TIME the big picture

The One Huge Thing Everybody Gets Wrong About Tablets

Apple iPad AIr 2
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee inspects new iPad Air 2 during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

The "tablet market" is really lots of little markets

The news Monday that tablet sales dropped off for the first time last quarter are bound to accelerate the “tablets are dead” punditry we’ve seen around the web over the past few months. But the vast majority of commentators writing about tablets get one big thing wrong: The tablet market isn’t one big market, it’s many small ones.

The car industry gives us a somewhat imperfect analogy. Automakers lump annual sales of all motorized cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, RVs, and more into a single statistic. The point of this figure is to show how many motorized vehicles were sold each year. Yet, to truly speak accurately about the automotive industry, it’s more helpful to see the entire category broken out into each distinct segment — growth or declines in each category tell us more about the market than simply lumping all of them together.

But that’s exactly what’s being done with tablets today. When many people think “tablet market,” for instance, they think “iPad.” But Apple’s iPad is only one kind of tablet. And still its performance gets lumped in with cheap kids’ tablets. The two are entirely different in their usage, yet spoken about without appreciation for each device’s key functionality.

I have consistently tried to look at the diverse ways the tablet market is segmenting. Below is a chart I use during my presentation on the category:

Ben BajarinTablet Market

When I see a forecast saying the tablet segment will be up or down in 2015, I like to ask, “which segment?” Will gaming tablets be up or down? Computing tablets like the iPad? Tablets that get stuck on walls at retail? Which ones are growing and which are not? No good answer exists to these questions, because the people projecting these numbers aren’t looking at the market this way. That makes their predictions less valuable.

The Rise of Appliance Tablets

With this in mind, it’s important to highlight something fascinating happening in the sub-$100 tablet segment. Most observers never anticipated the way these low-end tablets wound up being used. Under $100, tablets become a cheap, almost disposable piece of smart glass. Walmart sells an RCA 7″ Android tablet for $59.99, for instance. Shoppers can buy one, stick it next to their bed and use it as an alarm clock with widgets for weather, stocks and more. You could buy one and put it in your workshop as a TV. Or buy four and have them in your car for the kids to use on long drives.

The other fascinating trend in tablets is how often they’re being shared by more than one person. Over a year ago, I was among the first analysts, if not the first, to highlight data showing over 40% of people we asked said they shared their tablet with at least one person. Our most recent research, conducted near the end of 2014, showed that number had grown to over 50%. Each group of sharers — those sharing with two people, three people, and four people — grew in percentage in our recent data. The most striking result was how many people said they shared their tablet with four or more people. At the end of 2013, 7% of respondents indicated they shared their tablet with four or more people. By the end of 2014, that figure hit 21%.

What does that mean? Tablets are looking more like the household computer, shared among family members or roommates. If that’s true, it would help explain why tablet shipments were down last quarter — Tablet sharing means households need to buy less individual units.

Regardless, tablets have been a fascinating category to watch. The heavy segmentation being driven by the sub-$100 category could actually boost tablet sales this year, assuming more hit the market from recognizable name brands. How these devices will be used is hard to predict, but as we research the market and hear from consumers themselves how they use these products, it will help us understand the tablet market at a much deeper level.

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology at Creative Strategies, Inc., a market intelligence and research firm. He focuses his analysis and research on all things consumer technology. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, early adopter and hobby farmer.

TIME the big picture

Most Internet Users Will Soon Be Smartphone-Only

Mobile Internet
Bernhard Lang—Getty Images Young couple communicating via two smartphones

Outside the U.S. and Europe, the smartphone is king

There’s a profound shift in computing happening across the world, but it’s hard to see if you live in a Western country.

For most Internet users in the West, their first experience with the Internet was through a desktop browser running on a PC. That experience means the desktop web still sees extremely high use rates today in places where PCs dominate, like the U.S. and Western Europe. But globally, the computing world is moving away from PCs and desktop web.

