This Week in Tablets: Re-examining 2013’s tablet trends and predictions

November 23, 2013
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In my first column at the beginning of this year, I attempted to identify some trends, and also made some predictions for the coming year. Eleven months later, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back and see how things panned out.

The long and short version: I was oddly prescient with some of the minor minutiae, dead-wrong on a few bigger picture hardware- and platform-related trends, and spot on at the broad, overview level of prognostication.   

Fairly accurate on observed trends

Before we jump into the out-and-out predictions, how did I fare in identifying key trends for the tablet ecosystem for the year?

Not so bad, actually.

Identifying that tablets would become less of a premium product by the end of 2013 wasn’t too tough a call; the rising popularity of Android, the people’s mobile OS platform, was fairly obvious by the end of 2012. This said, I don’t know that anyone saw how rapidly Android would rise in the tablet sector. A mature, unified Android OS combined with renewed vigor on the part of PC and mobile manufacturers has elevated Google’s mobile operating system to new levels, particularly in the value category.

My call that the rapid evolution of tablet shape and size would slow down in 2013 was pretty much dead wrong, unfortunately. 2013 saw almost as much experimentation and proliferation of odd, in-between sizes of tablets that 2012 did, including a ginormous 27-inch table-top tablet from Lenovo and an oversized 6-inch phablet by Nokia.

Going into 2013, it did not seem likely that anything would shake loose in terms of major programming initiatives by broadcast and cable TV providers. I thought that the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world would move too slow to begin providing significant levels of access to content via tablet and mobile devices. I was off the mark here. Major cable operators like Comcast’s Xfinity service wheeled out fairly ambitious live and on-demand programming initiatives via iOS and Android apps.

And Aereo is on the brink of creating a real revolution in this space by offering live streaming of commercial TV on all kinds of commercial devices.  

Finally, it seemed like a no-brainer that “big” solution solvers like SAP and Oracle and Salesforce would more aggressively integrate the tablet and mobile platform into their product solutions. Appropriately, just this past week, Salesforce announced a new unified platform called Salesforce1, which is aimed squarely at easing the integration of mobile into its existing ecosystem.

Okay, let’s take a look at how true or false my 7 specific predictions were, starting with:

1. Tablet prices will drop significantly in 2013

True. Even Apple moved into the value category (relatively speaking) with the $299 iPad Mini in 2013. Android paved the way for what I’m calling premium value tablets—devices that offer fairly high levels of specifications and performance at non-Apple prices.

It’s easy to point to Apple as a premium player, but for most of 2013 you could buy an older model iPad at a significantly lower price than the newer models. And you can succesfully argue that Microsoft’s insistence on pricing its RT-based Surface line at premium levels helped to create the lackluster sales that ultimately drove the Surface into the bargain bin anywayaa.

2. Microsoft Surface is first to crack cable barrier

Wrong. I overestimated Microsoft’s use Xbox and Windows as leverage to provide full-fledged cable programming via Win8 mobile devices. I simultaneously under-estimated networks and cable TV providers’ ability to integrate on-demand and live programming directly into first-party apps. I also under-estimated how rapidly the shift to on-demand viewing from live would occur.

In retrospect, it makes sense. For companies like Comcast, providing ways for customers to watch their content anywhere and anytime is good business.

3. A tablet manufacturer will innovate with audio

I thought for sure that some intrepid tablet manufacturer would figure out a way to provide high-quality audio in their devices this past year. I was wrong. Tablet audio still sucks, and the third-party market of Bluetooth audio speakers continues to flourish. 2014, anyone?

4. Apple will create its own first-party wirelesss headphones

I also thought that the new and improved earbuds that came with the iPhone 5 was a sign that Apple was on a clear trajectory towards providing an even finer solution for connecting audio to an iPad or iPhone this past year. Wrong again. Apple stood surprisingly pat with most of its peripheral offerings in 2013, although the new iPad Air did merit a brand new Smart Cover.  

5. Apple will releases iOS 7

Given the September 2012 release of iOS6, it felt like a no-brainer that Apple would release version 7 of its mobile OS this year. No surprise there, although I expected much more out of Apple TV over the past year than it offered.

6. Microsoft will begin giving away Surface tablets to schools

This was an odd prediction, fueled largely by my feeling that Microsoft was over-pricing the RT-based variant of its Surface tablet. Ultimately, this turned out to be true. Microsoft started essentially giving away Surface RT tablets to school districts in the second half of 2013 as a way of ridding itself of unwanted inventory.  

7. Sony Announces PlayStation 4 is a tablet

Wrong. The PlayStation 4 is a console, albeit a slimmer, leaner one than the Xbox One. Not surprisingly, both Sony and Microsoft have created a major role for tablet devices in their ecosystems, with Sony being a little more closed than Microsoft.

For what it’s worth, these are exciting times for console gamers, as game publishers appear intent on finding interesting new ways of experimenting with second screen tie-ins and asymmetrical gameplay. 2013 is literally the tip of the iceberg; in the coming year, we’ll see a proliferation of interesting companion apps, game modes, and more.

What I missed

First, I missed predicting that Lenovo would take over the top spot in the PC manufacturing world, based largely on the success of their touch-based Win8 business. In comparison to Dell and HP, which both slow-played the transition to hybrid devices, Lenovo moved aggressively with a wide variety of form-factors, including a few truly unique devices like the Yoga.

Second, I missed predicting that Steve Ballmer would step down as Microsoft’s CEO. In retrospect, given the software maker’s troubles in launching Windows 8 and Surface, this transition makes a whole lot of sense.

Finally, even though I’m a firm believe in the iPad, and I could have guessed that the success of the iPad Mini would fuel a form-factor conversion for the 10-inch iPad, I would have never guessed that Apple would release a product called the iPad Air. A stroke of genius by Cook and company, to be sure.

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