This Week in Tablets: 14 Key tablet trends and predictions for 2013

January 5, 2013

Next week, you’re going to hear a whole lot about tablets, smartphones, TVs, and more courtesy of CES 2013.

What you’re not going to hear a lot about are Microsoft and Apple’s first-party products and strategies. Neither company will be there.

It's no big deal for Apple but, despite the cost/time savings, this feels like a massive missed opportunity for Microsoft to control the message and position of Windows 8 a little bit. Instead, Microsoft is going to have to rely on—wait for it—its OEM partners to carry the Windows 8 banner. You know—the same partners that Microsoft stabbed in the back at the end of 2012.

That’s a problem that is already beginning to manifest itself with companies like Fujitsu expressing disappointment in the market performance of Windows 8. This said, it’s not like the Nokias, Acers, and HPs of the world are going to abandon Windows now.

This week at TWIT, we’re going to scry past CES and consider the greater trends for the New Year. Let's get on with it.

(BTW, TabTimes’ own Doug Drinkwater released an excellent CES forecast, including some insight into what Samsung’s mystery announcement will be.)

2013 Over-arching trends

It’s worth taking a closer look at some of the higher-level trends that will impact the market for tablets as well as the entire ecosystem in 2013. My top 4 are:

1. Tablets are becoming less of a premium product. As more and more people get their hands on these devices, the notion that they are elite consumer electronics products diminishes. It’s neither bad nor good. It just is.

2. We’re probably finished with rapid form-factor evolution. At this point, it would be easy to sit back and think that, with such a wide variety of shapes and sizes and screen dimensions, we’re not going to see a whole lot more change in form-factor. This feels accurate—with tablet sizes ranging from 5 inches all the way up, we’re good here. It's not that we won't see a few different shapes and sizes. We still will. But we're definitely not going to see as rapid a proliferation as we did in 2012.

3. Broadcast/Cable TV remains elusive. Sports networks are still figuring this out, but for now, most types of live streaming of TV content remains an iffy proposition—until the networks and cable operators figure this out. The question is: Who will figure it out first?

4. Integration into existing ecosystems is key. There’s just no way around this these days. The iPad co-operates with MacOS, iTunes, and (to some degree) with Apple TV. Surface ties into existing Windows 8 networks as well as the Xbox gaming system. The Kindle Fire leverages Amazon’s book marketplace as well as Instant Video. And so on. In 2013, we’ll see even tighter bonds between tablet, operating system, and OS ecosystem. This doesn't just apply to tablet/OS manufacturers, by the way. It also applies to app developers as well as the broader B2B landscape. Think SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, etc. Less-than-360-degree solutions will lose in 2013.

5. Android has matured into a for-tablet OS. Finally! After rapid iterations that left it open to criticism, Google appears to be settling into a rhythm with the 4.x version of the Android operating system. It’s stable, performs well, and makes sense.

6. Windows 8…exists. Right now, there’s no way to sugarcoat Windows 8’s shortcomings. However, given the large number of Windows installations, Microsoft’s new OS can’t be ignored as a potential player in 2013.

Okay, let’s get on with the predictions.

2013 Tablet predictions

Tablet prices will drop significantly. There’s just no way around this. As more and more consumers buy more tablet devices, the laws of supply and demand will create lower prices. In December, research firm CCS Insight predicted that $99 would become a new low-end target price. And rumors are swirling around a low-end, $99 Google Nexus tablet in the near future.

Microsoft Surface tablet is the first to crack the Cable TV barrier. Given the partnerships Microsoft already has in place with cable TV operators on the Xbox platform, I’m betting the company finds a way to deliver live-streaming channel-by-channel content on Windows 8 tablet devices first.

HD Audio Tablet…FTL. Seeing that most tablets have relatively meager audio quality, and sensing a market opportunity, some manufacturer is going to release a tablet fortified with super high-end speakers. This tablet will fail miserably.

Apple will release some form of wireless headphones. The tangly mess that are tablet headphones is one category that’s ripe for evolution. To date, Apple has stayed away from premium-caliber peripherals—although it did make a fuss out of its redesigned iPhone 5 earbuds. Given how big a market opportunity this is, I expect this to change in 2013. Expect some kind of high-end Bluetooth headset.

Apple releases IOS 7. Hardly a groundbreaking prophecy, I know, given Apple’s track record of OS updates thus far. But what will the update, which has already been rumored to exist, contain? Likely a major update to the iTunes app, including flat-fee streaming music. And deeper integration into the Apple TV box, and/or a real-life Apple TV set will be likely. It’s surprisingly hard to predict beyond this. Given the history, further map app enhancements seem like a no-brainer.

Microsoft will begin giving Surface RT tablets away to schools. Integrating Windows tablets into schools would be a triple-win for Microsoft. First, it would allow the company to tell a goodwill story. Second, it would allow the company to place Windows into the hands of Gen Z. Third, it would allow Microsoft to report higher installation numbers. (Incidentally, it’s something that Amazon has already starting making efforts towards.)

More Smartphone/tablet hybrid releases. Samsung is winning with the Galaxy Note series. It’s not difficult to foresee other manufacturers biting this style. I’m predicting a pen-based Windows 8 phone/tablet device for 2013. Nokia, anyone?

Sony announces that the PlayStation 4 is…a tablet? We’ll finish this list up with a bit of a reach. It’s a foregone conclusion that both Sony and Microsoft will announce new gaming systems this year, for release at the end of 2013 or possibly 2014. Both Sony and Microsoft have to be thinking tablet integration—the only question is how this will manifest itself?

If I’m Sony right now, I’m seeing the writing on the wall that competing in a console hardware war with Microsoft is a losing proposition. And I’m seizing the opportunity to redefine what a “console” gaming experience is from the ground up.

Given the $$$ that “AAA” franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed deliver to the console makers, this isn’t likely. So let’s leave it at this: Whichever company allows the broadest set of tablet owners to 1) connect their existing tablets into the Xbox 3 or PlayStation 4 gaming ecosystem; and 2) enjoy the widest range of gaming/entertainment possibilities within this connected environment will eliminate the other.


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