Apple's iPad 2 has been an absolute retail success. The device is still extremely difficult to find on store shelves, and those who order it online still need to wait weeks for it to arrive on their doorstep. That success, combined with the sheer number of tablets expected to launch this year, has just about every analyst saying that the tablet market is poised for a sales explosion. And over the next several years, consumers will continue to jump at the chance to buy an iPad or similar device.
That success has caused some to speculate about the future of notebooks. Traditionally, notebooks have been the mobile companions for consumers and enterprise customers alike. In addition, their sales history has proved that the market is keen on those products. But a new report from AppleInsider, which cited "supply chain" sources, reveals that demand for PCs is rather "weak" right now. And the publication's sources say that it could be due to the sheer number of people opting for tablets.
It's an interesting report, and on one hand, it might make some wonder if the notebook's days are numbered. However, laptops are here to stay. While devices like the iPad 2 are undoubtedly hurting notebook sales, these mobile devices won't eliminate their chief competitor.
Here are the reasons why:
1. The enterprise
Although an increasing number of companies are warming to the idea of bringing the iPad 2 or another tablet into their corporate networks, the vast majority of companies realize that notebooks are still relevant and necessary. Employees must be able to have access to Microsoft Windows when they're away from the office. And they also need to be productive. Tablets don't afford those opportunities in any sufficient way right now. Until they do, the corporate world alone will be keeping notebooks afloat.
2. It's too hard to type
One of the biggest drawbacks with tablets is that they don't make it easy for users to type. The iPad 2's virtual keyboard is arguably the best on the market, but it still can't compare to an old-fashioned physical keyboard. Yes, consumers can buy a separate keyboard access for the iPad 2, but it's not ideal. Having a physical keyboard built-in is another reason notebooks continue to be relevant.
3. The operating system isn't powerful enough
As nice as iOS is, it can't compare to Windows or Mac OS X. It simply doesn't have the kind of firepower that customers are after. Mobile operating systems are built to be lightweight and capable of engaging in simple tasks—like email, surfing the Web and watching video—as efficiently as possible. The operating systems lack worthwhile file systems, a more robust interface and all the other things that people will find in the operating systems running on notebooks.
4. Windows is still important
Following that, it's important to keep in mind that Microsoft's Windows platform is still important in today's tech industry. Microsoft's operating system is running on the vast majority of computers around the world. It's a platform that people are comfortable using. Perhaps most importantly, it's the operating system most folks use every day at work. Until Windows somehow loses a significant portion of the OS market, notebooks will be here to stay.
5. Notebook prices are coming down
No matter the budget, consumers and enterprise customers can go out right now and find a suitable notebook for a fine price. Dozens of notebooks are available on the Web for as little as $500 for a solid option and even less for more outdated products. That's an outstanding value, considering the cheapest iPad 2 starts at $499. When it comes to customers evaluating how far their dollars can go with either a tablet or notebook, it might be hard for them to choose the former. At this point, notebooks are the value kings.
6. The market for productivity
In the enterprise, much of the focus for IT staffs is productivity. They constantly evaluate how much they can get out of employees with the technology they have in place. One of the biggest issues with devices like the iPad 2 is that they can be productivity drains. People are using them to watch Netflix content, listen to music and play games through the App Store. Moreover, usage on a tablet is a bit more difficult to track. Yes, all those nonproductive exploits can be engaged in on a notebook, but companies can do a better job of modifying actions on a notebook than they can a tablet. And they're fully aware of that fact.
7. Apple isn't universally beloved
As nice as the iPad 2 might be, to say that a single device will ever be able to kill off an entire category of products is ludicrous. Apple is not universally beloved by the market. In fact, there are many folks out there who are decidedly anti-Apple. So, although the iPad 2 is hurting notebook sales on its own, the chances of it actually killing off notebooks are nil.
8. Tablets themselves aren't universally beloved either
The same can be said for the tablet market as a whole. When sales figures emerge and iPad 2 units aren't on store shelves, it's easy for some folks to think that tablets are catching on with everyone. But they're not. In fact, there are millions around the globe who have tried tablets out and determined they weren't for them. And for the most part, those people who don't want tablets are turning to notebooks to satisfy their mobile needs.
9. The market is too big
According to market research firm IDC, more than 93 million PCs shipped around the world during the fourth quarter of 2010, alone. That figure, which included desktops, mobile PCs and mininotebooks (but not tablets), easily bested the 15 million iPad units Apple sold last year. It also easily bests Gartner's estimate from last year, saying that nearly 55 million tablets will ship in 2011. Although notebooks didn't account for all 93 million PCs shipped in the fourth quarter, it made up a sizable chunk of it. And that was just one quarter. To kill off notebooks would be a feat unlike anything ever witnessed in the mobile-productivity space.
10. Power, power, power
As mentioned, the operating systems available on tablets are not as powerful as they could be. But it's not just that. Tablets themselves lack the power that notebooks offer. Devices like Apple's MacBook Pro are suitable for resource-intensive tasks, like editing video and even high-end gaming. The iPad 2 can perform those activities on a much simpler level. Serious users who need a high-end processor, ample RAM and a big hard drive won't find those in a tablet. And until that changes, notebooks will be here to stay.