Sure, the iPad has 82% Market Share, But Will it Last?

It's no secret that the iPad is the most popular tablet out there right now. But the key words there are "right now". The iPad had a year's head start, and created the current tablet market that so many others are now rushing to join. A survey by the Nielsen company this spring shows that the iPad has an 82% market share of tablets in the U.S. 43% of iPad owners have the 3G version, and 39% have the Wi-Fi only tablet. The closest competitor was the Samsung Galaxy Tab, though it's hard to call 4% "close". No doubt the iPad is a great tablet. We on SlashGear have called it the best on the market. But will that still be true next year? And what impact are tablets having on the way we use our other devices?

In the survey, the next most popular tablets were the Dell Streak (with 3 percent), and the Motorola Xoom, with 2 percent. Other findings show that half of all tablet owners hog their tablet and are the only ones in the house to use it, while 43 percent are more giving and share it with others. I really can't imagine only using the tablet myself, as my kids like to use it to play games and watch videos, especially with Zoodles. Not that I'm judging anyone of course.

I don't find the tablet market share numbers all that interesting at this point. The survey was conducted in April, when the second most popular tablet, the Galaxy Tab, had been out for about 5 months, and only available connected with a carrier and in the small, 7 inch size. The Samsung Galaxy Tab didn't appear in a Wi-Fi only configuration until April, and the 10.1 inch version, closer to the size of the iPad, will be coming out June 8th, with an 8.9" version due out "this summer".

The Dell Streak has been panned by many reviewers (and when I tried it, I found it almost unusable), so we can just discount that one right now. As far as the Xoom goes, it's a great tablet, but it's expensive, and it also has only been around since February, and has gotten mixed reviews. It is being constantly updated an improved, so will likely be in much better shape quickly. And then there is the BlackBerry PlayBook, which initially looked underdone, but is now getting many updates and tweaks, including the ability to run Android apps. There are many more tablets out, or soon to come: the Asus Eee Transformer, and the various Acer tabs, which look promising. Even the NOOKcolor is looking more like a tablet all the time, though it has its limits in its factory state. So suffice it to say, the tablet market is still in its infancy. Right now, everyone is rushing to catch up. By next year, the market will look quite different, with consumers having many more viable (and affordable) options for purchasing a tablet. A survey at that time will likely reveal a more balanced market, probably with the iPad still in the lead, but with much stiffer competition.

Looking at the Nielsen report, another group of numbers worth looking at is the way that owning a tablet impacts the use of other devices. Desktop and Laptop computers are the devices that have dropped the most in use, while Netbooks, eReaders, Portable Gaming Consoles, and Portable Media Players all were being used "less frequently" in the same percentage range. Tablets have been tapped by many to replace netbooks, and ASUS's Eee Pad Transformer, with its detachable keyboard, does a good job of bridging the gap between the two. But the Transformer is only in the hands of a lucky few, and won't be widespread for a few months yet.

Some devices are being used more – Internet Connected TV is one. Only 10% say they use this device less, and 25% say they use it more. Since it is easy to connect your iPad and some other tablets to the TV via HDMI, that one makes sense. And also, surfing the web and watching TV are far from being two separate activities. They are done at that same time more often than not. Also, smartphones are used more by 21% of respondents, vs 13% who use them less. Why can't you surf the web, watch TV, and text your friends at the same time? These things all do certain things better than they do others, so we use them all, simultaneously sometimes. Portable gaming consoles also saw usage go up with a tablet purchase, 26% using their gaming console more, and 22% using it less. Again, there are different things that each device does better. Certain games are better played on a gaming console, and others do better on a tablet. The bottom line is that tablets aren't replacing all our other gadgets, they are just adding another option for us and enhancing our experience for quite a few activities.

So what are people doing with their tablets? The conventional wisdom says that they are consuming media – watching movies or YouTube videos, playing games, and surfing the web. Basically, that they are playing around on them, not working. There have been many that have discounted the usefulness of tablets, saying they are just a fad. However, tablets have been spotted being used to control robots, and doing all sorts of scientific applications. Also, I know a writer who produced a major quarterly report almost entirely on his iPad. He found it doable, though I personally wouldn't like using a touchscreen keyboard for that much typing. We are also reading books on them, consequently the report showed eReaders being used less.

When we look back at the first graphic, the top reason that people use a tablet instead of a laptop/PC is because it's easy to carry with you. A tablet is the perfect size for doing casual tasks, easier to read things than on the small screen of a phone, but not so large that it becomes cumbersome. Second is the ease of the interface/OS. Many of us can attest that as we get used to using a touchscreen, having to use a mouse seems like kind of a pain. The fingerprints on laptop screens for those of us who forget "you can't do that with that" show how easy it is to get used to navigating by touch. As much as I love my Kindle, I keep wanting to touch the links on the screen instead of using the wonky little square thing to navigate.

The third reason is an interesting one as well, and one that computer makers may want to take notice of: "Fast start-up/Off". Oh how I hate waiting for my computer to "warm up" when I just want to check something really fast. And also, there is the problem of leaving the computer on for a few days, and then it starts moving so slowly that it becomes nearly useless until it's restarted (yes, I have a Windows PC). These issues are not nearly so prevalent with tablets, or smartphones either, as they are in conventional PCs of the past. For the most part, mobile devices start right up, and are immediately ready to go.

All of these reasons mean that tablets are here to stay. And since that is true, manufacturers will keep making more and more of them for us, and they will get less and less expensive. And hopefully, they will get better. It will be fascinating to watch over the next year at what new innovations come out with tablets. Apple is certainly not standing still. What will the iPad 3, and iOS 5, 5.5, and 6 look like? And Google is not idle either. What changes will the new flavor of Android that follows Honeycomb bring? Will the iPad keep the lead, or will Android tablets take over? Will RIM surprise us all and come from behind? I can't wait to write about Nielsen's Spring 2012 tablet survey, and watch the action as it unfolds. It will surely not be dull.