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Tablets last on list of U.S. consumers’ wishlists, says Gartner

Feb 18, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Despite the tablet mania sweeping the consumer electronic industry, a Gartner survey found that tablet computers rank the lowest on Americans' tech wishlists for 2011. Smartphones topped the list of desired devices, especially those with open source operating systems, while laptops and desktops were next in line for consumer spending plans, says the research study.

While major electronics vendors — from Hewlett-Packard to Motorola — are making a fuss about their iPad-competing tablet efforts, these devices actually rank lowest on Americans' shopping lists this year, Gartner revealed in a Feb. 17 study.

When polled about the devices they planned to purchase in 2011, the majority of U.S. consumers surveyed said they had their eyes on an open source operating system (we're looking at you, Android) smartphone. Laptops ranked second, followed by desktops, feature phones, ebook readers and, in sixth place, tablets.

The findings on tablets are somewhat surprising, considering the huge popularity of the the Apple iPad. Android tablet sales have been projected by many to grow considerably this year, especially with newer, more powerful Android 3.0 models, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (pictured).

Gartner itself projected strong growth for the tablet market in an October study. The research firm then projected that tablet PC sales would increase from 19.4 million units in 2010 to 54.7 million in 2011, then 103.4 million in 2012, and finally 208 million in 2014. Some 61 percent of those sales in 2010 were expected to come from the North American market, but Gartner projects that percentage to dip to 43 percent by 2014.

Still, these numbers pale in comparison with recent smartphone sales projections. Gartner forecasts that U.S. smartphone sales will jump from 2010's 67 million units to 95 million units by year's end. By contrast, mobile PC shipments are expected to rise, during the same period, from 45.6 million units to 50.9 million units.

"Continued low retail pricing and widespread adoption of applications like web browsing, email, Twitter, Facebook, GPS and games will continue to stimulate consumer demand," stated Hugues de la Vergne, principal research analyst at Gartner. He added that in 2010, "aggressive operator device subsidies and lower-cost monthly data plans" helped to drive smartphone purchases.

Consumers' interest in smartphones will benefit not only the high end of the market, where Apple's iPhone and various, primarily Android-based HTC, Motorola, and Samsung devices compete, but the middle and lower tiers as well.

"As more consumers adopt smartphones, the market will shift from the more technically astute tech savants toward less tech-savvy comfortable conformists," stated de la Vergne. "Issues such as ease of use will become even more important in 2011. First-time smartphone buyers may not be familiar with the range of operating systems and the different versions of those OSes. With operators offering generous return policies on all mobile phones, it is important that handset producers offer devices that will appeal to the less technologically advanced consumer."

Nokia, which is shifting from Symbian to Windows Phone 7, has long been a strong player in these lower tiers, offering a range of devices to emerging markets, and lately its competitors are paying more attention to the rest of the phone market. Samsung, for example, followed up the success of its high-end Galaxy S smartphone line with the January introduction of four more-affordable, midrange, Android-based Galaxy phones — the Ace, Fit, Gio and Mini.

Similarly appealing to first-time smartphone owners, the Gartner report suggests, are carrier data plans with pricing options low enough to encourage new users on board.

"Communication service providers should expand tiered data pricing to make open OS devices more affordable to the mass market," explained de la Vergne. "Introductory limited data plans of $10 to $15 a month will expand the market greatly for these devices."

In the U.S., the major carriers appear to be already clued in. In October 2010, Verizon Wireless CFO John Killian confirmed during a conference call announcing the carrier's third-quarter 2010 earnings that, like AT&T Wireless, it would begin offering tiered pricing, with a plan starting as low as $15.

During the call, Killian said that Verizon's stand-alone position in the market allows it to "approach the marketplace from a data pricing [perspective] that's unique from what other companies do." However, he added that he expected first-time smartphone owners to come on board with the $15 plan, but over time to migrate to the $30 option.

"In many cases," Gartner's de la Vergne confirmed in the statement, "consumers will upgrade to higher-priced data plans over time, once they get hooked on these services."

Like Gartner, research firm IDC had a more positive take on tablets than shown by the consumers surveyed by Gartner. IDC recently projected that the tablet market would finish 2011 with 45 million units shipping and grow to nearly 71 million units in 2012.


The Gartner report on U.S. consumer spending plans for technology may be found here.

Michelle Maisto is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

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