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Triple-digit tablet sales a sign the post-PC era is really here

Sections: Features, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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More evidence that we’re now decidedly in the post-PC era is provided by preliminary data from the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker survey, which found that global tablet shipments exceeded analysts’ predictions in the fourth quarter of 2012 (4Q12), reaching a record total of 52.5 million units worldwide. The tablet market grew by a stunning 75.3% year-over-year in 4Q12 (up from 29.9 million units in 4Q11) and increased 74.3% from the previous quarter’s total of 30.1 million units.

IDC attributes the robust sales volumes to lower average selling prices (ASPs), a wide range of new product offerings (including the new iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad from Apple), and increased holiday spending. all of which acted as catalysts to push an already climbing tablet market to record levels.

Then there’s the generally positive reception Apple’s addition of a 128 GB storage capacity 4th-Gen iPad received last week, notwithstanding that it’s pushed the purchase price of the top-of-the line iPad model into the neighbourhood of a thousand dollars.

Ouch! Bad enough we have to pay a grand and up for entry into the Apple laptop club, but now Apple’s tablets are following them into the pricing stratosphere.

I got a jolt of perspective last week checking out a Dell newspaper ad, noting that Dell will sell me an Inspiron 15R laptop with an eponymously-sized display, an Intel Core i5 CPU, a 500 GB HDD, and 6 GB of RAM for $529.99, which is more than I paid for my iPad 2 (Canada) back in June, 2011. The Inspiron is way more computer than any iPad, and not bad looking, either. It’s a relevant comparison, what with many pundits confidently predicting that tablets will eventually kill off laptops the way they already have dispatched netbooks.

And by the way, if you can live with an Intel Core i3 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB HDD, you can get a regular Dell Inspiron 13 for $349.99 (only 20 bucks more than the iPad mini) in the company’s current promotion. However, you’ll thank yourself later for coming up with the extra $170 bucks for the R model if you possibly can.

I’m not entirely enchanted by these developments. My rational, practical self knows that virtually any modern PC or Mac laptop is a much better work/production platform than a tablet, but in practice I find myself reaching for the iPad whenever the task at hand is something it can do reasonably well, especially if I’m not under tight time constraints and don’t need peak efficiency. I find that I like composing prose better on the iPad, with its facilitation of comfortable postures more conducive to stimulation of thought-flow.

On the other hand, when I need speed, efficiency, and power, I go to the laptop.

And I could use a new, or at least newer Laptop. I’ve already squeezed a year more out of my current MacBook than I originally anticipated thanks in large measure to the iPad. I expect that same dynamic playing out over and over accounts for a lot of the recent laptop market erosion. It’s not that people are deciding to entirely stop using laptops (and desktops), but rather they’re opting to stick with the one they’ve got for much longer than they would’ve in the PC Era.

While my rational side needs a new laptop, my emotional side wants a new, more powerful tablet. The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro asks rhetorically in a recent column: “But have we reached an era where it is no longer possible for any new iMac, Mac Pro or MacBook to capture our imagination? Or are these simply exotic, nicely built place holders until the tablet achieves its proper destiny?”

Good question.

iPads are, of course, not the only players in the tablet garden. Sometimes it just seems that way, with good reason. In the final calendar quarter of 2011, while Microsoft was able to move only about 900,000 of its new Surface RT tablets, IDC says Apple once again led the market, shipping a total of 22.9 million iPads, exactly in line with IDC’s forecast for the period. A strong iPad mini launch in late October, plus availability of the speed-bumped fourth generation full-sized iPad, led to solid 48.1% shipment growth over the same quarter last year.

However, IDC also notes that strong competition in the market resulted in Apple’s market share declining for a second quarter in a row (down to 43.6% from 46.4% in Q3/12).

Some more metrics from IDC to leave you with:

Number two tablet vendor Samsung experienced stunning 263% year-on-year growth, shipping nearly 8 million combined Android and Windows 8 tablets during the quarter, to grab 15.1% of the market, its same market share total from the previous quarter.

Among the other tablet market players, IDC says Amazon and Barnes & Noble both saw their market shares increase sharply as new products gained traction during the holiday season. Amazon shipped more than 6 million tablets during the quarter, increasing its share to 11.5%, up from 8.3% the previous quarter, with year-over year growth of 26.8%; Barnes & Noble shipped close to a million units, increasing its share to 1.9%, up from 0.7%, despite a year-over-year growth rate of -27.7%. Meanwhile, number four Asus saw its share slip from 7.8% to 5.8% despite continued strong shipments of its Google-branded Nexus 7 tablet and the highest year-over-year increase in the top five at 402.3%.

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