Apple plans on releasing its plus-sized tablet, the iPad Pro, later this week. In doing so, the company hopes that the 12.9-inch device will reverse the recent slide in tablet sales that’s worried the tech industry.
Apple isn’t the only company experimenting with larger tablets. Microsoft’s new Surface 4 measures 12.3 inches; Samsung, not to be outdone, plans on releasing the 18.4-inch Galaxy View at some point in the future.
While Samsung will primarily target the Galaxy View at users who want to watch video content on a portable-yet-massive screen, Microsoft and Apple are positioning their respective large tablets with the productivity market in mind. To that end, Apple even broke with one of Steve Jobs’ old adages about never including a stylus with a device (“If you see a stylus, they blew it”), designing a sensor-studded pencil capable of drawing with exactitude on the iPad Pro’s screen. Both the Surface and iPad Pro also connect with keyboards, transforming them into lightweight laptops.
In order to figure out whether those new features will help the tablet market rebound, it’s worth asking why tablet sales began to slip in the first place. For a few years after Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, some pundits assumed the devices would have an upgrade cycle similar to smartphones, i.e. a refresh every other year.
Except that didn’t prove the case; people were more likely to treat their iPads like PCs, refreshing on a much longer cycle. There’s also something to be said for the versatility of smartphones versus tablets; whereas people use the former for everything from phone calls and email to GPS navigation and games, most tend to use their tablets for a relatively limited range of functions: reading, Web cruising, media-watching, and some games. In turn, that puts less pressure on users to upgrade as soon as a new iteration of tablet hits the market.
For those tech professionals who spend a lot of time working on designs and visuals (as well as a lot of time on the road), larger tablets could indeed prove useful. But for others who work primarily on PCs, or with software that was never really tablet-compatible, the prospect of a plus-sized tablet likely won’t sway them to switch devices. Unless the general populace goes for larger tablets the way they went for larger smartphones, the market for plus-size screens might find itself narrowed to a very narrow niche.