The incredible shrinking tablet

No, tablets aren’t getting physically smaller! But the NUMBER of tablets being sold continues to fall. Analyst firm IDC reported yesterday that tablet sales for the first quarter of 2017 were down 8.5% compared to the same period in 2016, falling from 39.6 million units to 36.2 million. This marks the tenth consecutive quarter of negative annual growth.

Tablet sales Q1 2017

This is very much in line with our 2017 prediction on tablets, which calls for a 10% unit decline for the year as a whole, to fewer than 165 million units, compared to over 180 million in 2016. See the chart above for the updated quarterly tracker, showing all quarters since the tablet form factor took off in 2010 with the launch of the Apple iPad.

Lots of reasons for the decline in sales. People keep tablets longer, and don’t upgrade as frequently as phones. Since 2010, our smartphones have gotten bigger (yay #phablets!) and our computers have become thinner and lighter. But a critical problem for the tablet market is the demographic donut hole in the middle.

Kids under 10 quite like tablets And those over 65 use them a lot. But people in the middle, especially millennials 18-35, are not the same. Asking them about tablets is like asking them about DVR players. They know what one looks like, know how to use it, and may even own one. But they almost never use it.

Not to spoil the surprise, but a study I have written that will be launched on June 21 in Paris looks at French Gen Y/millennials. Across over 55 types of behaviors, ranging from shopping and finance to travel and entertainment, tablets represented only 2% of all activity! Hard to get the kids to buy new tablets when they aren’t using the old ones much.

Another survey from Global Web Index shows that tablet ownership is actually beginning to fall. See chart below.


More updates on tablets as IDC publishes their numbers, of course.

Are you #Adlergic?

Back when I was a kid, you couldn’t avoid ads. They were in the newspapers, magazines, on radio and TV. Just talking about TV, not only was there no PVR/DVR for recording shows and then fast forwarding through the ads, most of us didn’t even have remote controls! You had to actually get off the sofa and change the channels or turn the sound down. So we watched ads…lots of ads.

In 2017, technology has made it easier for some percentage of the population to avoid some kinds of ads like never before. It isn’t everybody, but I think at least 10% in North America and over 5% in Europe would engage in more than four of the nine behaviours listed below. Take my #adlergic checklist for yourself now:

  1. Do you subscribe to Netflix, Amazon or equivalent SVOD service, and at least in part because they are ad free?
  2. Do you use an ad blocker on your computer?
  3. Do you use an ad blocking app or operating system on your smartphone or tablet?
  4. Do you subscribe to a streaming music or video service…and pay the premium for the ad free version? (There are ad free versions of Spotify and YouTube.)
  5. Do you use a PVR/DVR for half or more of your traditional TV consumption, and skip most of the ads?
  6. If you don’t use a PVR/DVR, do you usually change channels, mute the sound or leave the room during commercial breaks?
  7. When you are in the car, listening to the radio, do you switch to another station if an ad comes on?
  8. Or pay for satellite radio such as Sirius, which is ad free?
  9. Or listen to a radio channel (such as CBC/SRC in Canada or other Public Sector Broadcaster), because it is ad free?

This is something I am thinking about for a 2018 Predictions topic. As far as I know, I invented the term #adlergic in Vancouver at a client presentation on January 16, 2017, and then used it in public that night at the big launch. I like the concept: the more ads we eliminate from our daily media habits, the less we tolerate the ones left. This suggests that the number of people who are allergic to ads is likely to grow over time! I have some other thoughts:

  1. The percentage of people who strongly try to avoid ads is much higher in North America than Europe. Our TV ad load is much higher: US TV ad exposure is 5X what someone in the UK would see! We are more burned out.
  2. I suspect that younger people are more likely to be #adlergic than older.
  3. I also suspect income plays a role: if you have more money it is easier to avoid ads, either through premium ad free versions, or owning a PVR/DVR.
  4. I also suspect the percentage of the overall population that is #adlergic is MUCH LOWER THAN PEOPLE IN THE MEDIA INDUSTRY THINK! People in the industry are some of the worst offenders when it comes to avoiding ads, and it is a kind of filter bubble. We believe that almost everybody skips all kinds of ads all the time, but I have a hunch that it is still pretty rare across the population as a whole. Likely about 10%, and almost certainly not more than 20%. (Don’t get me wrong: almost everybody probably indulges in one or two ad skipping patterns of behaviour. But relatively few do it across more than half of their various media consumption channels.)
  5. Advertisers know about this trend. Nobody closes their eyes while driving, so billboards and other out-of-home advertising still works. People still go to football games, which is why the stands, the turf, the ball and the players have ads all over them. Even #adlergic people use Facebook, and seldom install mobile ad blockers, which is why mobile social advertising is such a fast growing category.

