Tablet Sales: Why Are They Down?

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New things are always greeted with uncertainty. When the first iPad came out, it was met with skepticism. Apple’s original iMac in 1998 was widely criticized for its controversial exclusion of a floppy disk drive. And while some critiques were legitimate – the original iPad had issues with multitasking – these were ironed out and forgotten almost immediately in subsequent versions. But every year there seems to be a kind of schadenfreude at work in much of the criticism leveled towards big tech companies.

Up until a few weeks ago, I worked as a sales guy at an Apple reseller. Every day the whining I heard far outweighed the legitimate criticism. What’s the difference? The difference between whining and legitimate criticism is that one of them offers a solution. Whining does nothing but let you pretend like you’re smarter than the guy who runs a multi-billion dollar company. It got to the point where my stock response to “why won’t [x] do [very specific thing]?” became “because that’s not how it was designed.”

“This is terrible. I could design something so much better!”

Oh. Okay. Good for you…? Why don’t you go ahead and do that. And then get back to me.

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Because these guys clearly didn’t know what they were doing.

So what does this have to do with the title of the article?

Tablet sales started climbing pretty quickly a couple of years ago. And almost as soon as they started to spike, they started to drop. And right on time, the parade of people who keep buying these products began all over again. “How can tablets be replacing computers? The tablet was just a fad! It will never replace computers.”

Mobile usage is at an all time high. Tablet sales spiked and then went down. How often do you buy a new computer? Maybe every three to five years? If tablets are the new computers, people are going to be holding onto them for a longer time. Tablet sales went down because they’re settling in. They aren’t the exciting new kid on the block anymore. Tablets are becoming a regular part of the tech world and adopting a product cycle similar to what they are replacing: the desktop computer.

We’re living in a time of incredible innovation. And because of it, the tech consumer has been spoiled rotten. We got to see innovations like smartphones and tablets for the first time and now we’ve come to expect a completely new toy every time Apple or Samsung or Nokia or whoever updates a product line. But you can’t have innovation every year. There needs to be time to let the innovations sink in and become a part of the landscape. There has to be a period of adaptation and evolution before you start at the top again.

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True innovation at work. Get to it, Apple.

True innovation is rare. That doesn’t mean everything coming out in the meantime is worthless junk. Even the iPhone is an adaption of Alexander Graham Bell’s original 1876 classic. But here’s the truth; there are about ten billion people who think they’re innovating right now. Go check out Kickstarter sometime. Don’t get me wrong – I love Kickstarter. There’s some fantastic projects that have gotten steam there. But if innovation was so easy that any Joe Shmoe armchair critic could do it, wouldn’t Kickstarter be full of genius? Innovation can certainly come cheap, but it doesn’t come easy. If it did, Kickstarter would have sent us to Mars by now.

Another Apple store anecdote: people would come in and make the rounds, checking out the devices with their hands clasped behind their backs and their chins just slightly raised while they surveyed the spoils of Cupertino.

“Anything I can help help you find?” I’d ask.

“Nope…I already own all this stuff. Just waiting for something new.”

“What sorts of things do you still need the ability to do?”

“Oh, everything works great. I just want them to make something cool again. I’ll tell ya what, if they don’t soon, I’m done with Apple. They’ve just gotten so lazy…”

No, they just don’t feel the need to feed your greed for owning the coolest new gadget on the block every six months. Not every new product is going to rock the tech world to its very core. And that’s okay.

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“What a piece of crap.”

There’s a great scene in the movie The Incredibles where the dad bemoans the state of a world that treats a graduation from third to fourth grade like a completion of high school or college. He’s pointing out that small accomplishments are important but when they get just as much fanfare and attention as the big game-changers, it gives us a jaded world were there is no “down” button on the volume. Everything is an amped-up keynote that’s constantly blaring. And if it’s not the BEST THING EVER then it just sucks.

After a ton of hype, the Apple Watch just came out and of course there’s the same guffawing again. It’s worth noting that until the last week or so before release, Apple didn’t hype it beyond the normal “oh we’re working on something neat.” Tech bloggers and Reddit users built themselves into such a frenzy that nothing was going to meet their expectations. And because whatever they imagined in their heads was so much better (unfeasible) nothing is going to please them.

So why are tablet sales down? They’re down because they’re normal now. And that’s how it should be.

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