Instead, the balance of power is shifting to smartphones. They will be the future of how most people experience the Internet.

If you want a glimpse into that future, look no further than China, where hundreds of millions of young consumers are growing up with the mobile Internet instead of the desktop variety. “[China’s] real Internet population is people born after 1985,” former Alibaba CEO David Wei told Author Shaun Rein in Rein’s The End of Copycat China. Why 1985?

“People born after 1985 grew up with the Internet,” said Wei. “They live with it. They use it for shopping, entertainment . . . as for people who were born before 1985, it is hard to convince them to move away from ingrained habits.”

Wei was talking about commerce, explaining how those born before 1985 still shop at brick and mortar stores rather than spending their money online. Young Chinese people who grew up with the Internet, especially the mobile Internet, now shop largely online, particularly using mobile devices. That shift has yet to happen in Western markets, where the PC is still king. But signs are showing that it’s coming. Amazon said late last week that 60% of its customers shopped using a mobile device this holiday season, a trend that accelerated as Christmas Day drew closer.

Still, the desktop Internet’s prevalence in the West means Western Internet users still prefer PCs for many tasks. China’s Internet, meanwhile, began on the PC but went mobile extremely quickly. Sites like Alibaba, Tencent, Weibo, and many others prioritized mobile efforts over desktop ones largely because of the rapid rise of the mobile Internet over the desktop Internet. Now, as we look at China, nearly all hardware, software, and services innovations are focused on mobile-first — and often mobile-only.

Here in the U.S., we’re just now raising a similar “born mobile” generation — but they haven’t reached a position of power or influence to cause the mobile-first shift to happen as it has in China. But you only have to follow the money to see the future here: Nearly all the interesting and innovative things we see in software and services are happening on mobile — and mobile is home to nearly all the money to be made today in software development. That’s a telltale sign of where we’re going, and we’ll get there sooner than you might think.

TIME the big picture

Why India Will Be the World’s Second Biggest Smartphone Market

New iPhones Released In India As Apple Inc. Attempts To Lure Diwali Shoppers
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A customer tries out an Apple Inc. iPhone 5C at a Reliance Digital store, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd., in New Delhi, India, on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013.

India's mobile use is high, but smartphone ownership remains low

When it comes to the computing products I study — TVs, smartphones, tablets and PCs — I tend to talk primarily about what’s happening in China and the West. That’s mostly because China and the U.S. are the largest markets by population for consumer tech.

And while there’s a great deal of competition in these two markets, they’re quickly becoming replacement-focused — that is, most consumers aren’t buying entirely new products, but replacing older models. That’s sending growth rates for things like smartphones, tablets, and even PCs plummeting.

India, however, is a completely different story.

India will be the world’s second largest smartphone market. With a population of just over 1.2 billion, India has nearly as many people as China. Yet, unlike China, India’s smartphone penetration is still extremely low. More than 900 million Indians have a mobile subscription, but only about 110-120 million have a smartphone, according to most estimates.

What does that mean? India represents the next big growth opportunity for smartphone makers — yet it will also come with many challenges for global players looking to compete in the region.

As I’ve studied China, the U.S., and India, it became clear each of these populous regions are very different when it comes to consumer tech. Each country’s unique culture plays a role in how local consumers view, purchase and use technology. This explains why local hardware companies are gaining an edge over foreign ones.

As I pointed out in this analysis of regional smartphone market trends, India is still anyone’s game from a hardware standpoint:

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.33.40 AM

This model predicts that Micromax, an Indian brand, is poised to overtake Samsung as the number one smartphone vendor by quarter within the next six months.

Watching local brands rise to power in China and now in India is truly fascinating. While China is a relatively price-sensitive region, India may be even more so. That’s not entirely due to economics, but largely because Indian consumers have what is called a “value for the money” mentality. They tend not to pay more for something when a lower-priced product gives them more value for their cash.

