Google has been making a renewed push for adopting tablets, after having somewhat forgotten that Android tablets were once a thing. Naturally, it comes as no surprise that the company’s key executives are all of a sudden very bullish about the prospect of tablets as a key consumer gadget. Now, Rich Miner, the chief technology officer for Android tablets at Google, has said that he believes tablets will soon outsell laptops – again.
This is hardly the first time that such a projection has been made. Back when Apple introduced the iPad 12 years ago, plenty of conversations rose around how this device could one day replace the Mac, entirely. Such conversations were further strengthened when Microsoft launched its first-ever Surface about a decade ago, and as Android tablets kept being launched in regular intervals, many were frequently upbeat regarding tablets making laptops obsolete one day.
That, though, has not quite been the case. Tablets largely remained an extra or second gadget for entertainment consumption, meaning that they never saw compulsory adoption the way smartphones did. This put off developers, who did not put as much effort into making sure that apps conform to larger screens properly as they probably would have if more consumers used tablets. The rise of larger displays in phones further ate into the tablet market share.
Now, Miner believes that all of this could change. Talking about Android 12L at ‘The Android Show’ hosted by Google itself for developers in its ecosystem, he said, “I actually think there’s going to be a crossover point at some point in the not too distant future where there are more tablets sold annually than there are laptops. I think once you cross over that point, you’re not going to be coming back.”
How close are we to this point right now, then? Market data from 2021 suggests somewhat otherwise – although there is no denying that tablets are indeed selling more now than before. According to market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), global tablet shipments grew 3.2% year-on-year in 2021 to reach 168.8 million units. This, IDC said, is the highest number of tablets that have been sold in a single year since 2016.
However, laptops are still comfortably outpacing tablet growth. According to Canalys data for worldwide laptop and notebook sales from 2021, the latter grew 16% to reach 275 million units. Both total sales and overall growth pace of laptops remained much higher than tablets, through 2021.
As for tablets, the last three months of 2021 saw tablet shipments decline by almost 12%, according to IDC. Anuroopa Nataraj, a senior research analyst for IDC, noted in the report that “shipments have begun to decelerate as the market has moved past peak demand across many geographies.” This suggested that the global chipset supply shortage is not the sole factor that could be attributed to a slowdown in tablet sales – something that has been observed already.
For now, it remains to be seen if and how Android 12L manages to shake things up for the Android tablet ecosystem. Apple, largely classifiable as Google’s key rival in terms of consumer-facing operating systems, has been migrating towards making iPads more capable as laptop replacements. What now remains to be seen is if Google manages to seize this opportunity and turn Android tablets away from being niche enterprise products, to legitimate choices for consumers.