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.