Hey iPad: 7-inch slates will take 32% of this year’s market

An estimated 126.6 million tablets will be sold in 2012 — up 56 percent from 2011 — and of those, nearly a third won’t be 9.7-inch iPads(s aapl). Instead says IHS iSuppli, 41.1 million smaller slates in the 7-inch form factor will be sold this year, accounting for 32 percent of all tablet sales. A marginal amount of 5-inch devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note, will comprise the rest of the market.

Apple’s iPad sales will still be growing, but it’s clear there’s an opportunity in small slates. And iHS iSuppli points this out, suggesting that “the 7.x-inch category will be helped by the launch of lower-priced tablets in that size segment, along with what is widely believed will be a product offering from Apple later this year for a smaller iPad.”  I suspect that if Apple does launch a smaller iPad, the 7-inch segment will be even higher than the forecast because it’s clear that there’s a market for small slates.

I noted why this tablet size — and the portability it brings — was appealing more than 18 months ago after spending several weeks using a 7-inch Galaxy Tab as well as a 9.7-inch iPad:

“I’m willing to give up a smidge of usability or a wider array of software to gain the ability to easily use the device everywhere I go. It’s this very concept that makes the smartphone so enabling, regardless of make, model or platform: the ability to be connected everywhere is what’s driving the mobile revolution forward. In fact, I’m actually using my Android smartphone less as well. The Tab does all of the same things as my Nexus One, but on a larger, higher-resolution screen, making for a better overall experience.”

Indeed, even some at Apple joined the bandwagon back then, only we didn’t know that until last month. During the Apple v. Samsung trial, Apple’s Scott Forstall read aloud an email sent to him from Eddy Cue in January 2011. Cue read the the GigaOm article I wrote explaining the benefits of smaller tablets, agreed with many of the points made, and passed it along to Forstall as well as Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cue said, “I believe there will be a 7-inch market and we should do one,” which has prompted hope for a 7 or 7.85-inch iPad tablet.

Galaxy Tab is half the size of iPadPortability and functionality are only part of the small slate success factor, however. Lower prices are surely prompting some to see if a 7-inch tablet can fit their needs. One only has to spend $199 — 40 percent of the lowest new iPad cost — to try a tablet. Low pricing by itself isn’t a driver though; after all, there have been cheap Android(s goog) tablets for the better part of three years since the Archos 5 launched. Yet, small slates have only recently begun to make a dent in the tablet market that Apple’s iPad has dominated.

That’s because for $199, you now get a solid experience. Look to the Nook Tablet, Amazon Kindle Fire or Google’s Nexus 7 tablet as examples. They may not be quite as polished as the iPad to some, but they’re not junk either. If you can get 80 percent of the iPad’s satisfaction in a smaller Android tablet that costs 40 percent less, is it a good buy? Clearly, the answer for a third of the current tablet market is yes.

I don’t think that small slate sales are hurting Apple’s 9.7 iPad very much, if at all, however. Due to the price and size, I’m not sold that the majority of potential customers actually compare the two directly. There can be two successful sub-markets here, both large slates and small slates. I own both and often turn to my new iPad for content consumption on the larger screen when I’m around the house. On the go, however, the iPad stays at home and my Nexus 7 pulls the load. Maybe that will change if Apple does offer that mythical small slate.