IDC forecasts 1.5M plus tablets in Canada by end of year

They may still be considered as “cool to have” gadgets by some, but Apple’s iPad, Research In Motion’s (RIM) Playbook and other tablet devices are set to replace laptops as lug-around technology for consumers and business users alike, according to a recent study by analyst firm IDC Canada.

There’ll be no less than 1.5 million tablet devices in the hands of Canadians by end the of 2011, IDC Canada predicts in its Media Tablet Forecast for 2011-2014. The report is part of IDC Canada series Canadian Digital Media: Tablets, Content and Digital Displays which reports on and analyzes companies and trends in the tablet markets in Canada.

“We’ll eventually see laptops taking over the duties of the desktop. People will be carrying the tablets with them for light computing and going back to their desks to work on laptops for more intensive computing tasks,” said Krista Napier, senior analyst for competitive intelligence and emerging technology at IDC Canada. Napier is also a contributing blogger of ITBusiness.ca Blogs.

“Far from being a fad, tablets appear to be a trend that will stay for quite a while,” she added.

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IDC defines media tablets as devices with 7-inch to 10-inch screens that operate on lightweight operating systems such as the Apple’s iOS, Android or the QNX mobile operating system used by the BlackBerry Playbook. But the analyst firm sees tablets as a “different beast” from smartphones.

Krista said the emerging trend opens up exciting opportunities for mobile application developers in the country who are looking to venture beyond standard computing devices and the smartphone market.

A recent Delvinia-ITBusiness.ca poll, however, indicates that majority of Canadians do not intend to purchase a tablet device any time soon. Fifty six per cent of the respondents said they had no plans to buy a tablet. About 31 per cent of Canadians told pollsters “maybe” they will snap up a tablet in “one or two years” and only six per cent said they will purchase a tablet within a few months. If that six per cent does follow through and buy a tablet before year’s end, that would be about 2.1 million tablets sold.

Turning the table on netbooks

A top manufacturer of netbook PCs (a device that tablets are often matched up against) agreed with the IDC study when it said it anticipates a global slowdown in lightweight laptop sales as tablets further gain ground. Up until a couple of years ago, laptops were all the rage.

Asustek Computer of Taipei said it expects to ship about 6 million Eee PC netbooks this year for a 20 per cent market share, little change from the 6 million shipped in 2010.

Overall netbook sales are expected to decline this year due to competition from the rise of smaller, lighter tablet PCs and “price performance” issues, said Peter Lin, a sector analyst with iSuppli in Taipei. Actual numbers of shipments will decline, he predicted.

“Tablets are one reason, and another is that price performance isn’t so good,” Lin with iSuppli said. “Netbook efficiency isn’t up to that of other PCs.”

To compete with tablet PCs, Asustek will make netbooks more “personalized with special designs” and include cloud storage applications, Asustek general sales manager Kevin Lin earlier told Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA). It plans to introduce two or three other models this year and is looking to developing economies for netbook sales, the local news agency reported.

“Although the netbook market will grow at a moderate pace, we are still looking for growth in the segment that will be driven by our product diversity and expanded channels in emerging countries such as Indonesia and Brazil,” Lin was quoted by CNA as saying.

Acer, also a top netbook maker, said on Thursday that its models would not be phased out despite predictions from a Taiwan sales manager earlier in the week.

The Acer sales manager on Friday took back that statement and reversed an earlier forecast that the firm’s future tablets would use chips based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture.

Processor manufacturer AMD also recently released its new Fusion APU chip which is expected to boost the computing power of netbooks and enable the devices to run for more than 10 hours. The timing of the AMD release is “interesting” according to technology analyst Michelle Warren, principal of MW Research and Consulting, given that tablets are eating into netbook sales. “This chip will enable netbooks to tackle more computing intensive programs and turn them into viable business tools,” she said.

Tablet user learning curve

Napier of IDC Canada said Canadian tablet users appear to be “discovering” the potentials of the gadget only now.

“The eyes of the tablet users I talked to light up when I tell them how I use my iPad. They seem to be saying ‘oh you can do that?’” she said.

Napier said she used to start her days listening to AM radio for the news. But since she bought her iPad, she now gets her morning news fix from the touch screen device. The analyst is also planning to cut her cable service and ditch her TV. “I hardly watch TV anyway and now when I want to watch movies I get it on Netflix through my iPad.”

Many businesses and organizations are also starting to incorporate tablets in their operations. For instance, Napier said, upscale Toronto restaurant e11even offers its wine list on an iPad. “Instead of leafing through a list, diners search for the wine to match their food by swiping the iPad screen,” Napier said. The restaurant has over 600 different wines in its cellar – imagine fitting all that into a standard wine list.

The restaurant has 40 iPad. Incentient, a New York-based firm helped the restaurant convert its wine list into digital form.

The wines are sorted and searchable according to region, vintage producer, and price. When a customer summons a particular bottle, its photo appears on the iPad screen.

Napier also said a Canadian teacher who works with disabled children is also using the iPad as a teaching tool. “The touch screen interface and multi-media capability of the device is ideal way to engage the students,” she said.

While tablets are currently expensive “good to have gadgets” priced $600 or more, IDC predicts that the devices will eventually come down to the $500 dollar range close to the end of the year.

(With files from Ralph Jennings, IDG News Service, Taipei Bureau)

Nestor is a Senior Writer at ITBUsiness.ca. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nestorarellano on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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