But Indian consumers, like many consumers, don’t want cheap products — their focus is on finding good specs at a good price. This will be a key metric as smartphone vendors look to convert India’s large feature phone userbase to smartphones. Android One, Google’s developing-world focused smartphone software, will play a role in driving feature phone to smartphone conversion. Google is aggressively looking to gain a foothold in India, and Android One serves a key role in that strategy. Currently, Android One has a number of hardware restrictions in order to keep the price down. I believe this will change over time as Google continues to keep Android One hardware both price- and spec-competitive.

Still, it will be tremendously difficult for any company to make money on hardware in India. Instead, companies will have to look to monetize services more than hardware. This is why Google could be well positioned to compete, but also perhaps China’s Xiaomi. Given the green field that is India, Xiaomi’s services model, which is many ways competes directly with Google, has as good of a chance as any to gain a foothold.

Apple, meanwhile, will find its current India model challenged. There are likely less than 10 million iPhones in use in India, based on my estimate model. Older generation iPhones seem to be perceived as higher value for the money than current generation iPhones, and accordingly appear to move in more volume than current generation iPhones. While Apple may not find great success with current generation products in India, it seems their older products could be an angle to grow in the region.

Outside of Xiaomi and Apple, Motorola is the other foreign brand that I’m keeping an eye on. Motorola has been catering strongly to the value for the money mentality and seeing steady growth in sales from India.

Ultimately, this is exciting for both the country and the technology industry. As we saw with China, as smartphones have gained in popularity, a tech boom has emerged. We’ll soon see even more interesting innovations, particularly in software and services, come from India.

TIME Big Picture

Why the Internet’s Next Billion Users Will Be Mobile-Only

Noah Seelam—AFP/Getty Images Indian students use cellphones to photograph unseen Central Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh during a Run for Unity event to mark the anniversary of the birth of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Hyderabad on October 31, 2014.

The personal computer in the shape of a notebook or desktop has taken computers as far as those shapes would allow. Now, the future of computing is only possible because of new shapes: That of tablets and, especially, Internet-connected smartphones.

Tablets will take computing beyond where it’s ever been before, getting computers into the hands of more people. The connected smartphone, however, will bring computing to everyone. More importantly, it will bring the Internet to everyone. More revolution will come from smartphones than from any previous computing product in history. It’s because of this that we will see a future with one billion more people online, a future only made possible because of mobile.

Smartphones are key to getting the next billion people on the Internet because they’re getting cheaper and more connected. Over the next decade or so, we will watch smartphones become a commodity. Estimates are that by 2020, quality, powerful smartphones could cost as little as $10, according to my firm, Creative Strategies. And the mobile web is already bigger than the desktop web, and it will soon dwarf the desktop web. The future of the Internet is mobile, and that reality has interesting implications.

Global Mobile Web Browsing

There was a debate last year around the disparity between web browsing in Apple’s iOS and the Android operating system. It seemed a conundrum — Android-powered devices had twice the user base, but much less of the global browsing share. Only recently has Android overtaken iOS in global web browsing share, and it is still very close, as this NetMarketShare chart shows:


When we include open-source Android and Google’s Android, Android has well more than double the active devices compared to iOS. But, given Android’s market share advantage, why that taken so long to become true?

The bulk of Android’s growth and market share is in the lower tiers of smartphone price bands. My estimates put premium Android price tiers at roughly 15% of the global Android installed base — meaning most of the people running Android are using devices much cheaper than Apple’s iPhones. This explains much of the global web browsing conundrum: Apple has a significant installed base of premium users, and those customers spend more time browsing the web and consuming Internet data. Simply put, Apple’s more affluent audience can more easily afford to liberally browse the web. Much of Android’s installed base, having to deal with expensive and slow mobile Internet connection times and no home Wi-Fi, could not.