Send me your feedback. What do you think this means? Are there any other kinds of ad avoiding behaviour I have missed?

Icy roads save lives: surprising outcomes from Canadian winters

Did you know that driving fatalities in Canada are MUCH lower per capita than in the US? About 38,000 Americans (drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians) are predicted to die in auto accidents in 2016[1], on a population of 325 million, which is a rate of 11.7 fatalities per 100,000 population. Meanwhile Canada, with 36.5 million people, will likely see deaths of around 2,100 in 2016[2], or 5.8 per 100,000: almost exactly half the US rate.

Which is odd: we are both big countries with varied terrain, challenging weather, similar propensity for long road trips, and large populations of daily car commuters from the suburbs. We drive mostly the same cars, from the same manufacturers, with the same safety features. Regulations aren’t identical, but they are largely similar.

One difference is almost certainly motorcycles. I used to ride, and still have my motorcycle license…but they are NOT as safe as cars in a crash, and we all know it. Lots of people in California and Florida ride year round, which is not true of any cities in Canada, expect Vancouver and Victoria. The risk of death from riding a motorcycle is between 5 and 35 times higher than for a car, depending on how you calculate it, so higher rates of two wheeler driving in the US raises their national death rate. Also, US motorcyclists are less likely to wear helmets.

Another contributing factor is seat belt usage. In Canada, over 95% of people used seat belts as of 2010, while the US was 10 percentage points behind in the same year, with only 85% compliant. That 5% of unbelted drivers and passengers represented over 35% of all road fatalities in Canada, so it is obvious that the lower US rate of seat belt usage is a big contributor.

Another factor (that I haven’t seen anywhere else!) is salt. Every winter, we try to keep our roads and highways clear with road salt: Ontario alone uses over 2 million tonnes per year! In addition to the cost and environmental harm, all that salt leads to accelerated corrosion of our cars and trucks. I seldom see a car over 15-20 years old in Ontario, Canada. The engines may still work, but the body is shot.

But in Ontario, California I pass many vehicles from 1995 and earlier. These are not “vintage” cars as we know them in Canada: lovingly kept in special garages and taken out briefly to auto shows. These are clunkers; 25 year old cars and trucks that are driven by people who largely can’t afford to buy a new one. Not only do they not have air bags or ABS, I am fairly sure some of them may not have steering wheels and/or brakes! 🙂

Those cars are pretty bad polluters with terrible gas mileage…but they are also death traps: more likely to get into a serious accident, and much less able to protect occupants in the event of a crash. And that fleet of extremely old cars just doesn’t exist up here.

I would estimate that  the “forced retirement” of Canadian cars due to corrosion from anti-ice usage SAVES a couple of hundred Canadian lives a year.

Pass the salt.




[1] The US number for 2016 is an estimate based on the reported rates for the first half of 2016. Something odd is going on in the US: the rate was around 26 per 100,000 in 1972, and has been falling pretty steadily since then to 2014. But 2015 and 2016 saw the rate move sharply upwards. No one is sure why, but one theory is that the sudden increase in distracted driving due to smartphones is the biggest contributor.

[2] The Canadian numbers are my own estimate. The 2014 reported statistic was 1,834 deaths. I am assuming that the Canadian numbers are rising at about the same rate as the US. There are some anecdotal reports than Canadian deaths are rising in the last two years too and possibly for the same reason as the US.

Will we all have roofs that double as solar panels in the future?

It is REALLY hard to tell from Elon Musk’s event last week. I know it was mainly about “vision,” but here is a rapid list of the 20 questions we need answers to:

1) What is the exact price per square foot of these tiles? Standard 50 year asphalt roofing shingles cost about $1 per square foot.

2) How much does it cost to install these? Standard roof shingles can be done by anyone with a ladder and basic skills, but even getting a professional to do it with water membrane, etc. will cost you only another $2 per square foot. Installed price is therefore $3/sq. ft. Standard 5kW solar panels are about 400 square feet in area, cost about $15,000 installed, and are therefore $37.50 per square foot. At a guess, a Tesla roof will cost AT LEAST $30,000 installed, assuming that owner put 1,000 square feet on the south facing side of their pitched roof. (More on pitch below.) It could be much more: other solar tiles tend to cost 2X what panels do per square foot. Is this a $50,000 roof?

