet, a lot of inferior quality tablets were sold in the market under the banner of low-cost devices. The users who bought these tablets were dissatisfied with the product to the extent that they created a negative word of mouth for the category,” adds Bhattacharjee. This mattered, as most of the affordable tables were bought by the youth and the lower income groups. IMRB research shows this led to an overall category level dissonance for tablets in 2012-13 itself. By the time regulations and standards came in, the damage had been done.
While the initial impetus in the segment was driven by consumers, enterprise seems to be the only hope for tablet makers. “In 2012, IMRB had estimated that the key segment driving tablet sales in the future will be business establishments. We still believe they will,” says Bhattacharjee. But while numbers show the enterprise segment is showing growth, the opportunity could have been missed already. “Over the last three years, due to lower focus by OEMs on the business segment, a lot of business applications that could have potentially run on tablets are being run on smartphones,” he says, adding the only hope is if apps are created for this segment.
While it is hoped that enterprise could be the big driver for tablets—with a top player like Apple launching the iPad Pro for the productivity market—things could change. Overall, it will not be a volume play, even though Apple has an opportunity to be a significant player in the enterprise space. Samsung, too, has enterprise-grade devices that could compete for attention of CTOs. But that does not mean that affordable tablets have some life left in them. This negative sentiment is visible from the fact that hardly any OEM has announced one in the past few months. The 8-inch Windows tablets that were supposed to be the big game-changer never came. Even the morphed 2-in-1s, essentially tablets with keyboards, have not been able to make a significant impact.
The biggest impact of the two-year tablet reign has been how it led to the cost of laptops coming down. It is now possible to buy an entry-level laptop for as low as R13,000, as manufacturers try and woo potential tablet customers by offering them something better.