InStat analyzes Tablet PC market

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InStat released today their updated analysis of the Tablet PC market. A couple quotes from the press release:

The worldwide market is expected to increase “from $1.2 billion in 2004 to $5.4 billion in 2009.”

and:

“Broad horizontal corporate markets should start to make an impact on the market in 2005, as average selling prices fall well below $2,000. A combination of greater Tablet PC software availability and larger form factors that directly address the corporate market should help Tablet PC sales.”

I guess the headline is: “More form factors and more software will help grow the Tablet PC market.” Sounds like incremental growth, which by looking at the way things have been, I’d guess is reasonable.

I’m a bit surprised about the “larger form factors” being an important growth criteria. I’ve heard this from Tablet manufacturers in terms of the consumer market too. I guess when they say “larger” form factors they really mean “cheaper.” Will a 17″ Tablet really move the Tablet market? I’d be surprised.

Also, the press release lists a handful of issues that may influence the market–such as the release of Longhorn and the Ultra Mobiles. Actually, at the top of this list I’d put Intel. Intel probably has the most influence on the Tablet market–outside of Microsoft. And in some ways, Intel’s influence is greater. Give me a dual core Tablet with power management that yields 8 productive hours of use all in a cool-to-the-touch 3/4″ thick case and you have one amazing Tablet–at any size. Oh, and then toss in broadband wide area wireless to boot and the story gets even better. All of these capabilities will come courtesy of Intel. On Intel’s schedule. Intel will set the pricepoint.

Without some other systemic changes in Microsoft’s Tablet efforts I’d say that Intel is the one to watch. Put another way, if Intel puts its marketing might behind the Tablet, hold on. All predictions are off.

Could Windows Vista be as significant a change in the market? I don’t know. I’m hoping PDC 05 will have some answers. Two years ago I would have said “yes.” But that was back in the lofty, Longhorn days of PDC 2003. If Windows Vista includes powerful new sharing and collaboration, and ad-hoc networking APIs for developers, Tablets will become even more compelling. Similarly, if new communication platforms are released, this too could change the equation significantly.

There’s also one other key indicator to the success of the Tablet PC: Sales of notebooks. Over the last couple years of talking to people about Tablets, one of the best indicators I’ve found as to whether people “get” Tablet PCs is whether they already use a notebook. If they are desktop bound, more often than not they don’t understand how they could benefit from a Tablet PC. However, today notebook sales already are outpacing desktop sales. And the spread is sure to increase. But will the next four years of sales (the period the Instat report covers) be consumed by the transition to notebooks–or can the Tablet be positioned as the “easier to use, more flexible notebook” during this transition? Or is the Tablet destined to stagnate around the five percent market share? If Tablet enthusiasts and ISVs have anything to say about it, hold on to your battery packs–you haven’t seen nothing yet.