One issue with the tablet market - laptops have improved faster

The tablet market is plateauing, with even sales of the highly regarded iPad flattening or slightly declining in recent quarters. It is somewhat surprising given how new the category is and how quickly it took off. Plenty has been written about why this may be, with two recurring themes:

  1. As smartphones get larger there is less of a need for tablets, especially given about 50% of the tablet market was 7-8 inch devices
  2. Tablets have longer life cycles than smartphones, and most of the people that wanted one have already bought one

Larger smartphones have proven to be popular, with Apple's blockbuster launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the latest proof. However, I haven't seen much discussion about tablets being squeezed from the other side - laptops.

I bought my first iPad in 2011 to browse the web, watch YouTube, AirPlay music, and check emails while at home. I preferred a screen larger than that of my iPhone 4. I had a nice work laptop that I frequently took home with me if I needed to do anything more intensive and an old PC that I'd use (after waiting 5 minutes for it to turn on) to access old photos or personal documents. The iPad turned on quickly, didn't require frequent restarting or powering down, and the battery lasted for days. As Steve Jobs emphasized in the first iPad keynote, there was room for a tablet in 2010 because it was better than a smartphone or tablet for these types of tasks.

Fast forward five years and laptops have caught up in many regards. Thanks to SSDs and new Intel chipsets, computers are much quicker, batteries last longer, and they have consistently gotten thinner and lighter. There are many capable Ultrabooks, Chromebooks, and MacBooks on the market at a range of prices and performance levels.

Tablets do many things well, but smartphones and laptops have encroached on their territory. A tablet is the only computer some people will want or need. Other people will buy one to use for specific narrow tasks such as drawing, music creation, reading, etc. Other people will use them as a complement to their smartphone and computer but may not feel compelled to upgrade every two-three years. As smartphones and laptops have quickly gotten better, it's less and less clear what tablets are better at.