ipad air

Along with the Nexus Player, which disappointed, Google’s Nexus 9 was also recently released and reviewed. It’s been described as having an OK display; good but not jaw dropping performance; above average speakers; nice feel but with small, noticeable flaws; and generally not something that beats the iPad given its $400 price. Lollipop is awesome as expected.

That’s all well and good, but there are two things about the Nexus 9 I was particularly interested in from an industry point of view:

  1. The Nexus 9’s size and weight
  2. Its dedicated keyboard cover

Is the 9-inch display the best of two worlds, or the worst? Is the Nexus 9 an appreciably good productivity device?

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If a PC company had flat sales, you might think its CEO would go, “Phew, not bad when the overall market is declining.”

Not really though: Lenovo, HP, Dell Acer and ASUS all increased sales the past quarter even though the overall market declined. Apple too. It’s not clear which PC company is suffering, but the strong get stronger while the weak exit.

So flat iPad sales — despite whatever Tim Cook may say — is alarming to Apple and Apple watchers. Moreover, now that Apple is selling larger phone sizes, people are finally realizing that you don’t need a big phone and a small tablet. The bigger iPad will need to grow a lot faster for the overall business to grow.

The iPad may not be one of the weak, but it is not one of the strong either. What should Apple do? The company has two possibilities: 1) make the iPad more appealing to a new market segment, and/or 2) deliver the same proposition to the existing market segment better.

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting some interesting Apple rumors:

  1. The existence of 12.9-inch iPad Air Pro (now delayed to early 2015)
  2. The existence of a new, 12-inch MacBook Air (production starts this December)
  3. The continued struggle to make enough iPhone 6 Plus supply, a factor that no doubt contributes to the popularity of the easier-to-get iPhone 6

Think about that for a second. Apple is going to release a tablet with a bigger screen than the newest generation of its most popular laptop!

It looks like Apple just might share my vision for a large, light, 15-inch tablet that can be used for work and play and that will prove to be the single most popular computing device.

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If you purchased a 5.5-inch smartphone today and don’t own anything else, the next device you buy simply won’t be a mini tablet. That money is better spent on other things, like a laptop or larger tablet. That’s why I believe the future of mini tablets is niche, and why larger tablets and laptops will ultimately converge.

That 5.5-inch device is good enough to be your daily device for personal consumption: browsing the web, reading books and even watching video. It’s still great for phone calls, photos and messages too. If you purchase a second device, it’ll be to do things you can’t do well on a 5.5-inch screen — like office work.

Despite most of Asia being clued into this for the past couple years, and despite large Android phones actually being popular in the US and Europe, the press there seemed largely unaware of this trend.

Until the iPhone 6 Plus.

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I’ve wanted to write this for some time, but hadn’t because there was no solid data to back-up my assertions. I do now. This is about why I believe the future of tablets (and by extension, computing) is 15-inches in display size.

Let’s start with the origins of the modern tablet. The original iPad played such a strong role in shaping our perception of what a tablet should be, including a 9.7-inch display that we think of standard today. Apple arrived at that size because 9.7-inches was ideal given technology’s constraints at the time like weight, battery life and cost. It was the right size for 2010.

The iPad was never designed to be used primarily with one hand, unlike “mini” tablets of today. As Jobs demonstrated in his keynote, the iPad was meant to be used on the lap; or held with two hands; and only occasionally holding with one hand so the other can perform an action.

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There was an interesting interview recently on Re/code with Best Buy CEO, Hubert Joly.  Joly says all the right things about Best Buy and also had some insights on the PC and tablet market.  Highlights on the latter:

  • PCs are experiencing a revival, partly due to no more Windows XP support
  • Tablet sales are “crashing” and now a replacement market
  • Hybrid 2-in-1s are competitive with tablets
  • PC prices have declined a lot

My hypothesis based on the above is this — the tablet market is about light computing needs and those needs have been mostly addressed.  What do people use tablets for?  Browsing the Internet, reading books, watching movies, playing casual games and perhaps a bit of emailing.  An iPad 2 is sufficiently adequate for those requirements; there’s no pressing need to get an iPad Air.  We often talk about Chromebooks being good enough; so are the earliest iPads and most Android tablets.  Perhaps the only reason to upgrade is to play the latest 3D games but that is more niche than mass market.

Add it all up, and people with tablets are in no hurry to get another.  We saw explosive growth because tablets initially fulfilled an unmet need; but now that need is mostly met, growth is levelling off.

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