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Where Are the ‘Other’ Tablet PCs?

Three months after hearing everyone at the Mobile World Congress rave about every possible flavor of tablet likely to blanket the global market, I've got to say the alleged multi-brand omnipresence seems to be still alleged, at least where I am.

The other day, I walked around Barcelona with fellow EBN blogger Marc Herman to get a sense of what tablet computers were out there. We're both in the market for one, weighing the pros and cons of different features, form factors, and functionality against, say, next-generation smartphones. We wanted to get them in our hands and play with them before buying. I expected to toy with dozens of options. I was surprised, and disappointed, by what we found.

{complink 379|Apple Inc.} is still, clearly, the gorilla. Considering the company can spend a gazillion dollars to secure parts, and it ranks as the world’s most valuable brand, its mammoth presence is understandable. But it was a slight curve ball for me in a place like Europe, where monopolistic practices are frequently shunned. The only tablets we found at two FNACs we visited were iPads. Historically, FNAC (a large French department store) had a decent electronics equipment selection, which is why we went there in the first place. But judging by the large Apple icon on the wall, I guess that's no longer the case. (For the record, FNAC's corporate online store has many more options available.)

It wasn't much better out on the street. Pickings were slim, too, at mom-and-pop electronics boutiques — and there are plenty lining the 1.5-kilometer stretch locally touted as an urban heaven for gadget lovers. Besides the iPad, we saw only a small smattering of tablets, including Samsung's Galaxy, Toshiba’s Folio, some e-readers (which aren't tablets, right?), and a couple of lesser-known brands, like Point of View’s Mobii (honestly, I was so distracted trying to figure if “Mobii” was stylized with two letter i s or two lower-case Roman numerals that I can’t remember any of the specs).

I'm totally perplexed about who the heck sells these things and where I should go for a demo. Logic points to places that sell PCs, laptops, notebooks, and netbooks since, in my head, tablets are similar to these devices. But, of course, there's the convergence effect, which makes it difficult to define and categorize new-generation platforms. In Barcelona, and I suspect elsewhere, mobile phone operators jumping on the tablet trend seem to want to bundle offerings in some sort of contractual way, although I didn’t stop to read the shop window signs too closely. What really made me do a double-take was seeing a tablet (I can't remember which one) lined up next to speakers and other audio equipment. Why would a store specializing in audio equipment be selling tablets?

While tablets are popping up, even if right now it's only to a small degree, maybe it's not quite the global event most analysts brag about. As I ponder the situation, all kinds of “maybes” swirl through my mind. Maybe I'm a willing buyer in a very young market. Maybe many potential brands are moving through the production pipeline and will come out this summer in time for back-to-school sales. Maybe the Japanese earthquake has slowed supply to most non-US end markets. Maybe cash-strapped and jobless consumers are simply not ready to slap down 200 to 500 Euros (the average price range we encountered) for a glitzy device that’s not completely necessary.

Spain, for instance, has a whopping 21.3 percent unemployment rate; 4.9 million people are out of work. That has had a huge ripple effect on companies; UK-based Dixons Retail recently announced that it would shutter its 34 PC City stores in Spain and ax as many as 1,200 jobs because of sluggish consumer electronics sales. Clearly, paying rent and buying groceries are more important than reading a newspaper or sending an email from some touch screen-enabled black box that has tech-happy San Francisco or Tokyo going gaga.

Undoubtedly, the tide will turn, and I'm certain that within a few quarters, I will be sick of hearing about the tablet segment's raging success. For now, though, I can't help but wonder about the current disconnect. The trend in front of me is lopsided, and the short-term promises I heard a few months ago don't seem to ring completely true.

Are anticipated growth expectations totally realistic in most of the recession-battered world? How are supply chain managers and tech companies evaluating these trends? Are they planning for a post-recession, pent-up demand surge, or for zoning in regions where quick adoption seems most likely?

In any case, I hope OEMs get on with it already. I've got a compulsive buyer's itch to scratch, and if I can't find what I'm looking for, I'll either take a temporary pass, or not buy at all.

13 comments on “Where Are the ‘Other’ Tablet PCs?

  1. DataCrunch
    May 14, 2011

    People are still trying to figure out where the tablet really fits in with their work environment and off-work environment.  For the ones that must have the latest in gadgets, the iPad is still the go-to product for tablets.  There is also a trust factor that has developed around the iPad, in terms of quality and compatibility among versions of iPads and their apps.  As for the other tablets, I can see people are still concerned as they have not proven themselves yet.  They don’t have a large application offering yet and people are concerned about buying their non-iPad tablet and feeling that they are being left out and are nervous about a more future-proof device.

  2. Anand
    May 14, 2011

    “Are anticipated growth expectations totally realistic in most of the recession-battered world?”

     I am not quite sure how many people will actually go ahead and buy iPad's. Most of the smartphones available in the markets have almost similar features to that of iPad's. So I guess people would be happy to spend 300$ on smartphones rather than 600$+ on an iPAD.

  3. Backorder
    May 14, 2011

    Nice post. I think the fact that iPad grabbed so much mind share-its almost synonymous with tablet-has resulted in a direct impact on the dealers mindset. The kind of product iPad is, it targets a very specific customer profile and desire. I doubt if the price tag has a lot to do with its success and would cause it to fail.  An apple iPad would always be a prized purchase. Sometimes, a product's value isnt correlated to its price in obvious ways. 