This insight becomes even more clear when we look at this chart from Jana.com showing the number of hours of minimum wage work required to pay for the average data plan:


Due to the infrastructure challenges in many emerging markets, consumers there are very aware of how much data they are using and the size of the applications they are downloading. This is a fascinating quote in a post from LightSpeed Venture Partners, an investment firm focused on India:

So, what is an ideal app size, especially in markets like India with challenged infrastructure?

The ideal size is 10-15MB globally. Idea size for an app for tier 2/3 countries (like India) is below 5MB. 500MB+ is a non-starter. At 50MB+ the conversion rates fall off dramatically. On Android and iOS, conversion rates dip by 50% in tier 1 nations for non-game apps above 50MB. In tier 2 and tier 3 nations, conversion rates dip by 50% for games above 15MB.

The Light Web

Understanding this, we should consider the role played by so-called “light apps,” apps that are either small downloads or operate entirely on the web — a Yelp-style app in India called Zomato, for instance, is a great example of a light app. While it’s true that native apps are still dominant, that only factors in the top 30-40% of the global mobile audience that has a smartphone and a data plan today. As connected smartphones’ reach extends to less affluent users, a healthy portion of those customers will be even more sensitive to the costs of data and size of applications they consume.

This is why the “light web” will be the connectivity method of choice for the next billion web users. Some companies, like Uber, have built robust web apps accordingly, increasingly powered by the cloud instead of running on users’ devices. It’s clear that we’re heading to a fascinating “light web” future, not only made possible by mobile devices but empowered by them. This future will post great challenges to many incumbents, but even greater opportunities for quick-moving innovators.

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology at Creative Strategies, Inc., A market intelligence and research firm. He focuses his analysis and research on all things consumer technology. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, early adopter and hobby farmer.

TIME Big Picture

How Communication Will Evolve Through Digital Touch

It’s not hard to look back at innovation cycles to see how technology advancements have impacted how we communicate. From the pencil to the printing press to computers to the Internet, and more recently, our smartphones, each has evolved communication in some way.

Each innovation has brought with it the ability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally in new forms. The telephone itself made verbal communication possible from a distance. Computers brought non-verbal communication into the digital era, evolving physical written letters into a digital form capable of traveling at near real-time speeds. The cell phone made long-distance verbal communication possible from any location. Smartphones further made the full spectrum of verbal and non-verbal communication possible from just about any location.

However, what do we learn when we study these technological advancements and how they have evolved our communication methods? We learn that ultimately, we have enabled new context in which to communicate digitally. In essence, technology has brought more communication options.

For example, prior to cell phones, many of us had pagers. The pager was basically an extension of the fixed landline. Someone could page you with a number and you would go to a fixed-line phone and call the person back. As teenagers, we created numeric codes to send messages: 43770 was “Hello,” for example; 143 was “I love you.” Effectively, every number or number combination had an alphabetical-letter equivalent. Looking back, this was essentially an early form of text messaging which, in and of itself, was a new option for communication. Not all conversation requires a lengthy voice dialogue. More often than not, short messages can suffice. It is the options that technology brings us that allow us to communicate in different ways depending on the context of the conversation.

Many of you will also remember your first experiences with a BlackBerry. There was something profound about being able to see your email from a device other than your personal computer. We learned very quickly that, for some emails, quick responses would suffice and that the BlackBerry was great for this. But for other emails, a more lengthy response was necessary. For these tasks, we would return to the PC. The context of the response dictates which device we use in a multi-device world. This is what I mean by technology giving us options. Prior to the BlackBerry (or Palm Pilot, etc.), the PC was our only option for both long- and short-form email communication. As innovations like the BlackBerry were created, we were presented with more options.

Digital Touch

There are plenty more examples I can dig into but I wanted to frame the points above to turn our attention to smartwatches in general and the Apple Watch in particular. While dozens of questions remain about the Apple Watch, it is perhaps its potential to add a new communication element I find most intriguing at this point. Despite what I mentioned above about humans communicating through verbal and written forms, I left out another vital communication tactic: the physical one.