3) According to the article, “Tesla’s roof will cost less than the full cost of a roof and electricity will be competitive or better than the cost of a traditional roof combined with the cost of electricity from the grid.” We need a lot more data on price assumptions for efficiency, efficiency over time, and electricity costs.

4) Is it much more difficult to install than traditional roofing materials? Most roofers don’t know how to do wiring stuff. Will it be hard? Also, many people need to make changes to their roof over time: install a new vent or skylight or whatever. How does that work with quartz tiles?

5) Solar is one thing, but roofing is another. When a roofer does your roof they don’t just put it up: they offer a warrantee against leakage. How will this work with a novel material requiring different techniques and running electrical connections?

6) If a normal house catches on fire, the fire department cuts through the roof fast to get water inside. Cutting through asphalt is easy, how will they deal with quartz tiles? If the roof is generating 5kW, will firefighters be risking electric shock?

7) In the US, there is a building code rule: 2014 NEC (National Electrical Code), which requires the ability to bring all voltages in the system down below 30V within seconds of shutting the system down. How would this work with Tesla solar tiles?

8) How well do they last? Does their efficiency at generating electricity decline over time? I.e. are they still a good roof after 25 years, but not a good solar panel? This matters a lot, and is also something that no one has the answer for. The ONLY way to really find out what the 25 year efficiency for a new material will be is to install it in real world conditions and wait 25 years!

9) One thing I worry about is heat. If you’ve ever been on a roof on a summer day, it gets HOT up there. Which is a problem for solar panels: they produce less electricity when they get too hot, and if they get too hot too often they become much less good at producing electricity over time. Which is why almost all solar panels are not flush mounted, but have big air gaps behind them to allow the solar cells to cool down. Flush mounted roof tiles might have heat dissipation issues.

10) Many roofs are at an angle/pitch. Facing south would be great for solar, but does it make sense to cover a north facing roof with these tiles? East? West? Whole roof? Part of roof? Does the pitch matter? What about the latitude of the house? Solar panels in Canada are installed at different angles than in Florida, for instance.

11) How durable are they as roof materials? Yes, Elon says they will last a long time, but no-one knows until they have actually been in the field for decades. Would hailstorms crack them?

12) Most roof materials are easily repaired: when one tile or shingle or whatever leaks or breaks, a worker can go up and replace only the damaged portion. Do these tiles work the same way?

13) Also, walking around on a roof is hard already. Glass tiles and any kind of moderate pitch seems pretty slippery. Especially if it is raining at the time. Which, in my experience, is when 100% of all emergency roof repairs occur. 🙂

14) What happens when you get a lot of snow on the roof? (Many inventions that work well in California work much less well in Canada or Sweden!) [Edited to add: according to Musk, you can get tiles with heating elements inside them to melt snow. Which sounds good in one way, but what about the incremental cost, etc?]

15) Exact electrical output, counting latitude, cloud, snow, orientation and roof angles would be nice.

16) Do you have to buy a PowerWall or other battery storage unit? Is that factored into the total cost?

17) Data on water leakage compared to traditional materials over time. At the end of the day, the main point of a roof is to act as a roof. Nobody will care about the electricity generated unless these tiles are at least as effective at keeping the rain out as traditional materials.

18) While we are talking about the environment, can the tiles be recycled or safely disposed of?

19) How much do these things WEIGH? Serious question: all roofs are safe up to a certain weight, but will collapse if they exceed that. This matters especially for snowfall: you can get tons of additional weight up there. People get killed in roof collapses.

20) Elon said that these solar tiles were only 2% less efficient than traditional solar panels. Some people think this means that if the average solar panel is about 20% efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, that the new tiles will be (0.98*20%) or 19.6% efficient, or basically the same. Other people think it means they would be 18% efficient, or 10% less. Big difference. The reason I bring this up is that there have been other solar tiles for years now, and they tend to be about HALF as efficient as standard roof mounted.

Worth noting that last point. There have been other manufacturers of solar roof tiles. Maybe Tesla has solved lot of the problems, but almost all the other solar tile products have left the market. They cost too much, didn’t generate enough electricity, and had many of the other issues I note above.


One ring to rule them all…or at least buy coffee.

There is a new wearable technology, and I am not completely negative on it. Don’t get me wrong: NFC payment rings (that you wear on your finger) are NOT going to be the Next Big Thing, and will not be more popular than smartphones or tablets. But I think that we may see millions of these on people’s hands by 2018, maybe even 25 million. Why might smart rings be more popular than smart watches such as the Apple watch or smart glasses such as Google Glass?

