Ryan Libson of Bloomington owns two portable-computing devices, his Google Nexus 7 tablet and his Google Nexus 5 smartphone. He uses the phone continually, while the tablet typically gathers dust.

The reasons for this are simple: "The Nexus 5 is big enough for 90 percent of my Web usage," he said, and his smartphone also performs splendidly for email and pulling up work documents.

The larger tablet is now deadweight.

Libson is hardly the only one to feel this way. With many tablet proprietors finding the devices to be redundant lately, for a variety of reasons, it is no wonder this once-hyped flavor of computing device is having a bad year with lagging sales and diminished buzz.

Some are finding their tablets (such as the Google Nexus 7, right) redundant since they their smartphones (such as the Nexus 5, left) are sufficient for
Some are finding their tablets (such as the Google Nexus 7, right) redundant since they their smartphones (such as the Nexus 5, left) are sufficient for most common functions. (Google)

Tablet sales at Best Buy retail outlets have tanked, chief executive Hubert Joly said in a recent and much-publicized interview with the Re/code technology site.

"The tablets boomed and now are crashing," Joly is quoted as saying in late July. "The volume has really gone down in the last several months."

Apple appeared to echo this trend during a recent earnings call with iPad sales figures that were widely interpreted as troublesome.


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The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant shipped 13.3 million iPads during the fiscal third quarter of 2014, compared to 14.6 million in the same period last year. The iPad has been flagging for a bit, with a 9 percent sales decline last quarter and a 16 percent dip the quarter before that.

Tablets overall remain popular with an 11 percent jump in sales last quarter, according to market-research firm IDC. Apple remains the tablet leader with a 26.9 market share, followed by Samsung with 17.2 percent and Lenovo with 4.9 percent.

But the tablet market was more robust in 2013 with sales increases topping 50 percent, according to IDC. Industry observers generally agree that tablet fervor has cooled since the first iPad model in 2010 created a craze.

Experts see a number of reasons for waning tablet fervor, including competition from jumbo phones in the consumer space and from low-cost Google-based laptops called Chromebooks in the education sector.

Tablet users are not as quick to upgrade to new devices as smartphone owners tend to be, either.

As Joly put it in the Re/code interview, "Once you have a tablet of a certain generation, it's not clear that you have to move on to the next generation."

Tablet penetration in the consumer market "has gone so fast that it's reaching an amazing degree, and therefore it becomes more of a replacement market," Joly said. Also, "the level of innovation in the past year has not been as great as it had been in the previous two years ... You need a reason to replace."

Tablet users interviewed for this article echo that sentiment.

"I have a (first-generation) iPad that is still in good condition," said Marcela de Vivo, CEO of the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Gryffin online-marketing firm. "It is more than sufficient ... (and) nothing has malfunctioned. My iPad isn't going anywhere."

Similarly, Twin Cities-based PR agency proprietor Arik Hanson is holding onto his first-generation iPad.

The "kids mostly use it, sadly," Hanson said. The children watch Netflix and YouTube videos on it, and it is "not worth upgrading, since the kids won't know the difference" between the classic tablet and a newer model.

Tech-book author Dave Roberts said "I've been using an older Nexus 7, and I have not had much reason to want to upgrade. The size is perfect, the weight is fine, and the speed is great for reading books in the Kindle app and watching videos on airplanes."

Even a tablet with a shattered screen isn't enough to trigger a new-tablet purchase in many cases amid a burgeoning display-replacement and gadget-repair market. Twin Cities entrepreneurs focused on this market niche say business is booming.

New tablets aren't status symbols, either.

"Smartphones are a status symbol," said Kurt Elster, managing partner at the Illinois- based Ethercycle web-development agency. "Pull out a champagne iPhone 5s, and everyone knows you spent up to $850 on a phone. (But iPads) all look the same."

The rise of the "phablet" -- the phrase used to describe a phone so large at 5 to 7 inches it is practically a tablet -- has also put a damper on tablet sales.

