Covid-19 may prove to be a blessing for the tablet market in 2020

Samsung´s clunky Galaxy Tab S4 is a highlight of the event yesterday.
The press conference yesterday in New York was deeply confusing, although the principles behind it were clear.

It had all the hallmarks of a company developing a communications strategy, but a massive product range. Had Facebook or Google been in that position, they would probably have said the same.

The world is undergoing a digital transformation and companies like Samsung are responding aggressively. The fundamental challenge they face is that the business has shifted from a “take what people do” model to a “give what people do” model.

This is being reflected in lots of market developments. A lot of the world’s media companies have “eaten the meal”, and now they face a tough fight to get a bigger slice of the pie. Instead of paying $30 a month for a mobile app and $10 a month for every extra email you read, consumers increasingly want to pay a small monthly fee for a single offering. Social media is getting more and more expensive as the reach of platforms like Facebook grows and marketers figure out how to run better campaigns through them.

The tablet, therefore, is a logical target for anyone hoping to compete in the digital world. It’s relatively cheap and yet it has a built-in media outlet. And unlike conventional computers, it can’t be controlled with a mouse and keyboard: we need a touch screen.

Samsung may not be the only manufacturer that has latched on to this idea. For example, Lenovo, the Chinese manufacturer, has a brand new device which it launched a few weeks ago. It has a fixed camera, but the creators think that touchscreens make it the perfect device for the workaday lifestyle. The potential is huge: among the 51 million e-commerce users in the US who are not online, for example, 95% would like to buy online. But what happens next?

The future of tablets will be a series of smaller, cheaper devices. Just as people buy things in different sizes so will people buy tablets: with a new, dominant market leader emerged, and everybody will attempt to out-price each other to be first in the pack. It will be a race to the bottom, with a price war in price as well as functionality. In other words, we will probably see cheap iPads, Chromebooks, $200 slates, and cheap Windows laptops.

One of the perennial flaws in a “show and tell” is the virtual impossibility of predicting the future. But I can’t imagine that we will arrive at the future and its present situation, in which tablets look all but worthless, tomorrow.

The most likely, and best, outcome is that tablet ownership will grow and become a substantial part of personal computing. This will generate a surprising amount of new revenue and won’t be a mere passing fad. It will be entirely feasible to consider tablets like any other technology, a hobby that’s popular enough to hold your attention for a year or two.

For Intel and Microsoft, tablet dominance would open up a new growth market—that is, if they can find ways to keep getting people to pay for their wares. I have high hopes that the combination of system designs and a great software package will give them an edge in tablets, and they can more than compensate for the loss of Google’s search business. The one thing that’s not in their control, though, is Samsung.

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