It is true that smart rings don’t do very much compared to smart watches or glasses. In my view, that’s not a bug, that’s a feature! While it is technologically possible to make a head wearable or wrist wearable show notifications and make calls and have a screen, the device ends up being big, bulky, noticeable and expensive.

On the other hand (as it were) a ring containing an NFC chip is only good for authentication. You could use it to make a payment, unlock your phone or front door or car door…and that’s about it. But since it does only one thing, it costs about $50, not $500. No battery. No reliance on a smartphone or Wi-Fi network. And almost no one would ever notice that you are wearing it.

Next, wrist wearables like fitness bands are kind of nags. They bug us to get off our butts and walk or run or exercise. Which is great, of course…but it is like pushing water uphill! Most people are lazy, and don’t want to move around more than necessary. Getting people to exercise is (sadly) harder than getting them to buy more stuff with an easier payment technology.

Speaking of uphill battles? Over the past 30 years tens of millions of people have stopped wearing things on their face. Over the last 10 years tens of millions of people have stopped wearing things on their wrists. Contact lenses and laser eye surgery have let many people get rid of glasses, and ubiquitous smartphones have let many people get rid of wristwatches.

Getting people to go back to wearing something they thought they had gotten rid of is hard; I think that is part of why sales of other wearable technologies have been so disappointing. But there has been no significant move away from wearing rings.

Finally, most of you won’t remember this, but finger-worn technology is not a new thing. In the 1970s, there was something called Mood Rings. They didn’t work well, were pretty unattractive, and were ruined if you got them wet. But they sold MILLIONS, and at a price that is equivalent to about $250 in today’s money.

I haven’t got a lot of data on this, since NFC ring tech is so new. But I have a hunch this wearable might actually surprise on the upside.


Why digital may not take all of the ad dollars: that darned Pareto Principle

Digital advertising spending has grown over the last decade by stealing a lot of share from print magazines and newspapers and some other categories. But the odd thing is that ad spending in North America for both TV and radio advertising is NOT collapsing in the same way as print. In fact, depending on the year, both are still rising! I have a theory as to why.

This gets a little tricky, so bear with me! You may remember something called the Pareto Principle, also known at the 80/20 rule? It says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This isn’t true in every industry, but it IS true a lot of the time. Many companies get about 4/5 of their revenues from one fifth of their customers, for instance.

It is also true of many digital behaviors, according to Nielsen. The top 20% of users are responsible for 76% of in home Internet usage on a PC, 83% of smartphone video, and a shocking 87% of streaming on a PC. (Is hyper-Pareto a thing?) On the other hand, the 80/20 rule does NOT apply to traditional TV and AM/FM radio. The top fifth of viewers/listeners still account for more than their share, of course…but they represent ‘only’ 52% (TV) and 48% (radio) of all usage. Much less than Pareto would suggest. Why is this important?

If you are an advertiser, and you want to sell a product with a very precise and targeted market in mind, digital is awesome! You can spend only what you need to, and ‘waste’ very little of your ad dollars. (It doesn’t mean they always buy, but at least you aren’t paying for ads to be seen by people who would never purchase your product.)

But what if you are selling a product that EVERYBODY might want to buy? In that case, if you buy (for example) display ads on video streaming on a PC, 87% of your ads will be seen by 20% of the market, and the rest of your market will see very few of your ads.

That suggests that some products are better for digital, but others are better for traditional broadcast media like radio and TV. If true, that would suggest that the spending gains seen by digital in the past few years may start slowing, TV and radio will stay resilient or even grow, and that their relative shares will stabilise for the next few years.

Interestingly, that is exactly what seems to be happening when we look at ad spending trends for the first half of 2016: TV and radio are doing better than expected, and digital is still growing, but a little less than expected.

The implications for the future of TV and radio advertising are intriguing. Yes, audiences are dropping a little, but ad spend may be more robust.


Advice to a 25 year old: so we had coffee, talked about your job hunt, and I made some introductions?

I have “coffee meetings” with people looking to make a career change or start a new career dozens of times per year. I am always happy to do it, of course…but my time is valuable. So they owe me and so do you! 🙂

What do I want in return? Saying thanks is great, and you already did that, with a prompt, fulsome, and heartfelt email the next day. Well done, you were raised right!