Samsung's Galaxy Note mobile devices are among the most popular phablets, with the 5.5-inch Note 3 causing many to set their tablets aside, and the Note 4 version nearing release. Samsung's jumbo 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 smartphone is also a part of this trend.

As "tablet demand has withered," phablet shipments are to outpace tablet shipments three to one by 2018, according to the Business Insider site's BI Intelligence market-analysis arm.

BI Intelligence notes that "larger-screen real estate encourages sustained on-the-go engagement on content-centric social networks and apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and LINE."

Brian Kennett, a digital-agency director at the Lee Enterprises newspaper group, said he travels extensively and once relied heavily on a series of full-size iPads to keep up on his e-mail and social media.

"I had basically every newest great one, except for the iPad mini," Kennett said. "After owning the Note 3 for about three weeks, I noticed the iPad never really came out of the briefcase. The smaller footprint was easier to navigate on the plane, and I did not miss the screen size."

Productivity on the Note is not a problem for him, either. "I carry a Bluetooth keyboard for when I need to type a long e-mail," Kennett said, "and I simply set up the Note on a kickstand."

Comedian Dan Nainan, soon to perform in Minnesota for the second time, also carries a Note phablet as he tours the world.

The Note is "absolutely fantastic for reading, and it has obviated my need for carrying my iPad Air, which I'm thinking about selling on eBay," Nainan said.

Jonathan Ly of Rowland Heights, Calif., owns a Note 3 and a third-generation iPad, but "currently I find myself sticking with the Note 3.

"My Note is big, but small enough to carry around," said Ly, the community manager at storyleather.com. "Overall, it's something that performs just as well and better, but in a 'compact' size."

Michael Assad of Ontario, Canada, said he "bought an iPad 3 a couple of years ago (and) I loved it for about a week, (but) the use has slowly and steadily tapered off since then.

"I got a new Samsung phone about a year ago with a 4.5-inch screen," said Assad, vice president of sales and marketing at Argenia Systems. Since getting that phone, I almost never touch the iPad unless it's within my reach and my phone is not."

Bloomington's Libson, meanwhile, is astounded at how much he can get done on his Nexus 5 smartphone at the expense of his Nexus 7 tablet and, in certain cases, even his Windows PC at work. He routinely handles office-related e-mail on his handset even if he is sitting at his desk.

Libson, who works in sales, even has set up Google Forms templates on his handset to pull up pricing for various products and to enter customer particulars as he negotiates with them. He set up the forms for use on his tablet, but has discovered they work just as well on the phone's smaller screen.

"It's perfectly readable," said Libson, who has all but abandoned the tablet. "It is never even charged anymore."

Leo Laporte, the California-based TWiT technology podcaster, has uttered the phrase "post-tablet era" repeatedly on several of his popular Internet-based shows.

In one such instance, he said, "Not only are we in a post-PC era, we are in a post-tablet era. We are in an 'everything on the mobile phone' era."

On another episode, he said, "The phone is really becoming the computer ... so we may be in a post-tablet era soon."

Apple is reportedly poised to respond with one and maybe two large-format phones to replace or supplement current 4-inch iPhone 5s and 5c models. It routinely upgrades its iPhone line at about this time of year, and the Internet is currently rife with all the usual rumors about the upcoming hardware, said to be revealed by early next month.

Apple has more than phablets to potentially fear, however.

In the education market, in which the iPad has been hugely popular as a teaching tool, it faces rising competition from low-cost Chromebook laptops running a Web-centric Chrome OS operating system.

Chromebooks have been hot sellers among consumers seeking lower-cost computers, with high rankings in that category on Amazon.com and other online retailers. They're not consumer bestsellers overall, though.

Chromebook sales are set to top 5 million units this year, according to market-research firm Gartner, up 79 percent from last year, and could top 14 million units by 2017. That is miniscule market share compared to PC sales, which are expected to top 300 million units this year, and tablets at 256 million units, according to Gartner.