As part of my continuing study of humans, I became aware of some of the modern research on the science of touch in human communication. This article in particular from Berkeley is a good starter on the subject, and this line is one of the most interesting:

In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.

The physical connection has been proven time and time again to be essential to healthy relationships. A series of studies highlighted in the report showed how people, even strangers, can communicate emotion through touch. Touch is an essential part of how we communicate. It is very personal and very intimate, yet is foreign to the digital world.

What Apple is presenting with the Apple Watch appears like it may be the start of bringing digital touch as a communication method to the digital age. And if we think about the type of device that makes this type of digital touch communication possible, it makes sense it is done through a device we wear rather than one we keep in our pockets or bags.

While Apple may lead this effort initially, this is something that could expand even wider as the idea expands. A leading company in haptics named Immersion has been working on similar haptic communication as a language for years and could bring that solution to any wearable device.

In the same way technology has expanded our communication options, it has still not replaced many of our existing communication methods. In a way, communication has been extended through technology, but not all prior forms have been made obsolete. Similarly, digital touch will not replace human contact, but when we are away from our loved ones, digital touch has the potential to extend that unique and intimate communication method in ways not possible before.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

If the World Was a Village: Tech Edition

Earlier in the year I wrote an article called Computing’s S-Curve. We are on the path to connecting the planet via pocket computers. This is so incredibly significant that it’s difficult to overstate.

In many of the presentations we give at Creative Strategies, we emphasize that we are still early in the technology age. We point out that the first 25 years of computing were focused on bringing computers to business. The next 25-plus years will be focused on bringing computers to every person on the planet. Much of this is driven by Moore’s Law.

When presenting to more PC-focused audiences, this is a favorite slide for emphasizing the role Moore’s Law plays in bringing computing to the masses:

Ben Bajarin / Creative Strategies

We still have a long way to go but as Benedict Evans points out, this opportunity to connect the planet is hugely beneficial from humanity’s standpoint.

So where are we when it comes to connecting the planet today? Using a range of statistics I gathered, I made a chart showing a few of my favorite data points, asking, “If the world was a village of 100 people, how many would be using what technology?”

Ben Bajarin / Techpinions

What strikes me about these statistics is that only one of them is over 50%. The mobile phone (not smartphone) is in use by 63% of the global population. Many of these mobile phone users have multiple subscriptions, which is why the latest data from the ITU pegs total mobile subscriptions at nearly 7 billion.

What makes mobile phones — with 63% percent of the global population owning one — interesting is that by 2020, those will all be smartphones. To help drive that transition, we now have smartphones that cost $33 and we will have $10 smartphones by 2020.

Yet, we still have a long way to go. I made this chart using some new data from the TNS Connected Life survey:

Ben Bajarin / Creative Strategies

This chart shows the percentage of smartphone users and non-smartphone users in each of these large global markets. I’ve added their respective population as well in order to see the opportunity for growth and scale.

As we embrace this shift, we realize how valuable these mobile phones are, particularly to those in emerging markets. Internet-connected mobile phones have given rise to the WeChat businesses, Instagram businesses, Facebook businesses and more. People like to argue that you need a PC to do work. Tens of millions of consumers (and growing) in emerging markets prove this wrong every day.

As we empower billions of new consumers with pocket computers ubiquitously connected to the Internet, it is bound to have an impact on the economies of these emerging markets. Economists estimate that bringing connectivity to a market can increase the GDP of that region anywhere from 1-3%.

The Internet has been one of the most critical and disruptive inventions of our era. Bringing the Internet to nearly everyone on the planet may be even more disruptive when all is said and done.

Connecting the Planet, Reshaping Industries

Mobile’s impact will be widespread. Note this chart from Chetan Sharma Consulting.