  4. t.alex
    May 15, 2011

    I begin to see android phones flooding developing markets where iphones are way too expensive. Android phones can do similar functions too. And android tablets will follow the same suit.

  5. Jennifer Baljko
    May 16, 2011

     Thanks all for the comments.

    Since this phrase came up “the tablet profile” – let's define this person. In 2011, who is the most likely kind of person to need/want/buy a tablet? Gadget geeks, on-the-go business people, parents who read to their kids?  How will this profile change in 2012?

    Thanks too for bring up the anadroid phone/tablet. I'd love to read thoughts on these questions:

    – Why is the Android a more likely winner in the developing word? Is it a price vs. practical use tradeoff?

    – Will the world stay  divided? Apple wins the richer developed world's market because of the higher price=higher quality=brand recognition=brand loyalty. Android dominates BRICS and the rest of the world because of its cost, applications, and form factors better meet needs in those regions?

    – What features make Android different than the iPhone or iPad? To me, they kind of all look the same, at least on the outside. I've not yet tested them side by side, so I don't know what's on the inside.

     

     

  6. Jay_Bond
    May 16, 2011

    I think the gadget geeks and college aged kids with a little disposable income are the main growth markets. Most business professionals are sticking with laptops and their smart phones.

    Android has such potential in developing markets because of the cost. Regional manufacturers can use the android system for next to nothing and it will make things easier to market a well known regional brand with the same capabilities as much more expensive rivals.

    Personally I don't think there is much difference between the platforms and their functionality. Each has their own little unique properties, but at the end of the day they both get the task at hand done.

     

  7. saranyatil
    May 16, 2011

    Exactly smart phones are handy easy to carry when compared to tablets and shelling out 300$ for a bigger display which cant be used like a phone.

  8. Backorder
    May 16, 2011

    Jennifer, the answers to your questions spawn from what you started out to define – the tablet profile; and essentially once we know that, we have the key to behaviour of the market.

    The Apple owner is brand loyal person, does not want to take a chance with quality(proven track record), percieves self as cool/unique and last but not the least, does not mind spending a couple hundred bucks more for his purchase.

    The android mobile device owner's first concern is quality vs cost trade off, isnt too swayed by the brand name and approaches his purchase from a utility point of view; Plus, likes to have an 'open' product which helps him 'personalize' it for his use.

    In the developing world, there is a higher percentage of “tablet-consumers”  who fall in the second category and hence the inevitable success of Androids. While, in the developed world, the first category is more prevalent.

    I think this answers our questions.

  9. Jennifer Baljko
    May 16, 2011

    Hi

    Thanks for the profile breakdowns. Helpful info for me as i define what kinds of consumer I am.

    How can this consumer profiling help supply chain managers, particularly at the componet level? how does this affect material planning for the next few quarters? I'm sure marketing people have passed thing kinds of info along to their supply chain groups, so how do they use this information?

    Seems like we could all use a crystal ball to make clearer sense of the budding, but perhaps over-hyped tablet market. If what we think comes true and smartphones the size of our hand can pretty much do what tablets twice the size do, it seems like we're heading into a murky device-convergence battle where a high-tech company's resources will be heavily divided between two similarly-functioning platforms that are just slightly different sizes. It's not necessarily like the long-ago debate of whether consumers would buy desktops or laptops… this now a debate about how portable we want our gadgets to be.

     

  10. Kunmi
    May 17, 2011

    This is true but I think it is a little early to sum up the equation for the tablet lovers. It is still fresh in the market. The mind set is that with time the price will come down and majority of people will begin to consider buying it  for the sake of portability. It is then that consumers response may have impact on the sales of laptobs or desktops.

  11. Hardcore
    May 17, 2011

     

    Hi Jennifer,

    To answer your question:

    “- Why is the Android a more likely winner in the developing word? Is it a price vs. practical use tradeoff?” 

    and in some part  related to features, I would have to say that it is  Androids  'hack-a-bility' that is likely to make its market share increase, specifically because at the moment we are looking at  tablets and  phones, but If we really analyze the situation, we can see security, medical and military applications giving  Android the edge over  Apples Operating system.

    As such I would say that we will see an explosion of  technology that does not fit directly into either camp (pad/phone), just we need to give the market/ environment time to digest the current offerings, I believe that once this has happened we will start to see devices specifically designed for home automation, but that run Android.

    Why?

    Simple it is cost.

    To fix an Ipad to the wall of my house will cost greater that $300 us per access point, by utilizing  android we are looking at a price per unit of less that $50 with integral LCD.

    Take a look at microchips current offering:

    http://www.microchip.com/stellent/idcplg?IdcService=SS_GET_PAGE&nodeId=2018&mcparam=en553929

     

    This device is less than $80US and you can bet that the other semiconductor manufacturers will not stand idly by and let Microchip carve a great chunk of the embedded market for the new device.

    We are gradually hitting a major break-over point, and whilst Apple Os may dominate phones & Pads it  CANNOT dominate other embedded design areas, because Apple will not let its operating system go out into the wild.

     

    HC

     

  12. Kunmi
    May 18, 2011

    No matter the funtionality of a device could be, once there are competitors around, price matters.

  13. Himanshugupta
    May 18, 2011

    i think that tablet is the kind of segment which will take some time to catch up…except iPad. Tablet are something which i see as neither a smartphone nor a laptop…something in between and hard to justify the buy. 

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