Analysts can’t seem to agree on whether 3G-enabled sales of tablets are doomed or not. According toIDC, Samsung and Motorola, heavy hitters in the smartphone market, are finding the carrier distribution channel is not translating to the tablet category.
The question is, are tablets mainly an in-home device, a companion to the television and PC? Multiscreen video apps from Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon are amongst the most popular, even if content rights issues limit their use to within the home over Wi-Fi. Are users willing to pay extra for 3G capability when on-the-go Internet and apps are not the primary use case?
Vendors are seeing poor sales through telcos, mainly due to those heavy data plans, IDC noted: "[Sales have been] largely stymied by many consumers' unwillingness to sign up for the 3G/4G data plans that the carriers typical require along with those devices. We believe vendors who continue to focus on the telco channel for distribution will face serious challenges."
Meanwhile, Bob O’Donnell, an IDG analyst, jumped on the bandwagon and told Computerworld that the data plans are “bogus,” and that no one wants to pay for them, especially since tablet owners are likely to already be paying a data fee for their smartphones. He raised the spectre of hundreds of thousands of unshipped 3G tablets sitting in warehouses—and again said that Motorola and Samsung are especially seeing the issue.
However, other firms are forecasting robust growth for 3G-enabled tablets. Parks Associates sees sales of tablet computers accelerating as the number of global 3G and 4G wireless subscribers grows. Earlier in the year it predicted that 68 million of the 126 million tablets sold in 2015 will support 3G or 4G technology, more than half. Last year, 29 percent of the 16.5 million tablets contained 3G.
“We are seeing strong consumer engagement in data-intensive services and activities, such as social networking, uploading photos to the Internet and watching online video, on mobile phones,” Parks Associate analyst Jennifer Kent said.
The tablet sector as a whole, however, remains robust, 3G or no 3G. IDC said that increased competition has prompted the firm to revise its 2011 tablet sales forecast upward by 6.2%. In the first quarter unit sales fell 28% from the holiday period, as it to be expected. Q2 is thus showing a healthy rebound.