Whither tablets?

By February 13, 2014Mobile

broken heart tabletsAt the moment it seems everyone is talking about a blog post by Andreessen Horrozitz partner Zal Bilimoria titled Our love affair with the tablet is over. First, I love that he used the picture above to illustrate his point, and second, I think he is dead right. Bilmoria was formerly of Netflix. These are the three key paragraphs from his post:

Post-launch, the new [Netflix tablet] app significantly increased retention and streaming hours. It won reviewer praise, barely missing out on winning the Best Tablet App of 2011 at the Crunchies — it was a hit. And then it seemed, as soon as it had arrived, the tablet lost its momentum.

At Netflix, we witnessed a dramatic increase in phone usage for the streaming service — all that binge-watching of “Sons of Anarchy” and “House of Cards.” The reason was obvious: As phone apps improved in terms of quality and speed, users abandoned their tablets for the device in their pocket that could access the Web anywhere and anytime from Wi-Fi or cellular connections. Conversely, only 12 percent of tablets have cellular connections, instantly making them non-mobile devices. And very few people will shell out for a second wireless plan in addition to their phone. Based on the momentum of the phone, Netflix decided to merge the tablet and phone UIs.

Even the awards circuit lost interest in the tablet. The year after our tablet app premiered, the Crunchies ditched the Best Tablet App award. They haven’t brought it back since.

Use of tablets in the Brisbourne family matches this pattern – enthusiastic early adoption and less and less use over time. Two examples:

  • I used to have a Nexus 7 in the bedroom to read news, but I smashed the screen a couple of months ago. I initially thought I would wait until an interesting new tablet was released and buy that as a replacement but I’m now quite at home with reading news on my phone and probably won’t bother.
  • We keep an iPad in the kitchen which is theoretically for the adults in the house but occasionally the kids use it and it isn’t there when Fiona and I want it. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore because our phones are a fine substitute. I wanted the iPad the other morning to buy some new vitamin C, for example, but it wasn’t there, and to my surprise buying from Natures Best on my phone was a breeze. The only thing that we really need the iPad for is Spotify and that’s mostly because it connects easily to our Bluetooth speaker.

When people talk  about Bilimoria’s post they all say the same thing as I’m saying – they are using tablets less and less. This doesn’t mean that tablets are about to disappear, but it does mean that for most new mobile oriented startups the right strategy is to think phone first.



  • Ronin_Jim

    It’s accelerated by larger phone screen sizes – I don’t have a table, but do have a Kindle. I currently use an HTC One having previously used a Desire S. Making the step up to a bigger screen and using the Kindle App rendered my Kindle irrelevant for the daily commute. I only use the Kindle device on holidays now.

  • Yes. Bigger screen sizes are a huge part of the reason tablets are less useful. And, like you I also no longer use my Kindle. In fact the only person in our family using a Kindle is my daughter, and that’s because she doesn’t have a phone yet 🙂

  • Matt Millar

    Personally I’ve long preferred the one handed phone form factor for interaction – for relaxed media consumption a tablet is convenient though – so for long form video playback I’ll make the effort to find a tablet, likewise for a “browse the web” rather than “transact on the web” I’ll make the effort for a tablet, and book reading (Kindle) I’ll make the effort to find a tablet over a phone.

    I think critically here the key fact is that these devices phone/tablet are PERSONAL – personal devices (you always know where they are, they are exactly as you left them) win against shared devices for individual uses. So the “Family tablet” is always beaten by the “kids own tablet” – hence the nominal “family tablet” will tend towards being an individual’s tablet.

    (and as a contrasting data point in the UK we are seeing massive growth in Android tablet adoption – hat tip to Tesco Hudl for driving this trend for our applications)

    Which raises an interesting longer term evolution – what’s the device adoption cycle for someone who grows up using a “personal” tablet – do they go from “just tablet” to “just phone” or from “just tablet” to “phone and tablet” – does “laptop” enter the mix at some point?

  • I think the dominant combination will be phone and computer (often a laptop)

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