A dark cloud has formed over the tablet market that showed immense promise until just a few months ago. The CEO of Best Buy said recently that tablet sales were crashing, and IDC this week lowered its forecast for tablet sales for the year, predicting 6.5 percent growth rather than the 12.1 percent it had previously estimated. Meanwhile, pundits are increasingly throwing shade at the market, claiming that our love affair with the devices is over and that there are no longer any reasons to buy an iPad.
It’s true that the tablet market is experiencing a lull, and there are a few reasons why: The growing popularity of oversized smartphones (or phablets) is eating into sales of smaller slates, particularly in emerging markets; two-in-one laptops are becoming increasingly attractive to users looking to replace their PCs; manufacturers have yet to develop a compelling form factor beyond the pure-tablet touchscreen interface and the replacement cycle is simply longer for tablets than for smartphones. But Bloomberg reported last week that Apple is developing an iPad with a 12.9-inch screen, which would be much bigger than its 9.7-inch flagship tablet and would come to market early next year. I think the oversized device could be a hit.
Bigger = better for both entertainment and productivity
A bigger iPad would make for a superior platform for the kind of coffee-table entertainment uses that many families use tablets for today. It would provide a better TV experience for multiple users, and would be a vastly improved medium for turn-based multiplayer gaming. It might even be able to compete against console game platforms by leveraging the third-party game controllers that Apple began to support last year with the release of iOS 7.
Where an oversized iPad might truly excel, though, is in the enterprise. While tablets are still largely viewed as platforms for using apps and consuming content, Apple is increasingly positioning its tablets as tools to create content and increase productivity. The quality of third-party keyboards has increased markedly over the last year or two, and a larger iPad would pave the way for them to improve further thanks to the expanded real estate. Meanwhile, the quality of productivity and enterprise apps continues to improve and now even includes Microsoft Office, which so many businesses continue to support on desktops.
A replacement for other devices (finally)?
The iPad sold very well out of the gate despite the fact that it is largely a complementary device rather than a replacement device. While it does many things well, it isn’t functional enough to convince many users to dump their laptops, and it isn’t big enough to serve as a stand-in for home TV screens or console games. A larger iPad might finally be an attractive alternative for PCs for many users, though, and would large enough to serve as a portable, mini TV both in the home and on the go.
Apple would certainly face big challenges in bringing a larger iPad to market. The gadget would almost surely be accompanied by a hefty price tag, which may not be a problem for business types buying an iPad instead of a new laptop but would be a tougher sell to consumers. Also, a tablet with a 12.9-inch screen may simply be too big and heavy for users accustomed to toting around the traditional iPad or iPad mini. And it would take some time for developers to build apps that take full advantage of the biger screen. But as Time’s Ben Bajarin wrote last week, segmentation is the next step in the evolution of the tablet market as manufacturers try to reach specific types of users. Production of an oversized iPad would be a big step in that direction for Apple.