Apple(s aapl) may have publicly dismissed small tablets at first, but its bet to introduce the iPad mini last year has turned out to be a good one. As successful as the larger iPad model has been since 2010, the device’s smaller sibling is a hot seller. In fact, the overall market for small slates could be growing far faster than that of the larger tablet market if data out of Display Search is accurate. The research firm has reversed an earlier forecast and now suggests that smaller tablets will outsell larger ones in 2013.
Why the big change? It’s an early data point, but Display Search found that small tablet screen shipments dwarfed larger panels at the beginning of this year.
“Shipments of 9.7” tablet PC panels collapsed, falling from 7.4 to 1.3M, while 7” and 7.9” panel shipments grew rapidly, from 12 to 14M. Shipments of 10.1” panels grew only slightly. The January panel shipment data may be an indicator for 2013, starting with Apple’s product mix shift. As we noted in December, Apple had planned to sell 40M iPad minis (7.9”) and 60M iPads (9.7”) in 2013. However, the reality seems to be the reverse, as the iPad mini has been more popular than the iPad. We now understand that Apple may be planning to sell 55M iPad minis (7.9”) and 33M iPads (9.7”) in 2013.”
A visual representation of tablet panel shipments between Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013 (in millions of units) show this stark difference between small and large displays. While one month doesn’t make a trend, it can surely be the beginning of one:
The lower price of smaller tablets is surely one driver for sales of the iPad mini, Google Nexus 7(s GOOG) and other similar devices in this market. Apple’s newest iPad starts at $499 while a Kindle Fire,(s AMZN) Nexus tablet or iPad, for example, start at $159 to $329. But another reason is what I noted when comparing portability of the original iPad and a 7-inch Galaxy Tab in early 2011:
“I purchased the Tab on a weekend at the local T-Mobile store and my family wanted to hit the mall afterwards. I either carried the device in hand or placed it in my back jeans pocket while cruising the mall for hours. As my wife or daughter stopped to browse for clothes, I quickly whipped out the small tablet to manage email, web-surf, and watch YouTube videos.
I wouldn’t have been able to do that with the iPad for one simple reason: the iPad wouldn’t have come with me on a trip to the mall in the first place.”
Fast forward two years and I do take an iPad to the mall and nearly every other place I go. But it’s the iPad mini because it offers all of the features of a standard iPad in a more portable package. It’s easy to use in more places and simple to take everywhere.
There’s clearly still a market for larger slates; they’re better for productivity and media consumption due to the larger screen. Simply put, Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad isn’t going away anytime soon; nor will the Google Nexus 10, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Asus Transformer or any number of other large slates.
The trend, however, is toward downsized tablets — or large phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, depending on your definition of what’s a smartphone and what’s a tablet.