There are 14 global trillion-dollar industries; mobile has the potential to invade, change and impact them all. In this white paper, Chetan argues that we are entering a new era of connected intelligence. He is correct, and it will be driven by two fundamentals: the connecting of the planet via mobile devices and the connecting of nearly everything else to the Internet.

When we state that the technology industry’s best days are ahead, it is for the above reasons and more. While we explain that the next 25-plus years will be focused on bringing computing to the masses, the next 50-plus years will be spent bringing computing to nearly everything.

This article was written by Ben Bajarin and originally appeared on Techpinions. Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

The Future of Tablets? Market Segmentation

The tablet market is one that has greatly polarized many who follow the technology industry.

The initial debate centered around whether the tablet would kill the PC. Then, the tablet market began to slow from its once triple-digit annual growth rates to much more modest single-digit growth rates. The market for tablets is still growing in terms of annual sales, just not as much as it did in 2011 and 2012.

The tablet remains an important product and it will continue to evolve, but one trend we see happening may shed some light on what we can expect for the future of tablets.

It appears the tablet is segmenting. This is something our firm has been highlighting for some time in our tablet presentation:

Creative Strategies

We are starting to see tablets being built for kids, tablets being built just to consume content and media, tablets that can replace PCs, and now with the latest entrant from Nvidia, we see tablets being specifically built for hardcore gamers.

The market appears to be segmenting. Part of this has to do with the diversity of the pure-slate form factor. The design itself opens up the possibility that, through software, tablets can appeal to a wide range of use cases. This is what makes the tablet form factor so exciting.

Segmentation in many markets is not new. Specifically in the PC market, desktops and notebooks are examples of purpose-built segmentation. PC gaming machines are another example of segmentation. So it isn’t surprising that we’re seeing segmentation in the tablet market as well.

People often criticize segmentation without realizing that these are very good business moves. The Nabi kids tablet, for example, sold nearly two million units in the U.S. during the holiday quarter last year. Nvidia’s creation of the Shield tablet may be an even smarter move still. The hard core PC gaming market may not be the largest one but it is still lucrative. DFC Intelligence estimates there are upwards of 270m core PC gamers.

However, to target these segments, companies have to truly understand the market they are building for and make products uniquely tuned to fit their needs. The Nabi tablet includes custom software for kids. They offer a range of tablets targeting at different age groups and create custom experiences just for those age groups.

The Nvidia Shield tablet has a hardcore gaming processor and can stream games over a Wi-Fi network from the gamer’s computer to the tablet, which can in turn connect to a TV. By giving gamers access to all their PC games in mobile form on a tablet, Nvidia has custom-built experiences for its tablet that check the necessary boxes for serious PC gamers.

I expect more segmentation to come as hardware manufacturers discover parts of markets that are underserved or not served at all. Ultimately, this segmentation is what can continue to fuel the tablet market. There are all types of every day use cases for tablets: Many will be general purpose like the iPad, but many will target certain verticals like the ones I mentioned above. Despite anyone’s opinion on the tablet market, I remain bullish on its future.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

Tablet Growth Hasn’t Peaked

tablet growth
Getty Images

In its recent quarterly results, Apple surprised people when it reported a dip in iPad sales. This was followed by a lot of hand-wringing by some industry observers and analysts, who suggested that overall tablet growth has slowed or even plateaued.

I don’t dispute that tablet growth has slowed, but I’m not at all as concerned as other analysts about the industry going forward. In fact, I think tablet sales will accelerate again soon.

We are at an inflection point with tablets. In many developed markets, PC penetration is high and smartphone penetration is high. The role of the tablet in between these two screens is not yet clear in the minds of many consumers. For example, today in most U.S. homes, the tablet is a communal device that members of a family access and share.

According to recent data we (Creative Strategies) gathered, over 50% of tablet owners indicate that they share the device with at least one other person. This dynamic has added to the tablet sales slowdown, along with a refresh cycle that’s closer to that of a PC than that of a smartphone. People don’t buy new tablets as often as they buy new phones.

