Low-Cost Tablets to Accelerate Decline of PC Market

Last week there was a Reuters report asserting the next Google-ASUS Nexus 7 will have an improved screen and may cost as little as $149. The current entry level Nexus 7 is $199. Reuters also said that if it's not the new Nexus 7 than the existing tablet's price may be reduced. The current entry level Kindle Fire from Amazon (with ads) costs $159.

As this all indicates there's a kind of "race to the bottom" going on that may radically depress margins on Android tablets. Furthermore we're likely to see a decent $99 7-inch Android tablet in the next year.

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The growth of smartphones and the emergence of these reasonable-quality low-cost tablets such as the Nexus 7 are accelerating a trend toward mobile device adoption at the expense of PCs and further extending PC replacement cycles. In developing countries PCs will likely never reach penetration levels seen in North America or Europe.

In its latest device forecast Gartner joins the party, affirming what we already know about PC erosion in favor of smartphones and tablets on a global basis. In its projection Gartner sees Android as the big winner, effectively replacing Microsoft as the dominant OS on tablets and smartphones.  

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The particulars and timing of this forecast will undoubtedly turn out to be wrong. However the direction of the forecast is probably accurate. With its resistance to matching price competition (probably wisely) Apple iPads will not reach tablet penetration levels of low-cost Android based tablets (though the company is considering a lower-cost iPhone).

So far, Microsoft's "2.0" efforts in mobile, Windows Phone and Surface tablets, have only made modest gains in selected markets. However Microsoft still makes money from Android OEMs via patent licensing fees. If it has to rely on licensing the company's future will be pretty grim.

If these figures are anywhere near accurate tablets are poised to become the primary computing (and advertising) platform. Yet we're likely to see quasi-converged devices (i.e., tablets with keyboards like the Surface Pro) become laptop replacements in the near term.