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Why it's about tablets and not smartphone growth

Tablets are the new smartphones.

The growth in smartphones is slowing. Samsung reported mobile sales that were down 9 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter. Apple just reported selling 51 millions iPhones during the quarter, fewer than the 55 million expected. Some analysts even argue that we are reaching saturation for smartphones in developed markets.

(Read more: These smartphone-saturation stats could prove Apple wrong)

Yep, iPad in the pants — that's a thing. A weird but fascinating visual reminder of demand.
Fred LaSenna | CNBC
Yep, iPad in the pants — that's a thing. A weird but fascinating visual reminder of demand.

In contrast, tablets still seem modest in their penetration and poised to take a lot of the market for desktops. Microsoft in the most recent quarter doubled Surface tablet revenue to $893 million from $400 million, while citing "continued softness in the consumer PC market." BuzzFeed, for example, gets more than half its traffic from mobile devices, but within that number, less than 10 percent is tablets.

In the U.S., eMarketer puts smartphone penetration at 74 percent, compared to tablets at 52 percent.

(Read more: Apple drops on weak iPhone sales, revenue outlook)

With that said, I think we'll continue to see more and more web usage coming from phones, especially as Android improves its user interface and ease of use.

Combine these trends with rumors of larger screen "iPad Pro" (12.7 inches compared to today's 9.7 inch screen) that will serve as a work device, and you start to see just how much headroom there is in tablets compared to phones— and certainly compared to desktops.

Further complicating this is the move to larger phone screens. The current iPhone has a 4-inch screen as compared to the Samsung Galaxy S at 5 inches, and the Galaxy Note at 5.7 inches.

So there is a fair amount at play in terms of form factors as tablet penetration grows. On the next upgrade cycle, will buyers choose a single phablet (phone tablet) in a larger size of say 5 inches? Or will they chose a 4-inch phone and existing 7.9-inch mini or 9.7-inch iPad to pair with it? And how will the new generation of Pro-size tablets figure into this mix?

My bet is that people will chose as their primary computing device a phone or phablet. They will then have either a tablet or an extra large (pro) tablet for the bulk of their computing needs. Computers will continue to be pushed to the margin. This is especially likely if the new generation of extra large tablets have keyboards.

This will further makes sense if the future releases of the Mac OS incorporate a lot of the iOS look and feel — making the distinction between a laptop and a tablet with keyboard almost non existent.

(Read more: Brawl over Apple cash goes public)

And so I think growth will be primarily in tablets and phablets to a secondary extent. For, phablets, the gating factor may be pocket sizes or the relative willingness of people to carry a bag at all times to travel with their primary computing device.

—By Jon Steinberg

Jon Steinberg is the president & chief operating officer of BuzzFeed and is responsible for all business management, company operations, finance, and social advertising operations. Follow him on Twitter @jonsteinberg.

Disclaimer: Companies mentioned may be existing or historic advertisers of BuzzFeed.

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