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What Role Will Tablets Play In Back-To-School Sales?

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What Role Will Tablets Play In Back-To-School Sales?


What Role Will Tablets Play In Back-To-School Sales?

What Role Will Tablets Play In Back-To-School Sales?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

As consumers become more comfortable with tablet devices like Apple's iPad, their sales are seeing a boost. And industry analysts are expecting sales to ramp up even more as parents look to equip their kids for the upcoming school year. Michele Norris speaks with Sean Murphy, an industry analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association, about tablet sales — and the role they are playing in back-to-school sales.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Michele Norris.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


NORRIS: The consumer electronics business is changing in a big way. That's according to a new report out today from the Consumer Electronics Association or CEA. And that change can be summed up with one word: tablet.

Sales of tablets, the iPad chief among them, have skyrocketed. CEA predicts a 157 percent increase in sales this year over last year. And helping fuel that boost are high school and college-bound students.

For more, we're joined by Sean Murphy. He's been crunching the numbers for the Consumer Electronics Association. He's there with me in the studio. And let's start with your forecast for 2011. Tablets are still relatively young technology. This time last year, some experts were still wondering if they had staying power. What do the numbers that you crunch actually tell you?

SEAN MURPHY: You're absolutely right. A year ago, the success of the iPad really came out of the blue. It was not predicted. So what we saw, I think initially was a typical sense of what's the staying power, is this a fad, how does this affect the PC platforms.

What we're seeing now, and the numbers bear out, we're not even close to seeing what this might end up being in terms of units in revenue. So we're not at the peak yet and we don't anticipate being at the peak for a couple of more years.

NORRIS: So does the tablet's success come at the expense of traditional desktops or laptop computers, or even the relatively new, very small sort of hybrid computers that are known as netbooks?

MURPHY: That's an inevitable question and we've actually been facing that. Every year or two, there's the new product that we're afraid is going to cannibalize all the other platforms. And I remember two years ago, at this exact time, netbooks were the next ascendant category, and we were worried are those going to eat into notebooks and desktops.

SIEGEL: As tablets become more ascendant, notebook prices are increasingly getting cheaper and cheaper. The technology gets better. And in the CEA industry what we usually see is products get smaller, cheaper and better.

So people maybe are waiting to see how the dust settles, are tablet prices going to come down. So notebooks haven't been affected yet. But I think in the next year or two, there'll be an inevitable impact.

NORRIS: Should we assume that these are particularly well-suited for the classroom?

MURPHY: I think they're ideally suited for the classroom for a variety of reasons. A tablet gives you the functionality of a notebook, but it's easier to use, it's smaller. And I think what we'll see, in addition to the ease-of-use, is professors will be much more interested in incorporating lesson plans.

We saw with e-readers, text books slowly but steadily being incorporated into digital content. That will certainly not slacken. And it's easier for everyone involved. I think it makes sense if the students are engaged using their technology. It's no longer a toy. It's a real actionable alternative to bring in the classroom.

NORRIS: Now, I'm going to ask you, Sean, to look into your crystal ball.


NORRIS: Because just as smartphones sort of displaced the handheld video camera and other devices, do you see another young technology that's out on the horizon that might one day overtake the tablet one day soon?

MURPHY: Well, that's the zillion-dollar question, right? I would imagine that the next evolution of content will be digital and it'll probably be - it has to be portable.

But as far as imagining, I think even - we're at the point now, where even with science fiction, we've kind of caught up between Skype being able to project of conversation across the country in real time, to being able to download a book and read it in real time.

It's hard to imagine what they're going to create that actually will compete. I'm constantly humbled by how technology finds ways to make the new product that everyone has to have.

NORRIS: Sean, thanks so much for coming in.

MURPHY: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Sean Murphy is a senior analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association.

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