Apple and Google tablets moving to Microsoft territory

Some time ago, we wrote the following about the upcoming ecosystem war, which will be delineated by display size:

At this screen size, productivity is possible and most consumers will want to do some work with such a device. I’m seeing more people purchase keyboard covers for their iPads; and of course, 2-in-1 PCs address this segment as well. Going forward, no device in this [10- to 13-inch display size ] category will be purely about consumption or purely about work — consumers will expect to do both on a device this size. That is why Google acquired QuickOffice; Apple is rumored to debut a 12-inch iPad Pro soon; and why Microsoft is desperately courting developers to create for consumers.

Apple and Google seem to agree. With tablet sales leveling off; the 12.9-inch iPad Pro expected to launch soon; and Google and HTC developing a keyboard cover for the new, 9-inch Nexus; Apple and Google are moving into Microsoft’s traditional stronghold of devices designed for work.

Tablet Sales

We already wrote about the cooling of tablet sales — that tablets of yesterday are “good enough” and that there’s little incentive for consumers who already own one to purchase another, short of the tablet breaking.

Now we have IDC chiming in. The market data company expects tablet growth in mature markets like the US to be flat; conversely, it expects PCs to grow 5.6% for the same markets. As PC World reports:

Interest is swaying in the direction of smaller-screen tablets, and those looking for larger screens are moving to laptops, [Jean Philippe Bouchard, IDC research director for tablets] said.

“As you move up in screen size, you move towards productivity. The keyboard is becoming more important,” Bouchard said.

Rival research company NPD forecasts that larger tablets are poised to grow and will take market share from smaller tablets — from 2% share to 12% by 2018.

Buyers are realizing that if they purchase a new device with a large display size, they should be able to do work with it. That, coupled with a plethora of cheap Windows PCs entering the market, means that laptops are more attractive than ever.

For larger versions of iPad and Android tablets to compete, Apple and Google will need to strengthen their tablets’ productivity capabilities.

iPad Pro

iPad sales have dropped two straight quarters…not growth, absolute sales. Apple plans to reverse that trend by putting more emphasis on selling iPads to businesses, as shown in Apple’s recent partnership with IBM.

According to IDC, this might be the right move; tablets sold to businesses are expected to grow and take share from tablets sold to consumers.

In Apple’s quarterly conference call with Wall Street, Tim Cook said:

Our theory that has been there, honestly, since the first time that we shipped iPad, that the tablet market would eventually surpass the PC market. That theory is still intact. I just think we have to do some more things to get the business side of it moving in a faster trajectory and I think we’re now onto something that can really do that.

What is that something?

We’ve heard rumblings about a bigger screen iPad Pro for a while now. Previously, those rumors pointed to a 12-inch display size, but the latest suggest 12.9-inches and a Spring 2015 launch.

At 12.9-inches and a 3:2 ratio, the iPad Pro will be even larger than a Surface Pro 3, a device aimed squarely at workers who also want to use it for play.

At that display size, a split screen function that’s coming to iOS8 would make a lot of sense.

Nexus Keyboard

A key component of Microsoft’s Surface strategy is the Type Cover, a cover that doubles as a keyboard for the tablet. Taken together, they can be used like a laptop to do tasks that requires extensive typing.

While it’s not better than a laptop at doing laptop-type tasks, for those who require something that’s just capable enough for both consumption (tablet) and productivity (laptop) in one thin-and-light form factor, the Surface concept works well.

It looks like Google will follow. Google and HTC are developing a thin keyboard case/cover for the yet unannounced, 9-inch Nexus tablet. The new Nexus will have a 4:3 ratio that is a departure from Nexus’ traditional 16:9 ratio, the latter being optimal for movies. The change signals Google’s intention for the device to be more focused on productivity.

When the new Nexus is not in use, it rests on top of the keyboard, as diagrammed below:



The case is a native accessory and joins with the tablet via Bluetooth 4.0 and an NFC chip to make connectivity easy. As you can see, the new Nexus is like a Surface, a device that can do both consumption and productivity.

Unfortunately, I think they made the wrong decision to go with a 9-inch display, as I personally find even the Surface 2’s 10.5-inch display too small. Maybe Google and HTC will surprise us with a 12-inch version.

It’s a race is on to see who can create the superior converged device: Will Google and Apple move quickly enough to add productivity capabilities to their tablets? Or will Microsoft get enough developer support to make consumption respectable for Windows?

I’m not saying there won’t be a market for premium laptops like the MacBook Air or the ASUS Zenbook. However, those are by definition niche markets.

When it comes to the masses, it’s about that one low cost, large display, computing device for the household. A device capable of both work and play.

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