Chromebooks accounted for 9.6 percent of computing-device sales in 2013, up from 0.2 percent in 2012, according to the NPD Group. That is peanuts compared with Windows laptops (34.1 percent), desktop PCs (27.8 percent) and iPads (15.8 percent), yet Chromebooks notably beat out Apple's MacBook notebooks (1.8 percent).

Chromebooks have done better in the K-12 market as districts snap up the notebooks from a variety of manufacturers.

Chromebooks in late 2013 accounted for 19 percent of mobile-computer purchases in the K-12 market, according to recent Futuresource Consulting findings. The figure was less than 1 percent in 2012, while PC purchases dipped from 47.5 percent in 2012 to 28 percent during last year's third quarter.

Schools purchased roughly 1 million Chromebooks during the second quarter of 2014, according to Google, which is responsible for Chrome OS and sells some Chromebook models directly. Apple said it has sold 13 million iPads in the education market to date, and it claims an 85 percent share of that market.

Chromebooks, according to education-market backers, beat iPads on price, and also have physical advantages such as physical keyboards and a secure, simple-to-manage operating system that relies more on Web-based content than on downloadable apps.

Ease of use is another factor, especially in school districts already using Google's Web productivity tools. This means a student can log in to his or her Google account on any Chromebook and get right to work.

The iPad remains a force in education, though, and is still scoring huge wins. St. Paul's school district is beginning an ambitious, two-year migration to the Apple tablets after ruling out other options, such as Chromebooks.

In a recent survey on mobile technology in K-12 education, 81 percent of respondents in 2013 were using or planned to deploy iPads in the classroom, up from 73.5 percent in 2012. Only 31 percent were similarly bullish on Chromebooks, up from 14 percent in 2012.

Apple, meanwhile, is looking to shore up its iPad sales with a more aggressive focus on the big-business or "enterprise" market. A recent pact with IBM is a part of that.

Apple and IBM, fierce rivals in the early days of personal computers, said their partnership seeks to push Apple's popular mobile devices into the hands of Big Blue's corporate customers with IBM's infrastructure and software expertise on board.

The two companies will collaborate on a suite of apps called IBM MobileFirst for iOS, which will offer more control to IT departments and offer specific functions for different industries, with the first offerings expected in the fall.

Apple will start a new version of its AppleCare customer service specifically for the enterprise, with Apple handling calls from IT professionals, while onsite service calls will be performed by IBM representatives.

Apple, though claiming a foothold in 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies, said it has only about a 20 percent penetration in the overall business market -- which, therefore, brims with potential, it claims.

"We think there's a substantial upside in business," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a recent earnings call. "And this was one of thinking behind the partnership with IBM."

Meanwhile, the iPad and tablet market is hardly on the wane, according to local experts who watch it closely.

"As Mark Twain noted, 'The report of my death was an exaggeration,' " said Phil Wilson, president of the Twin Cities-based Hyper IQ mobile-app development firm.

"Not since the iPhone has there been such a quick rise and adoption of a device as the tablet," said Wilson, who is also a founder of and contributor to the local, tech-focused Minnov8 site and companion podcast. "It only stands to reason that, since advances in these devices are incremental in nature, there will be plateauing."

But "while tablets may seem to be declining in sales, their use is not ... Tablets will continue to be a large part of the mobile-computing landscape," Wilson added.

"I don't buy it," said David Erickson, vice president of online marketing at the Twin Cities-based Karwoski & Courage marketing firm, about suggestions that the tablet is on the way out.

"I agree that there's not nearly as much incentive to upgrade your tablet," Erickson said. "Even so, they're going to be around for some time. They're simply too convenient for multitasking, social TV, and for use in meetings or at the coffee shop."

This is "far from a 'post-tablet era,' " Erickson said.

Find Julio Ojeda-Zapata at ojezap.com. The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.