The iPad's expected ebb, and the search for why

An anticipated downturn in iPad sales has analysts and pundits asking questions

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But he also had another explanation for the "why" that painted the situation with a bigger brush.

The reason for the iPad's current troubles, if that's the word, lies in its immediate past, Bajarin argued, when sales exploded in 2011 with year-over-year growth rates in triple digits. That growth, clearly unsustainable, was due as much to external factors as to the iPad itself.

"A perfect storm happened in the PC industry," said Bajarin. "The iPad came out right as a refresh cycle hit, but with the iPad, people became aware they didn't need to refresh [their aged PCs]." Instead, they discovered they could spend the money on a new device, the iPad, that promised simplicity.

"And this Windows 8 debacle hit around the same time," said Bajarin, referring to the cold reception that greeted Microsoft's newest OS in 2012.

The one-two punch put the iPad on the road to impressive sales. "Something exists between the personal computer and the smartphone, and Apple created a computer that in essence meets consumers where they are," Bajarin said. "A PC is overkill for my grandma, for my wife. They've said they don't just want an iPhone but they also don't want a Mac."

Gassée talked about that tweener spot for the iPad as well, and referred to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs' comment at the tablet's introduction that the new device would have to "find its place between the iPhone and the Mac."

But where Gassée argued that the iPad, to continue to grow, needed to grow in functionality -- he seemed to imply that for it to further cannibalize PCs it had to become more PC-like, a "Surface-ization" of sorts -- Bajarin was bullish on the tablet as it was and is.

"The idea of the iPad is that something exists between the phone and the PC," Bajarin said. "In reality, I think we're seeing that take shape. But people are trying to figure out what that means. It's not a device that's always with you, but it's also not a super heavy personal computer."

Saying he was "extremely optimistic" about the long-term prospects of the iPad, especially in its larger sizes, Bajarin conceded that there are many aspects of tablets that had yet to solidify, including how they would become the next computing platform, the successor to the traditional personal computer. But he contended that the current slowdown is natural. "When we see the dust settle, tablet [growth] may slow in many of the same ways that PCs have -- become a trickling growth," Bajarin said.

The key will be how emerging markets -- those outside the U.S., western Europe, Japan and others -- take to tablets, and what consumers in those markets decide to do with them.

"Tablets are still coming into their own" in emerging markets, Bajarin asserted. People there will, at some point, decide that they want to do more than what their smartphone can provide. "The phone will have exhausted all it can do, and people will want more," he said.

And that more will come from tablets, not personal computers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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