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Hook, Line and Sinker: Inside the Ecosystem of Tablets

Mr. Kevin Tillmann, Consumer Technology Association

I’m admittedly an Apple fanboy locked into their ecosystem. You may stop reading if you can’t stand people like me, but I will be touching on other platforms as well.
As someone who has bought into the “iEcosytem,” I own a Retina MacBook Pro, iPad Air, iPhone 5s and Apple TV. I own these devices because they sync content via iCloud and operate seamlessly with one another. I also own a bunch of movies and TV shows purchased through iTunes over the years, and the only (legal) way to watch this content across multiple devices is to use Apple’s offerings. If I were to switch to another platform, I’d lose access to hundreds of dollars of content and apps that I own.
I especially enjoy the AirPlay feature of my Apple TV. I can instantly stream content on any device I’m watching to the big screen – like when I find a hilarious video about illegal bootleg fireworks gone awry on my iPhone that my girlfriend just HAS to see.
On the other side of the fence, both Android and Microsoft platforms have similar (and very successful) ecosystem hooks. Google has been having great success with the Android OS on both smartphones and tablets, as well as through interoperability with Chromecast. Amazon Fire TV is also another popular Android-based TV device and Roku, with its specialized version of Linux, plays nice with everyone. Additionally, Microsoft has shown off its Windows 8 ecosystem on phones and tablets. Do they also have a TV-based device in the works?
Generally speaking, digital media players that stream content to a big screen TV have been very successful, especially with people who already own tablets. Ecosystems of devices in the Internet of Things were also a huge story at the 2014 International CES.
According to CEA’s Consumer Outlook on Tablets – August 2014 Edition releasing next week (CEA Store), over half (54%) of online U.S. adults now own a tablet. Among these owners, 41% also own a digital media player like an Apple TV, Chromecast or Roku. However, just 12% of tablet non-owners own a digital media player. The symbiotic relationship between these devices is crystal clear.
Not only are digital media players more common, but tablet owners are also 20 percentage points more likely to own a smartphone (86% of tablet owners versus 66% of non-owners). Tablet owners, for the most part, seem like they are able to identify when and where each device is most useful, even though they both share similar apps and operating systems. Portability is a major factor and consumers love having choice when it comes to screen size based on the situation. Why limit myself to watching a movie on your smartphone screen on an airplane when I have room for a larger tablet?
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how the pressure of “phablets” – larger smartphones – affects tablet sales. Tablets, although still very popular in terms of likely future purchases among consumers, are probably beyond the double-digit annual growth in ownership we’ve seen over the past few years. I think the key to continuing a growth trend with tablets will be proving to skeptical consumers that these connected devices can all coexist in an ecosystem.
At the end of the day, we really want things to “just work” – right?