Ars Technica had an interesting op-ed today. They look at the stagnating sales of tablets and conclude they are already much like PCs: fast enough and good enough that they only get replaced when broken. They've got to the point where the only differentiator from previous models is the price, and where people see little need to upgrade their hardware.
surprised; my Tablet Z feels as fresh and as fast as it did when I
bought it over a year ago. Android and IOS are both mature so new OS updates
don't feel that urgent any longer. Mobile apps are written
with slower phones in mind, so there's nothing out there that even begins to
tax the CPU or graphics. I doubt I'll get a new tablet until this one breaks. My wife’s iPad Mini will also likely be in use for
years to come.
This spells trouble for makers that
counted on tablets to replace their stalled computer
sales. I'd go out on a limb and say this is especially troublesome for a
company like Microsoft; they generated a lot of ill-will
trying to push their customers onto the tablet/hybrid train, only to
find out there was never any market growth to be had. And as Windows Phone is not exactly taking the world by storm they have few other growth segments left.
But even having a thriving phone business may only help for so long. My guess is that
in another couple of years phones will be in much the same situation as tablets today. The OS and software ecosystems are pretty mature, and we've already
reached the point where more speed or RAM just doesn't add meaningfully
to the experience. Makers are piling on more or less useless gimmicks (curved screens! face tracking! 3D!) to entice people to buy. Some recently popular features such as water resistance, rugged design and materials, and
remote disabling and locating will actually reduce the need to replace broken or lost phones over time.
So what will
replace these devices as consumer growth markets? Perhaps, in the short term,
nothing. These almost magical things have replaced piles of special-purpose devices. They let us do so much more with so much less. And they keep getting cheaper,
better and longer lasting. Just like the agricultural revolution let us spend much less on food than we ever used to, we consumers can now spend much less
money on gadgets overall, and I suspect that's where we're heading.
In the long run we could see real robotics become new must-have devices for instance, but viable, useful "home robots" are still many years away (it's a problem of hardware cost and complexity as much as software). "Internet of Things" has some serious privacy implications and still doesn't have compelling reasons why you would want any of it. Until people come up with completely
new market categories (no, "wearables" is not it), life as a consumer
electronics company is going to be rough.