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Fine young cannibal: Apple's iPad Air competes with laptops for mass market computing

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 1, 2013
Analysts and pundits ponder the impact of 64-bit tablet on consumer, business laptop industry

Echoing Mainelli was Carolina Milanesi of Gartner. "It's not because of the form factor," said Milanesi of tablets and enterprise reluctance to swap them for notebooks. "It's because it's iOS. There's still a lot pulling to Microsoft from an application point of view."

Still, notebook-for-tablet swapping is the future, maintained Mainelli, and even if the iPad Air isn't the tipping point, it has moved the needle. "The 64-bitness of the iPad Air lends itself to this," he said.

True, assuming things work out as many analysts believe. They've viewed the A7 processor, and the underlying promise of more sophisticated apps, as an important duo for development of more powerful and memory-intensive tablet productivity apps.

Meanwhile, although Milanesi has seen enterprises that have handed out tablets in lieu of laptops, they're the exception for now. "We see an acceleration [of tablet adoption] only if the enterprise is making an investment in mobilizing their business," she said. And that means developing line-of-business (LOB) apps for those tablets, not just handing out an iPad or Android tablet to employees and expecting them to do the same work as before.

But Bajarin and Gruber's premise may, in fact, be old news. In some households, the cannibalization of laptops has already happened.

"In 2009, before the iPad, netbooks were ruling the world," said Mainelli of the cheap, small notebooks that captured as much as 20% of shipments soon after their late-2007 debut. "Some were making the argument then that the PC was on the path to a mature market, where everyone in the family was going to have a notebook."

And in some families, that's what occurred, as parents bought inexpensive netbooks for their school-aged children, keeping their higher-powered notebooks for themselves.

"But what tablets did is flip that toward one PC in the household, while everyone else has a tablet and a smartphone, or just a smartphone," Mainelli said.

For those families, tablets have cannibalized laptops, netbooks, specifically. For them, that's made the remaining PC or PCs even more of an investment, argued Milanesi. "Consumers are replacing their lower-end notebooks, which over time means that, as they turn away from notebooks, the notebooks and desktops they do have will be at the very high end."

Others have made that same argument, including Bajarin, and theorized that that single, high-end personal computer means Apple's Macs have the edge, since those machines dominate the premium part of the price spectrum.

The biggest stumbling block to increased cannibalization, at least in business, said Mainelli, is Microsoft's Office, which is not available for the iPad, Air or otherwise. "That's really the last thing that's not on there," Mainelli said.


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