Tablet Computers Will Sell Millions This Year? I Wouldn’t Take that Bet

Here it comes. Right on schedule. The inevitable industry analysis that says Tablets are the gadget of the future and that they will sell millions this year. That’s exactly what an article in the Guardian UK is saying as they report on a Deloitte analysis with a headline featuring the “sell in their millions” part. As a headline it doesn’t mean much, as analysis, it means even less.

Apparently you couldn’t walk through CES2010 without tripping over a Tablet of some kind (and I’m kinda, sorta including eBook readers in that.) Great. Lots of promise. Lots of hope. Lots of investment in getting prototypes to the desert for CES2010. The reality is we’ll be lucky to see a small percentage of those devices make it to market and an even smaller percentage of those that do have any chance of success. Product announcements don’t mean product, and there are only a few manufacturers who understand how to turn any device into a product that has enough appeal to really take hold. Anyone remember MIDs?

Sure, we’ll see some Tablets on the margin and some from big names, but most of the Tablet Tsunami we saw at CES2010 is a play or a hedge that folks will want to jump on whatever excitement and market Apple is going to try and create next week, and that their new Tablet will be cheaper. Only Lenovo really showed anything with any real innovation in the Ideapad U1, and I’m not even sure if that will have any legs. These Tablet manufacturers are banking on content producers wanting their content on any and all platforms and that’s a pretty good bet, but the follow through will be the real challenge. New Tablets will all have shiny and flashy front end UI’s that will lose their appeal after about a week or so, and users will quickly begin saying, “what’s next?” Here’s a prediction, sometime within the next six months we will see a headline that says Tablets To Finally Bring Linux to the Masses. That headline will be written a few weeks after more astute observers declare that Linux front ends and OS’s on Tablets are holding back Tablet sales.

The metaphor for Tablets that gets used often is that a Tablet is a window on to the world’s information. That’s all well and good, and decidedly passive. At its core it depends on others to create content that keeps your product relevant. The unfortunate part of that story is that the content producers are wrestling with their own demons and business models as they try to stay relevant themselves in ways that stifle rather than offer growth.

If Tablets are going to succeed the metaphor needs to shift. Tablets are more like a doorway than a window in my view. They can and should open up an entirely new world for consuming content and being creative. No one knows what Apple will do and say next week, or how well any of it will work. But I’m guessing Apple knows that Tablets are not just passive windows, but open doorways.

The bottom line is that Apple, without even making a formal announcement about a real product,  has shifted the resources of countless manufacturers as they rush to develop Tablets. Apple, through its marketing mastery, has also created a set of expectations that they have to deliver on out of the gate. An entire industry is hoping they do so they can ride along on that Tablet tsunami. January 27th may indeed usher in an era where we see millions of Tablet sold. But I just wouldn’t take that bet, just yet.