Game over? iPad and other media tablets trump netbook shipments for the first time

by David Needle

October 20 2011

Netbooks made a splash a few years ago as a low-cost, lighter and cheaper alternative to laptop computers, but their star may be fading thanks to the growing popularity of tablets, particularly Apple’s iPad.

According to figures released today by ABI Research, shipments of media tablets in the second quarter were 13.6 million units compared to just 7.3 million netbooks. In the previous quarter, netbooks had a clear edge, out-shipping tablets, 8.4 million netbooks to 6.4 million media tablets.

A couple of important caveats to ABI Research’s release. First it’s worth noting these figures are for shipments, not sales. For example, there are reportedly hundreds of thousands of BlackBerry PlayBooks sitting in distributors warehouses that have been “shipped” but remain unsold. 

That said, ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr said the latest figures are likely the start of a long winning streak for tablets over netbooks. 

“This is a trend that we do not expect will reverse,” said Orr, the research firm’s Group Director for Mobile Devices. “As they are different segments, this is not a direct replacement behavior, but a changing of leadership for the most interesting device type.”

It’s also worth noting that while the report covers all media tablet shipments, this is still a market dominated by Apple’s iPad. ABI Research says Apple’s iPad 2 captured 68% of media tablet shipments in 2Q11

Orr cites ease of use as a key reason for consumers preferring tablets. 

“Media tablets are perceived to be easy to use, compared to the keyboard and mouse interface of a netbook computer,” he said. “Those who have avoided PCs because they are difficult to use – think the Baby Boomer generation and older – see media tablets as an opportunity to re-engage with Internet access. 

Orr also noted that while there are a number of low cost tablets available, price isn’t what’s driving most of the interest in the devices. In fact, he said the average media tablet costs approximately $600, while the average netbook is only about half of that. 

Another research firm, DisplaySearch, also released a tablet forecast this week, projecting that tablet shipments will grow to nearly 330 million units in 2017.

While 32 million netbooks and 60 million media tablets are expected to ship worldwide in 2011, ABI Research says that netbooks still hold interest in underserved countries, where PC penetration to the home, along with broadband services, are not widely available. Media tablet shipments will primarily cater to the early-adopter consumer audiences of Western Europe, the US, Japan, and South Korea.

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