What to make of increasing parity in the tablet wars
Does Android’s ability to adapt mean Apple has stopped innovating?
A lot has been made out of research from US-based ABI that demonstrates the number of Android-powered tablets actually surpassed iOS-based tablets (iPads) in the second quarter of 2013 — the first time it’s ever happened. The research also showed that smaller (7 to 8-inch) tablets are accounting for a greater percentage of shipments, in some cases the majority.
For example, ABI’s stats show the majority of iPads shipped during the quarter (60 per cent) are iPad minis, Apple’s smaller iPad with a 7.9-inch screen. The device is most similar to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, updated this summer, which sports a 7-inch display, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, which was recently revealed in September.
The total tablet shipments for the second quarter of 2013 achieved revenues of $12.7 billion according to the research, while Apple only represented 50 per cent of that, splitting the market with other branded vendors.
Jeff Orr, senior practice director at ABI, is quoted in the press release saying, “Twelve months is a long time for the peak lifecycle of a contemporary tablet. To remain a leader, Apple must continue to innovate and address real-world market needs.”
That might be true, but I’m not sure Apple is going to stray too far from the iPad’s original design. While other tablet manufacturers like Samsung seem to be adding accessory style add-ons like styluses, or OEM keyboard covers like Microsoft is offering with its Surface and Surface Pro, Apple has never embraced peripherals. The iPad, and by extension, the iPhone has always tended to focus on the core hardware experience. Apple has even been slow to update the wired connectivity options of the device.
Apple tends to work at refining its original concept by adapting the design to the changing technology landscape — adding faster, smaller and better components. Design changes have mostly been through subtraction. In no design is this more clear than the iconic iMac. While the technology has been updated consistently throughout the years, the core user experience has remained virtually untouched since its introduction in 1998.
So while Apple may continue to loose market share to vendors addressing niche areas with rugged tablets, digital pens and physical keyboards, its innovation will be demonstrated in how it can refine its user experiences as it will attempt to do with the upcoming Mac Pro.
The trends identified in the ABI research will most likely continue. And while Apple may appear to be lagging behind in innovation, it seems to just be sticking to what it knows. Have no doubt, the approach Android-backing vendors are taking should continue to pay off. And new device classes such as lower-cost, ereader-focused models may emerge, but the comparisons of those devices to iOS-based models will begin to hold less value.