Thoughts on the non-iPad Market

Lately I’ve been thinking about tablets, partially because I ended up with a iPad over this Christmas season, and partially because the tablets that are coming out that I actually want are starting to heat up and look a lot better. I have a rant which has been working around in my head for a while about this, and it’s not really going away.

Part of this is my own fault, because I’m one of those crazy people who reads a lot of Apple focused tech blogs even though I don’t (or didn’t recently) own any Apple products. Recently, it seems like every time someone in the mainstream tech press talks about the competition in the Android tablet market, some snarky examination and explanation of the many reasons why we shouldn’t care happens in the Apple blogs. John Gruber, being the most prominent of the bunch, brings to mind the most examples in recent memory, although Marco Arment makes the point earlier in the year.

It’s not that I am disagreeing with these stories, or their viewpoint that non-iPad tablet sales are much smaller than iPad tablet sales. That’s pretty much written in black and white on the reports that the news stories draw their numbers from. The thing that is irking me is the implication that the stories shouldn’t be written at all, or they should more focused on how iPad is dominating the entire area.

There clearly is a market for non-iPad tablets. Using the same report that the most recent spat of articles (and echoing on each other’s linkblogs) is using, we see that the headline is that non-iPad sales are at 1.2 million tablets. That’s a big market. Let’s have some fun with numbers ourselves.. Assuming that those tablets are selling cheaper than the iPad 2, let’s say maybe $300 on average, the market size is around 350 million dollars in the first three quarters of 2011, that makes the non-iPad market almost half a billion dollars a year. The same report states that non-iPads are selling once for every 10 iPads. (btw, let’s look at the trend - in August Gruber estimated one for every 20)

It’s pretty boring to just focus on the winner, especially when there is no competition for the best tablet for the general consumer. I can easily admit that the iPad is winning hand over fist, but the exciting news is in the competition, which is pretty heated in the Android field. CES this week brought us announcements of Asus Transformer Prime, Acer Iconia Tab and Visio VIA. All three are quite interesting and in direct competition with each other. Which one will sell more? That’s a question that you might not know the answer. You know which tablet will sell more than all of them? The iPad 2. I don’t care because it’s an obvious conclusion considering the state of the market.

There’s a lot of competition, and a lot of different options, because Android is a lot more open than Apple is. When I shop for an Android tablet I need to pick what size, what resolution, whether I want mobile data, which manufacturer, colors, and many other options. The only choice on an iPad is what size I want, or whether I want a 3G modem. They’re all essentially the same. Let’s compare the iPad to the iPad. Boring. On the other hand, comparing a Galaxy Tab 10.1 to a Motorola Xoom is something where you might actually learn something.

The tech press is reporting on the non-iPad market because it’s where all the interesting stories are, and they can actually contribute to the discussion, and there is an actual market there. You only need to tell me once that the iPad is a great tablet. What if I don’t want one? What do I buy then? Now you have a question that I need to look into.

(I’d also like to hammer about how market share is somehow important for tablets, but not important for phones now, because the iPhone is losing the market share battle in phones but winning in tablets, but it’s getting late. Maybe another time.)