Blame the iPad for the crash in tablet sales

The iPad is not new any more, and tablets are so good that you don't need a new one -- but it doesn't mean PCs are back

Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told the tech industry blog Re/code this week that tablet sales have "crashed" this year, after several years of spectacular growth. And he said that PC sales are rising after being in the doldrums for several years. Other data shows a similar pattern: flat iPad sales just reported by Apple, tablet sales declines and PC sales upswings reported by most analysts that track computer sales, and -- most telling -- increasing price reductions by discount-averse Apple both at its online store for older iPad models and through "this weekend only" $100-off deals at Best Buy and other retailers.

By all appearances, the world has come to its senses and realized it no longer wants faddy tablets (of which the iPad is the poster child), but good ol' laptops and desktop PCs instead. The torrid, four-year love affair with the iPad is over. Right? Sorry, but that's not what's going on.

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Why would you replace your old iPad?
It's true that iPad sales (like tablet sales in general) have flattened and even declined. For four years, people have been buying the devices because it satisfied a need they didn't know they had until the iPad debuted. But such void-filling can only be a temporary phenomenon because the void does get filled, which is the big reason tablet sales are no longer skyrocketing. That's a duh.

On top of that, I've previously noted that the recent iPad models lack a certain "gotta have it" quality, and Best Buy's Joly blames the "crash" in tablet sales squarely on the lack of serious innovation in the Apple and various Android tablets. Tablet owners -- which mostly means iPad owners in the United States -- don't need to replace their old ones because their old ones are still quite good.

It's true: I've skipped the fourth-gen iPad and iPad Air because my third-gen iPad from 2011 runs perfectly well. My husband's 2010 iPad 2 does the same, though it's starting to show its age in its slower performance under iOS 7.

If you use an Android tablet, the same reality applies: The newest models aren't appreciably better than the old ones that you'll want to spend $500 to $1,000 for a replacement. That's my boss's conclusion and why he hasn't replaced his 2012-model Android tablet either. Ditto for a friend who loves his 2012-model Nexus 7.

Whether Android or iPad, the newest models are great -- the iPad Air's light weight is compelling, and the Galaxy Tab S has a delightful display -- but the older models are also great or at least great enough.

Tablets aren't quite at the point of PCs, where you can't really tell the difference from one model year to the next; that faster processor doesn't boost performance like it used to in, say, the 1990s. But tablets are getting more like PCs in that innovation is slowing. Until there's a major leap forward in tablet technology, the truth is that people who want or need tablets likely already have one that does the job well.

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