Tablets: The Next Generation Console Has Already Arrived

It is rumored that Sony and Microsoft will announce their next generation consoles in the 2012-2013 time-frame. Maybe we’ll start seeing hints at E3. A full-blown unveiling seems unlikely at this point. After all, Sony still has the NGP to promote and Microsoft is fresh off the Kinect high. Yet, are next generation consoles already here? Let’s look at some stats.

In a span of 5-6 years, both the PS3 and 360 have globally sold 43.4 and 42.9 million units respectively. The Wii clobbered them both, with about 84.4 million units sold. Nintendo was seen as a disruptive force when the Wii shattered all sales records last decade. However, if you look at software sales for 3rd party publishers, this doesn’t appear to be the case on the content side.

Now, let’s look at the iPad. By the time January 2011 rolled around, nearly 15 million iPads had flown off the shelves. The iPad 2 is forecast to blow by this. It took about a month for the iPad to sell 1 million last year. The iPad 2 sold as many in a weekend. Some forecasts peg worldwide iPad 2 sales at 30 million for 2011. I can’t say I disagree.

In a scant 2 years, Apple will have sold nearly as many tablets as Microsoft sold XBOX 360s since 2005.

What are people doing with all these tablets? They’re not reading eBooks or flipping through The Daily. Naturally, they’re gaming.

The increase in hardware capabilities has also been dramatic. The original iPad was a technically modest device. Apple has remedied this with a significantly more powerful GPU. The iPad 2’s performance gains on its predecessor are significant.

I’m sure the next-next generation consoles will blow us away with their technical splendor. Whether that’s a smart move or not is debatable. Still, at these rates of improvement, the tablet will provide a ‘good enough’ experience with a convenient form factor and media consumption model that is a serious threat to consoles.

Nobody will play an FPS without a dual analog, you cry! I heard the same thing about FPSes on consoles in the pre-Halo era (“Mouse and keyboard is the only way to play!”). Not only does the wider market not care about such minutiae, but they want content that doesn’t adhere to the tried and true control-pad standard.

When I was a kid, I was raised on Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and arcade games. Paying for entertainment you interact with via a joystick is normal to me. The basic business and interaction model remains the same on the modern console.

However, today’s young gamers have been raised on a steady diet of, PopCap, and Club Penguin. Although the millions of 45-year-old soccer moms strung-out on Farmville will likely never convert to a core gamer, there’s still hope for the next generation. Either that, or the core gamer will be redefined.

A 55 inch HDTV and a $600 console is an alien concept to this new crop of customers. After all, they’re watching video clips on YouTube for hours. A tablet’s convenience is an adequate counter to the ‘quality’ of a living room experience.

Perhaps we can look at the 3DS as a taste of the future. Nintendo’s 3D handheld is the first device from a console manufacturer to launch in the disruptive era brought on by the iOS ecosystem. By some accounts, it’s not really going well.

We may see similar stories about the next generation of consoles when they arrive.

The tech world moves fast. Just a little over a year ago the tablet market didn’t exist. Now we’re talking about it conquering the planet. Just think about the position tablets will be in by 2013. The first sign of things to come will be tablet gaming emerging as a separate genre apart from mobile this year.

6 thoughts on “Tablets: The Next Generation Console Has Already Arrived

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