Where Tech Heads Next

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s worth taking a look at past and future predictions in device sales and usage.

 By Zeid Nasser     

Over recent years, technology market analysts like IDC and Gartner have been obsessed with making predictions about when the PC would die, when tablets would supplant laptops, and when phablets would kill off everything else.

Taking a look at recent industry figures, it would seem tablet sales are easing off. There are two main reasons for this. First, users aren’t upgrading their perfectly functioning tablets as often as their smartphones, which typically get cast away every couple of years. According to mobile analytics firm Localytics, the most-used Apple tablet in the third quarter of 2014 was still the iPad 2, with a 39 percent share. The iPad 3 has a 13 percent share, and the first-generation model, which dates all the way back to 2010, is still holding on to a 6 percent share. The second reason why tablet growth is slowing is due to the growing popularity of phablets. If your smartrphone has a 5.5 inch display that allows you to watch HD movies, why would you need a 7 inch tablet that doesn’t even make calls? And here you have to admire Apple for its cannibalization strategy, whereby its new products eat into the sales of older ones. Sure, iPhone 6 Plus sales might reduce iPad sales, but it all gets logged as Apple revenue anyway.

That’s why growth projections for tablet sales by Gartner have been downgraded from 28 percent for 2014 to about 14 percent. In comparison, tablet sales in 2013 showed a 68 percent increase on 2012. Clearly, the ‘new category product’ phase is over. However, tablets are still on course to sell more than the sum of traditional PCs and laptops by the end of 2015.

We’re approaching the point in time when office software on tablets becomes convincing enough for possibly another huge surge in tablets sales. If the number of laptops currently in business use is an indicator, then there’s clearly another growth opportunity for tablets to fill that space. The latest version of Microsoft Office for iPad and Android tablets is excellent. If you can cope with fast touch-screen typing, and switching between using your finger to ‘point’ and to ‘type’, then you’re ready to soon ditch your laptop.

Speaking of the PC, its obituary has been written many times, but it has come back from the dead time and time again, albeit in a different form. Premium ultramobile devices are basically lighter and more mobile laptops that include the Surface Pro and MacBook Air. So, while demand for traditional desktop and typical laptop PCs is declining, that decline is being more than offset by strong growth in this category.

Considering how quickly consumer technology is evolving, accurately predicting product trends for next year is hard to do. But studies consistently show the average user wants a device with excellent operating software linked to a comprehensive software store, that has a screen that’s big enough for comfortable viewing and touch-response, but that can also slip easily into a back pocket or handbag.

This line of thinking could be based on the somewhat unrealistic assumption that everyone is or will become a single-device user, and that people will miraculously discard all PC, tablets, and phones for the one device. Manufacturers are racing to create this wonder gadget, whether it’s possible or not.

Call me a classic old-school user, but I’m pleased with a powerful desktop PC at the office, a 15- inch laptop for work at home and away, a tablet at home for entertainment, and a 4-inch screen phone as my one true personal device. That’s two working devices, one leisure device, and one personal device.

I’m not betting that won’t change, because technology will evolve and so will our lives. But going into 2015 assuming we will have a clear winner amongst PCs, tablets, phablets, and smaller smartphones is a distraction from the bigger and more exciting aim of creating a greater choice of more integrated devices that will help us all lead more productive lives.