Tablet computers to kill off e-readers

3 Sep 2010

Sales of multifunctional tablet devices like the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab will grow rapidly from 3.65 million in 2010 to 50 million in 2014, analysts say, reaching 50pc of all embedded device sales.

Termed ‘smartbooks’ by Informa Telecoms & Media, these devices, which merge the best features of smartphones and netbooks, will lead to a shift away from dedicated devices like e-readers.

“There has been a resurgence of smartbooks particularly in the tablet form, fuelled by the launch of the iPad, and we are seeing the same kind of proliferation and interest in tablets now that we saw two years ago for e-readers,” said David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“There has already been several tablet launches at the IFA show in Berlin this week, the most notable being the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab. We expect to see more launches at the show and over the coming months in the run up to Christmas,” McQueen said.

“E-readers, on the other hand, are under threat from a number of sources. Electronic book (e-book) content is now available on most multifunctional devices, such as mobile phones, tablet computers, netbooks and other portable consumer electronic devices.

“On the device side, while the iPad may not be as ideally suited to reading as a dedicated e-reader, many users are finding that it works well enough as a book reader, in addition to its many other functions,” added McQueen.

Price cuts by Amazon and Barnes & Noble have also taken their toll on the e-reader market. The list of e-reader makers who have been experiencing problems has grown recently and include many smaller players like Skiff, iRex and Plastic Logic.

E-readers reach their peak

Informa expects mobile broadband e-reader sales will peak at 14 million units in 2013, before falling by 7pc in 2014 as the segment faces increased competition from a wide range of consumer electronic devices, including cheaper non-connected models, like the Kobo and new Kindle Wi-Fi.

In addition to their multifunctional capabilities, smartbooks are the perfect candidates for distribution via the operator channel.

If smartbooks were simply distributed in the same fashion as netbooks are today, some major opportunities would be missed – opportunities to strengthen operators’ mobile broadband proposition, to validate smartbooks as a genuinely new product category and of course to promote smartbooks’ take-up.

“Pricing will be crucial to stimulate demand, as will customer choice and competition, which is being driven by a number of leading device vendors now readying themselves for the launch of more smartbooks, many of which will undoubtedly verge towards the tablet design with touchscreen, WLAN and 3G-connectivity,” McQueen said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years