Another interesting observation is that the bulk of tablet purchases in 2013 were in the seven- to eight-inch screen size. When you look at the growing size of smartphone screens, ranging all the way from four to six-and-a-half inches, then it begs the question as to why a small-screen tablet is better than a big-screen phone. My gut tells me that the growing screen sizes of smartphones have also played a role in slowing tablet sales.

But I don’t believe this will be the case for long. In reality, it’s hard to look at a one- or two-quarter slowdown and claim it as the new norm or a long-term trend. There are many dynamics at play with regard to tablets that look to set them up for more prime growth.

Bigger Is Better

One is the trend of larger-screen phones I mentioned above. We believe that larger tablets, meaning those closer to 10 inches or larger, are primed to be a growth area. Since a great deal of smaller-screen tablets represent a large portion of the install base, it seems reasonable that larger screen tablets become more attractive, especially if someone already has a large-screen phone.

Look for this trend to play out on the business and enterprise side as well. From salespeople making both impromptu and formal one-on-one presentations, to managers working with documents and spreadsheets, bigger screens offer more value.

If this happens, we believe more consumers will see the value of the tablet as a legitimate PC replacement. Tablets have been largely supplemental to PCs up to this point, part of the reason being because smaller tablets are not viable PC replacements. However, data point after data point suggests to us that once consumers get their hands on larger tablets, they begin seeing their value as a primary computing devices.

Great Deals

The other dynamic that could bring tablet growth back is connectivity. To date, most tablets purchased are W-Fi-only models. However, we believe this may all be about to change. Carriers are looking to make tablets a growth area for themselves, and we hear that there’s interest to either heavily subsidize tablets or even move to an installment plan model.

What this means is that for very little to no upfront cost, consumers will be able to get a connected tablet from their carrier and just pay a small fee per month for the hardware and the data plan. Carriers looking to do aggressive bundles with hardware tied to their services is a major trend we see coming.

For IT managers, this could mean even more consumers wanting to bring their tablets to work. More importantly, these tablets that would be connected at all times, not just while on Wi-Fi.

If we are right and there is a trend moving toward larger, connected tablets, then a new opportunity for hardware and software companies may be shaping up, along with new use cases for enterprise users.

Tablet sales may be leveling off in the short term, but to say their growth has peaked is way off target.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

The Death of Phones

Getty Images

I remember my first cell phone. It was a hand-me-down Motorola StarTAC from my father.

As many who had cell phones during this time will remember, there was a liberating feeling in being able to talk to any one, any time, any place.

Smartphones didn’t exist at this point in time, and as the cellular industry grew, it went on a run where the central value of the device was telephony. Those days are gone. The phone as an app is the popular way to think about the role of telephony on a mobile device today.

While telephony still exists via an app on mobile devices, it’s not the central reason for buying a smartphone in today’s world. What are consumers buying? This is where the taxonomy breaks down. They aren’t buying a phone. While we call it a “smart phone,” those words are just labels.

When you sit down and really watch people use their smartphones, what are they doing? They take pictures, watch movies, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, play games and more. So what if instead of buying a smartphone, consumers are buying cameras, mobile gaming consoles, portable TVs, newspapers, and whatever else the smartphone can turn into thanks to software?

While this may seem obvious, I’m not sure it’s obvious to consumers: Rather, it’s very subconscious. They may not realize cognitively they are shopping for a pocketable camera, game console, or TV, but they know they want those features and they want them to be great.

I think Benedict Evans summed up my thinking on this in this very poignant tweet:

Mobile is eating consumer electronics. The most personal device paired with diverse software allows it to eat as many use cases as the hardware and the software will allow. The death of the phone as the primary use case is the rise of the mobile camera plus connected sharing apps like Facebook, or the rise of the mass market mobile gaming console, or the rise of the portable TV.

This same thinking applies to tablets. What tasks the tablet absorbs are still being fleshed out, but we are seeing it absorb the load from the PC, the TV, magazines, books and more. The use cases the tablet can take on are only limited by its hardware and software evolution.

