It is no secret that the glory days of the tablet PC may be behind us. This past quarter, market tracker IDC put the number of global tablet shipments from Q2 2015 at nearly half the total shipments from the device’s peak quarter in Q4 2013. Industry buzz suggested that the tablet may have just been a fad; that the tablet would soon fizzle out of the market and out of our collective memories much like the digital photo frame. However, more recent trends and a new wave of products from industry leaders show that the tablet market has merely plateaued after it's swift rise. The tablet has found it's niche in the PC ecosystem, combining mobility, computing power, and easy usability, to position itself as the next staple technology product. The tablet has evolved into a device that allows you to be constantly connected when on the go while packing the horsepower to keep users active and focused. In other words, the ideal business tool and that is where the market is headed.

The Tablet Peak

After the Q4 2013 peak for tablet, many consumers found themselves owning their very first tablet device and were undoubtedly eager to figure out what tablet craze was all about. A question which may have become more serious than many consumers anticipated; what is the whole tablet craze about. Tablets couldn't quite match the computing power of most notebooks and certainly couldn’t match most desktop computers. The devices were also too large to carry around like a smartphone and holding one up at a music concert or sports event was universally disdained. Some music venues went as far as to ban the devices from the premises. The tablet had all the makings to be just a temporary gimmicky device just waiting for the steam to blow away.

Step 1: Don’t be this guy.

Using tablets to record concerts

Photo Courtesy of: Day and a Dream

Tablet Redemption

What separates the tablet from all other gimmicky, trendy devices is that the tablet is not just a single faceted device. For example, the digital photo frame offered only one specific function which turned out to be too cumbersome to be worth the investment. The tablet, however, holds the diverse range of functionally as any computer, but when most consumers already own a notebook PC and smartphone it’s hard for tablet devices to move beyond a cool device to a functional device.

A New Market for Tablets

Let’s take a look at the most recent success story of the tablet market: Microsoft’s Surface. When Microsoft released it's first wave of Surface devices, the tablets received poor reviews from all angles. The focus of these reviews can be summarized with a familiar question; who is this Surface tablet for? And Microsoft recently found the answer. In July, Microsoft announced that Surface sales were one of the few highlights for the software giant’s financial quarter. Microsoft had discovered high demand for Surface tablets, specifically the Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3, among enterprise customers, business users, and the education sector. The advertising campaign surrounding the Surface devices was the correct angle for the tablet; this was not a device to compliment your notebook PC, this was a device to replace your notebook PC. Microsoft discovered that many businesses turned to the Surface because it offered the ability of a notebook in a sleeker design and mobile potential. With the trend toward cloud storage, a large sized 500GB or 1TB hard drive in a bulky notebook became a hassle to carry, especially among mobile business people.

After discovering this new market for tablets, Microsoft did not hesitate to lock it down. The company soon announced an LTE compatible version to the Surface 3, allowing users to access cloud data and storage anywhere a network signal could find them. More recently the company has announced that it will expand the number of business-to-business Surface resellers from 150 to 4,500. Dell and HP have jumped on the bandwagon too, not by creating their own copycat tablet devices, but by selling Surface Pro tablets through their own enterprise channels.

Although Dell and HP seem to be backing away from competing with Microsoft’s Surface, we can expect a wave of tablets designed to mirror the Surface. The first so far has been Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 700. When first announced the Miix 700 drew a slew of headlines such as “Lenovo has created a Microsoft Surface clone.” It was true though, the Miix 700 has a nearly identical design as the Surface, and now that Microsoft has revealed the demand for productivity focused tablets, we can expect more Surface look-a-likes. Even Apple is moving toward the business side of the tablet market. During the unveiling of the new iPad Pro, Microsoft briefly took the stage to showcase the device’s compatibility with Microsoft Office Suite. A move which can only suggest that Apple wants the iPad Pro in the hands of business users.

Looking toward the Horizon

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Microsoft was the company to find the demand for business tablets. With the rollout of Windows 10, Microsoft was looking to offer a complete Microsoft software and hardware solution. It’s much easier to share and store information across a vast range of devices when all those devices also share the same operating system.

With consumer tablet demand expected to remain slow, Microsoft well positioned to go after the massive business PC installed base, and it appears that it's competitors are not far behind. It's certain that going into 2016 the tablet industry’s target on business buyers will be larger than ever.