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The lines started forming early for the iPad 2, bringing back fond memories of all those people camping out overnight to score the latest iteration of the iPhone. But while Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) has proved itself the undisputed leader once again -- was anyone breaking out their sleeping bag for a Samsung Galaxy Tab? -- all this commotion about tablet computers may be much ado about nothing.
Padding its lead
Having brought to market the first truly functional and sleek tablet computer, Apple set the tone for other entrants into the space. The company generated so much buzz that the iPad became the must-have computing technology this past Christmas (with some Tabs tagging along for good measure). According the market research folks at IDC, 18 million tablets shipped worldwide in 2010, with 10.1 million shipped in the fourth quarter alone. And analysts think Apple could move 600,000 iPad 2s during the device's first days on sale.
Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) certainly felt the ground shift as analysts scrambled to rewrite their PC sales forecasts for coming-year sales. Earlier this month, Gartner slashed its estimates for PC unit growth to 10.5% from 12% (which was cut from almost 16% increases before) and lowered next year's estimates, too.
Much has also been made of Best Buy's (NYSE: BBY ) Christmas miscues, despite its status as an Apple launch partner for the iPad. As the electronics retailer learned only too well, 3D and Internet-TV's were not the holidays' must-have upgrade.
Keeping tabs on the competition
Now everyone is plunging into the tablet market, from well-known manufacturers like Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI ) to more obscure names like ZTE. Some 80 tablet models were announced leading up to the Consumer Electronics Show last month, and more will eventually come on line in the months ahead. From the headlines to the showrooms, it's all tabs, all the time.
So let me go out on a limb here and say that I think the mania sweeping the computing market is a bit overdone, and that any negative effect on PCs will be short-lived. Unless and until tablets become more powerful machines, consumers will be very disappointed.
Already, the tech elite seem to be growing bored with the iPad and tablets, the buzz created by the iPad 2 notwithstanding. In articles in Time magazine and on Slate, as well as at other tech-centric websites like Business Insider's Silicon Alley Investor, tech geeks report that their tabs are collecting dust or serving as sleek beer mug coasters, rather than being used for computing. Many consider Apple's new MacBook Air a better, more bang-for-your-buck computing experience option.
The iPad has thus far been the entire tablet computer market, for all intents and purposes, and even with the proliferation of Android models, that doesn't seem to be changing soon. Estimates vary, but you can make a convincing case that Apple has a 90% share of the tablet market -- though that number drops when looking at shipments instead of sales to consumers.
Suffice to say that Samsung didn't have as nearly a smooth launch for its Galaxy Tab as Apple did for the iPad. And for all the accolades it won at the CES, sales of the Motorola Xoom have been, in a word, "underwhelming." Are we to expect that when Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) release their own tablets, they'll spark the imagination of consumers anymore than their predecessors?
Today's Palm Pilot
I'd hate to call tablet computers a fad, but right now, because Steve Jobs and Apple are out front on this, a lot of product is moving. Apple product, anyway. Apple fanatics will just about always glom onto a new product intro, and the fan sites will hype the heck out of it, which does cause ripples of enthusiasm out into the broader buying public.
Even plentiful tablet sales will wane before long, and laptop sales will return. That will leave analysts scrambling once again to upgrade their sales forecasts.
No high priest Vatican assassin warlocks
Tablet computers aren't the next pet rock, and they have more staying power than the Newton. But the PDA had a good run, too, before succumbing to smartphones. If even the tech geeks are tiring of their new Apple toys, and a sustainable market is having difficulty gaining traction with other manufacturers, tablet mania will have a shorter shelf life than Charlie Sheen's winning ways.
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