Bigger tablets from Apple and Samsung? What's the big deal?

by Ben Bajarin

September 1 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.


There continues to be a lot of talk around tablets which are larger than the traditional 10-inch screen sizes. Rumors have it that Apple is working on a larger iPad and that Samsung is as well.

My prediction? Well, I don't think it makes sense for Apple to make a larger tablets. Samsung would be less of a surprise as it's more in their DNA to experiment with a variety of form factors.

Whether either of these rumored products ever see the light of day, there may be a small role for larger tablets. Before I dive into this topic I want to level the discussion by establishing some definitions.      

By tablet I mean a device that is designed as a pure slate. Something like the iPad for example. This can be used with our without a keyboard but is not dependent on one as a part of the design.  Devices like convertibles and hybrids (which Intel now calls 2-1 computers) are not tablets in my opinion. Some of them may bleed over and include tablet features but they are not pure tablets.  

There is no question that tablets are stealing sales from traditional PCs. IDC estimates that 2013 will end with PC's at a negative 9.7% growth for the year.  In their press release from last Thursday IDC stated:

"The market as a whole is expected to decline through at least 2014, with only single-digit modest growth from 2015 onward, and never regain the peak volumes last seen in 2011."

Thanks to tablets, the market will never regain the peak volumes last seen in 2011.  Very telling.  

(For up-to-date data and stats about tablets and apps, bookmark The State of the Tablet Market)

Yet even with this "PC is dead" narrative there are still many complexities. For example, if you have used a tablet for any length of time to do something considered more productive then you know these task are better experienced on larger screens.  In fact in our interviews with consumers, they continually explain how when they go to edit a video, image, write a lengthy email or document, manage finances, etc., they choose to go to their PC to do these tasks.

So in line with the theory that people love their tablets but also want a larger screen to do some tasks the question is whether or not there is a market for larger tablets.

The answer is yes. How big of a market there is for larger tablets is still the real question. In the short term I don't believe it is that big, but as certain technologies evolve the demand could get larger. Meanwhile, there is already an interesting exception in the market today.

The Dell XPS 18 is a tablet disguised as an all-in-one PC

I have been using the Dell XPS 18, which is a tablet disguised as a desktop PC all-in-one. This product has been an interesting experiment for myself given my questions both around big tablets and my ideas on how the technology evolves to make the market interesting.   

The first thing worth pointing out is that these larger "slates" actually have much more appeal from a collaborative standpoint than anything else.

Things like working together, learning together, playing together, etc., all start to become more interesting when we can gather around a large touch screen and interact at the same time.   

Imagine doctors being able to show patients digital images or other material and interact with it in real time. Or teachers using these larger screen tablets to collaborate on an assignment or teach something specific to a student. 

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Even at home my family has been using the XPS 18 to play board games together. One of my daughters is taking piano lessons on it. But then as soon as you want to use it as a PC with a mouse and keyboard you place it on the dock and it is ready to go.  

Large tablets have a place in certain verticals this I am sure. I can see tablets at 18-inches or larger doing well in these spaces where the value of a larger touch screen for productive and collaborative use cases are more prevalent.  

But for the mass market consumers, I'm not sure. For this market I can see tablets playing out differently when it comes to big screen use cases.  

I mentioned that the technology may not be there yet and this is specifically where - I believe that consumers would find value in "docking" there existing 7" or 10" tablets into a large screen set up. And by large screen I mean something 20" or greater. My view on this is the crux of why I am skeptical of Intel's 2-1 category and personally feel it is a solution in search of a problem.  

It seems to me the more interesting solution for buyers interested in tablets is to get a pure slate tablet in the 7-10" range and then also get a larger tablet like the XPS 18 and use them together as a solution. This way you get the benefits of a smaller more portable tablet for mobility and then the larger tablet/detachable desktop for more big screen productive desktop modes as well as more collaborative ones. 

This is the advice I would give to hardware companies asking me about screen sizes. I would say for tablets focus on 7-10" because those are the volume sellers.  

Then look to innovate around these larger screen detachable all-in-ones and create value in having the small tablet and larger tablet being used together as a solution.

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Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.
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