But what else might you owe me? I don’t want money, no flowers needed, and I have no interest in your first born child. What I would like is brief but meaningful information sharing, preferably via email or Messenger. Two kinds please:

1) If I introduced you to persons A, B and C…let me know how it is going after a week or two? “Hi Duncan: I have a meeting with A on Friday, B next week, but C hasn’t been replying to my emails.” Why do I want to know this? Because I take our conversation seriously, and my commitment to help you equally seriously. If I made the offer to have you meet the right people, there is a little flag in my mental “to do” list until those meetings take place. If C isn’t getting back to you, let me know, and I will gently assist; you will get your coffee chat, and I will sleep better at night knowing my job is over!

2) Please send me brief follow-ups after each meeting? Why? Because I want to know how useful my process of making introductions is. If I am sending you (and others) to meet people who are rude and unhelpful, then I need to cross them off my list. Equally, if the meeting outcome is “They said it was a waste of time, and they not only hate me, they won’t even talk to you any more” then that is an important thing for me to know about too! If they hire you to be CEO of their company, then I will be happy for you, and not worry about coming up with any more names for you to meet. Finally, if they liked you well enough and referred you to other people or firms, I might be able to help you there too.

To be clear, you’re only 25! I am not criticizing you for not knowing all of the above. I didn’t know it when I was your age, and most of your peers don’t communicate well in this way either. I also know that it isn’t laziness on your part: you worry that you’ve taken up a lot of my time already, and don’t want to “bug me” with a bunch of follow up emails. This note is let you know that you are NOT bothering me, and that I would rather get more information from you than less. If you start spamming me…don’t worry, I will be sure to let you know. Immediately. 🙂

And maybe not everyone my age who makes introductions has the same preferences I do. But I think most do want to hear back about whether the meeting has been set up, and how it went. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my preferences.

Bringing the best and the brightest together, one speech at a time.

Another nice thing happened to me this week. I was shooting a video for Deloitte in our new offices on Monday, and the nice lady who had set the whole thing up was unfamiliar to me. After we finished the shoot, I asked if we had ever met before?

“Not exactly,” she said, “but in the fall of 2013 I was looking for work, and had a couple of possible jobs in line. I was at an IABC event in Toronto where you gave your Predictions talk, and some part of why I decided to pick Deloitte was that speech. You made Deloitte seem like a cool, interesting and fun company to work at.”

I was (briefly) speechless. As a speaker, I have never received a better compliment. My role at Deloitte is to get prospective clients to talk to us, keep existing clients happy by giving them fresh insights, and (as often as possible) to have them give us money-making projects and engagements.

But none of that works unless we have the best and brightest and most diverse group of employees possible. Finding out that I helped, at least in some small way, has sent my personal job satisfaction through the roof. 🙂

The best predictions never get published!

I had something nice happen yesterday! A reporter who covered the tech beat back in 2001 took the time to write me:

“Yahoo’s sale to Verizon had me laughing as I recalled a January 2001 interview where you predicted Yahoo would one day be sold for nickels on the dollar.

My editor at the time said I had to remove that from my copy.”

Given that Yahoo’s peak market cap was about $120B, and they just sold the core property for under $5B, it is nice to have my prediction more-or-less come exactly true! Nickels on the dollar indeed.

I guess the other thing to note is that many of the best and most accurate predictions tend to get edited, modified or vetoed outright. The truly bold and useful predictions almost always look unpublishable when they are first made! So don’t censor yourself when thinking about the future.

Is the PC industry “collapsing?”

Not exactly!

1) Yes, PC sales continue to fall. Q2 2016 sales are down 4.5% from the same quarter in 2015.

2) But given that PC sales fell over 10% for all of 2015, and are being forecast to fall 11% this year, a 4.5% drop is actually better than expected!

3) Oddly, Apple PC sales are falling faster than average: they are losing market share. I have no idea why that is, but it is an interesting shift given that Mac share had been rising for 6-7 years now.

4) Going forward, I predict that PC sales will continue to decline: bad years will be down around 10%, average years will see a 5% drop, and good times will be flat. It is possible we might see a year where sales actually increase, but a) I wouldn’t count on it; and b) any increase will be 1-3%, nothing spectacular.

5) PCs are a mature market, with stable and reliable technology, and an ever lengthening replacement cycle. Most people and businesses will buy a new computer only when the old one breaks down; a new machine every 6-7 years.

6) This has NOTHING to do with how computers are being used. Fewer new ones are being purchased, but the most recent US data shows that people in all demographics continue to use their computers for an hour per day (not including work usage) and the usage is actually higher in 2016 than it was last year: internet on a PC rose 10 minutes year over year according to Nielsen.

7) Also worth remembering that even with continuing declines, we will see over 250 million computers a year be sold, worth well over $100 billion. Still a massive industry, and an important platform, with an installed base of over 1.6 billion devices.