By Harry McCracken | Monday, April 18, 2011 at 6:48 pm
Last month, a PCWorld contributor named Katherine Noyes wrote a blog post whose very title invited incredulous mockery: “Why Tablets Are Just a Fad.” One hundred percent of the responses I saw said that she was wrong, wrong, wrong (some politely, some less so).
I thought her take was epically myopic myself. Still do. But right now, if you want to make the case that tablets aren’t a fad, there’s one major piece of evidence in your favor: the iPad is a monstrous hit. Beyond that? I’m not sure if there’s a single data point yet that proves that tablets are a robust product category that’s here for the long haul.
Consider the evidence:
Bottom line: Precious few companies other than Apple have shipped iPad-class tablets at all. Of those who have, nobody has shipped one with a level of refinement that’s within a country mile of the iPad. Nobody’s shipped one that’s clearly selling well.
I continue to believe that tablets are going to be a huge deal, and that the iPad will get some formidable competitors–products that people will buy and like in large numbers. I certainly want it to happen. But it hasn’t yet, and it’s not entirely clear when it will. Other software platforms need to mature; they need a critical mass of excellent apps; they need price points at least as appealing as Apple’s; they need easy-to-understand answers to the question “Why would I buy this instead of an iPad?”
At this point, it’s entirely plausible that no Apple competitor is going to have all the pieces in place for success in 2011. 2012 sounds more plausible, but even then, it doesn’t feel like a sure thing. Until Apple has real competition, there’s no “tablet market.”
Katherine Noyes is still wrong: she argues that even the iPad is merely a passing fancy. But it’s up to the rest of the industry to prove that this isn’t a one-product category–and so far, it’s made way less progress than I would have guessed it would have by now.