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2013: The year of the slate?

HardwareAnalysis
by Tim Bajarin, 15 Jan 2013Analysis
2013: The year of the slate?

Given that tablets have been around for some time and about a hundred million are now sold every year, you may be thinking to yourself that the question posed in this article’s headline is rather silly. Up to this point, it's really been the year – or indeed years – of the iPad. The device has been selling into the enterprise rapidly and it has been invading consumers' homes even more swiftly.

So, the real question should be: Will 2013 bring any true iPad competitors? Granted, other Android tablets have gained ground on Apple's iPad. The Nexus 7 is one of the best tablets on the market (we gave it a Best Buy award), but a common valid criticism is its lack of tablet-optimised Android apps.

Apple showed the value of true tablet apps running on the iPad mini and thus in comparison, the Nexus 7's offerings seem weak. The Kindle Fire has also fared well but was designed more as a content consumption device than as a true computing platform. Other than the iPad, all these examples are smaller and less expensive. There is simply no tablet out there that can truly compete toe-to-toe with the iPad, especially in enterprise.

Perhaps an even better question would be: What platform has the best chance of providing a pure tablet solution? The challenge with Android as we have seen is the lack of compelling tablet-optimised apps. The Nexus 7 suffices from a solution standpoint because it largely runs scaled-up smartphone apps. The dearth of apps is more glaring on 10in Android tablets such as the bigger brother Nexus 10. This is something Google and its tablet partners absolutely must address if Android is to have any shot at competing in the pure tablet arena.

The other logical platform is Windows 8. My concern with respect to Windows 8 and its tablet solution is that it is built primarily to be used in a widescreen 16:9 landscape orientation, which is tricky to use while holding because it often requires two hands. In my personal experience with Windows 8 tablets, I've had to set the device down on my lap or a table top in order to free my hands to navigate.

Much of the observational research my company has done around tablets reveals that many consumers prefer the portrait orientation for many key functions, including web browsing and using apps. Windows 8 is simply not competitive in portrait mode. I am looking for Microsoft to address this in the next release so that its partners and software developers can begin taking advantage of the key use case for tablet hardware.

Windows 8 lends itself uniquely to the hybrid form factor. This is not to say that Windows 8 fails completely as a pure slate in portrait mode, only that it is not the best competitively. For Windows 8 tablets to have a chance to compete and contribute in 2013, they need to perform on par with Apple's iPad and other Android tablets in the pure tablet/slate form factor.

The 7in tablet form factor is most likely to make 2013 the year of the tablet, though. Besides costing less, they are grabbing a lot of attention from consumers who see them as exceptional media consumption devices. My company estimates that by the end of the year, 7in tablets will make up as least 65 per cent of all tablets sold worldwide. Our total forecast of tablets sold in 2013 is 235 million, surpassing the number of actual laptops sold (208 million) for the first time.

With these strong growth numbers, it would be hard not to suggest that 2013 will finally be the year in which tablets really take off, even if the Android and Windows 8 platforms do not become more competitive with Apple's platform. However, if Google and Microsoft do address key issues, Apple can expect more competition in 2013, a reality that could really cement 2013 as the year of the tablet.

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