Why iPad Dominance Is a Lock for the Rest of 2012
Gartner says the iPad is set to strongly dominate tablet sales for the rest of the year. When I first saw the research firm's numbers, I wondered whether Amazon's Kindle Fire might put a bigger dent in iPad's lead than Gartner expected. But that got me thinking about my own experience with the two tablets and the reasons Apple's lead really is insurmountable -- at least for the remainder of 2012.
May 17, 2012 5:00 AM PT
There's always a danger of reading analysis by others that matches your own personal experience and then simply using it to build up the foundation of what you know and believe. But hey, danger can spike adrenaline, and I like adrenaline, so check this out:
Information technology research firm Gartner released a report about its worldwide tablet sales projections for 2012. While Gartner expects sales to rocket up 98 percent from 60 million units to 118.9 units, it still expects the Apple iPad to overshadow all other tablets sales, including Android and the forthcoming Windows 8-based tablets.
Gartner expects the iPad to account for 61.4 percent of all worldwide tablet sales, and even notes that the international rollout of the Amazon Kindle Fire won't cut Apple to the core.
"Despite PC vendors and phone manufacturers wanting a piece of the pie and launching themselves into the media tablet market, so far, we have seen very limited success outside of Apple with its iPad," notes Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "As vendors struggled to compete on price and differentiate enough on either the hardware or ecosystem, inventories were built and only 60 million units actually reached the hands of consumers across the world. The situation has not improved in early 2012, when the arrival of the new iPad has reset the benchmark for the product to beat."
Where's the Android Horde?
With Android selling so well on so many smartphones these days, I curiously looked over Gartner's numbers and thoughts on Android tablets. Gartner forecasts that Android tablets will snag 31.9 percent of media tablet sales in 2012. Furthermore, Gartner analysts say the main issue with Android tablets has been the lack of applications that are dedicated to tablets and therefore take advantage of their capabilities. Gartner's consumer survey data shows that consumers are running many of their apps on their mobile phones and their tablets.
While I was expecting the Kindle Fire to make more of a dent in the numbers, Gartner's take actually has me rethinking my own experience to give it more weight. Before, I thought, "You know, I'm just clearly an Apple enthusiast and even though the Kindle Fire is pretty great, it's me, not the Fire." I was rationalizing my lack of attention to my Kindle Fire these days like a bad breakup strategy -- it's not you, it's me.
Turns out though, Gartner seems to echo my experience -- I find the app experience on the Kindle Fire to be lacking, so much so that I haven't been habitually searching for new apps. My experience early on as a Fire owner taught me that there weren't that many "great" Kindle Fire apps. It starts with a generally lower quality of presentation and often enough gets worse from there. I really hate calling out the hard work of developers as subpar, so I won't name names. (I know what it's like to work on a masterpiece, make compromises, and fail. You don't need someone laughing at you, too.)
Of course, if I had an Android-based phone, I would try harder, I'm pretty sure. And yet, here's where that assumption starts to break down: As I travel through airports and sit in on meetings and conferences and whatnot, I see a surprising number of people using smartphones that are not iPhones ... and then they break out their iPads. So a good number of iPad owners don't necessarily own iPhones, so they don't have an automatic synergy between devices. I don't know if they aren't using an iPhone by choice, or if it's a contract issue with carriers that they haven't been able to shake yet.
My Own Experience
Back when I first received my Kindle Fire, I gave it a glowing review. I loved it quite a lot. But my ardor has slowly cooled to the point that it's still a friend but almost just an acquaintance. Why? Doesn't it have most of the key features I need? Doesn't it have a sweet form factor?
I still like the Fire, but it's always clear that when I'm working on my iPad 2, I'm working with a class of product that's at least three or four times more refined than the cheaper Kindle. So while I could buy two Kindle Fires for less than half the price of a top-notch iPad, I now think that I get more than twice the usability and quality out of the iPad. The cheap value of the Kindle isn't paying off because I'm using it far less than I thought I would. And while Amazon will no doubt refine the Fire and offer improved models later this year, it's too late for me: I'm even more firmly entrenched with the iPad world now.
And yet I haven't sold my Fire. Why not? My Fire is like a bedroom TV -- it doesn't have to be your go-to device for watching major sporting events to maintain a spot in the household. Besides, there are two key features where it has an edge over my iPad: Kindle e-books and video streaming via my Amazon Prime membership.
The nice thing about my Fire is that I can buy a Kindle-based novel and enjoy it with a larger screen and still read it on my iPhone. I'm loathe to give that option up. Second, and this is the most important, my Prime membership gives me access to thousands of movies and TV shows that I can stream anytime. The Fire is a great conduit to that content. (The content is a lot like Netflix's streaming services, but I get the added benefit of faster shipping from Amazon.com when I buy physical products.)
Plus, I keep wondering if I'm going to realize that my Fire is far more useful than I ever imagined. If it was my only device, I'm sure I would like it more. But next to an iPad 2 ... well, it's like setting a biscuit on one plate and a plate of eggs, pancakes, and bacon on the other. You only choose the biscuit if you're on a serious diet or have some issue with eggs, pancakes and bacon (read: hate Apple and prefer Android).
As for affordability, the Fire is still a great deal, and it's a much better media consumption device than it is an app or take-it-to-work device. So when it comes to use in the business world, the iPad will get the nod far more often, partially because the iPad can satisfy consumer-oriented demand and remains a massively better laptop replacement and work unit for business situations. If a guy thinks he's going to work on an iPad, the cost of acquisition becomes less of a factor.
For all these reasons, I don't experience even a flicker of doubt about Gartner's assertions. There's room for more tablet innovation and competition, but I find it hard to imagine anything that will drastically shift Apple's dominance throughout 2012 -- especially if Apple gives us a Fire-like size option iPod or iPad this fall.