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Marketing spiel, lightbulb cartels and falling tablet sales

If the latest statistics are much to go by it seems the days of increasing tablet sales could be a thing of the past as the world’s best selling model has seen a fall in units shifted of nearly 50% during the last quarter. Now don’t get us wrong, as tech-loving public relations pros we love the iPad, and believe it’s a lovely gadget to own. But, nevertheless, this news didn’t really surprise us given marketing and advertising approaches firms have adopted when it comes to any electronic device.
So in Q4 of last year 25.5million iPads were sold, whereas the latest figures show that number has plummeted to 13.3million, which sounds like a lot but on a global level isn’t indicative of good fortunes. Overall, Apple has announced record profits of $4.5billion for the same period, yet most of this can be attributed to iPhone sales, with 35.2million of the smartphones purchased in that time. Given it was only in the run up to last Christmas that iPads reached their sales peak this seems like a sudden and shocking demise, yet reading a little closer between the lines might suggest things aren’t quite so unexpected.
Back in 1924 the Phoebus Cartel, comprising Osram, Philips and General Electric, got together to decide on the life expectancy of lightbulbs. By reducing the number of hours a bulb would last for these companies new they would boost sales figures and rolled out the first policy of planned obsolescence, whereby a product becomes obsolete at a time planned by the manufacturer.
All very interesting, we hear you cry, but what does this really have to do with 21st Century technology?
Well, although nobody is accusing today’s tablet making giants of conspiring to ensure these latest and greatest feats of personal computing fall out of favour this year, if we consider the way in which Apple and its rivals have used the concept of in-built obsolescence to persuade people to throw away the last model in favour of picking up the newest version, even if there is no real need to replace the device, then perhaps there might be something to our seemingly spurious ramblings.
Those who have seen the BBC series, The Men Who Make Us Spend, should already understand what we mean. In effect, by persuading the public to always want the next big thing the moment it arrives, if not before, consumers are becoming hardwired to tire of must-own items once they become the norm, even if they are still today’s most advanced option.
With the advent of wearable technology-focussed hype, from the iWatch to Google Glass, clearly hand held flatscreens- nice as they are- no longer represent the first gadget on everyone’s mind, especially when so many people have bought one over recent years. Put simply, increasing falls in tablet sales could be seen as inevitable the moment industry news stories began to move beyond such inventions, and talk about different concepts just around the corner.
The lesson to learn for marketers, PRs and advertising folk; be careful what you wish for when trying to ensure the retention of impressive sales figures and the desirability of all new products, because there’s every chance that by asking the average consumer to keep up with your rate of advancement current stock will be seen as outmoded and outdated, long before it really passes its sell by date.
Image (C) Dennis van Zuijlekom

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