What makes all this interesting is that prior to smartphones, we bought a telephony device and that was it. Now consumers are buying this AND that, AND that, AND that, AND that all wrapped up into one product. As we look to how the landscape may evolve, we simply need to figure out what the next AND will be.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Big Picture

For Smartwatches to Hit It Big, Context Is Key

Samsung Gear 2
Simon Dawson--Bloomberg / Getty Images A Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch sits on display at the Samsung Electronics Co. pavilion on day two of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.

A while back, I talked about health and fitness wearables and my failure to see how they appeal to a broader market. This week, I want to talk about the potentially lucrative category of smartwatches.

If we count Microsoft’s Smart Personal Object Technology (or SPOT) watches as smartwatches, then I have been using these kinds of devices for many years. However, even the current (or soon to be shipping) crop of smartwatches leaves me puzzled. I still question how big of a market the smartwatch category could be. Honestly, I’m on the fence.

To dive deeper, I think it would be helpful to look at a few current and future value propositions related to smartwatches. We have to start with this question: What is the value of a smart, easily viewed, small screen on my person? Answer this and we’re getting somewhere.

The key is that the smartwatch screen is always in view. Unlike other screens – my smartphone, tablet, PC, TV and others – this smart object on my wrist is easily viewable throughout the day as long as I’m wearing it. To answer my question, we have to look at some things I may personally care to be notified of, regardless of whether I’m looking at any other screen. The key to this is context.

When am I not looking at my smartphone, PC, tablet or TV? When I am driving, at a lunch or dinner meeting, or walking around the mall, for instance. These are the times a smartwatch must deliver value beyond keeping time.

Currently, the proposed value is in notifications. The smartwatch will notify me of an email, text or Facebook message, Twitter mention, incoming call, and more. Any app that pushes a notification to my phone can and does push a notification to my wrist.

More often than not, I find this more distracting than helpful. I get a lot of email, text messages, Twitter mentions, and calls throughout the day. My wrist buzzes quite a bit, mostly with notifications that aren’t useful to me. The reason? The watch (and even my phone, for that matter) doesn’t understand context.

I may not want to see all my emails, but if I’m waiting for an important response from a client, it would be useful to see certain messages. I don’t want to be notified of all phone calls; only ones that are urgent – say, from my wife.

This goes beyond a filter. It is all about context. The device needs to know more about me and my situation to be useful. Smartwatches and notifications need to get a lot smarter if they are to be useful on the wrist.

For example, when I’m in a meeting, I don’t want to look rude as I check my watch 15 times over the course of an hour every time it buzzes. But what if my phone or watch knew where my next meeting was and would alert me of any traffic issues I should be aware of that may change the time I need to leave in order to not be late for my next appointment?

This is what makes some of the proposed use cases of Android Wear somewhat interesting. Google Now does a decent job of focusing on contextual data that’s useful at a glance. This could be location data, traffic data, and a host of other things that can equip us to take action and make decisions. Ultimately, this type of contextual data that’s useful in helping us make choices is where the value of a wrist-worn smart screen may lie.

My biggest misgiving is that we will experience notification overload. Even though I test some smartwatches that have useful filters for which apps notify the watch and which don’t, I still suffer from notification overload. My concern is that if we open the wrist screen to notification from solicitors – trying to get our attention with deals, discounts, and coupons – we again suffer from notification overload. There will have to be an intelligent way for much smarter notifications to reveal themselves if the smartwatch category is to go mainstream.

Part of me feels that the smartwatch is still a solution in search of a problem. But another part of me feels that there’s value to be found on a screen that’s more easily viewed than a screen in a pocket or a purse. Many seem to believe that smartwatches may be the next hot category. I still have my doubts. Mass market appeal and convenience is what the smartwatch needs to find. Until then, it will be a niche market.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

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