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Winning in Tablets Requires More Than Just Great Hardware

{complink 7426|Gartner Inc.} forecasts that the iPad's operating system will dominate tablets during the next few years, which says something about what {complink 379|Apple Inc.} is doing right.

The research firm forecasts that the iPad's OS will dominate the tablet market during the next few years. It also details how Apple is delivering more than just a tablet through the iPad's powerful and user-friendly interface. OEMs should take heed.

According to Gartner's report, Apple iOS will represent 69 percent of the tablet market this year and will show up in the majority of the devices sold during the next three years. In 2015, iOS will represent 47 percent of the tablet market.

The user experience Apple has created explains why iOS will have the leading share for the next few years. Indeed, it is the interface that makes users want to run apps on the iPad instead of on another tablet. The interface should only get better in the next-generation iPad.

“Apple iPad did to the tablet PC market what the iPhone did to the smartphone market: re-invented it,” Gartner said. “A media tablet is not just a different form factor to perform the same tasks that can be done on a PC. Tablets deliver a richer experience around content consumption, thanks to the ecosystem they support.”

Gartner's point is interesting — Apple is transforming the tablet form factor into something new and exciting. While the graphics, processing power, battery life, and other mobile features are critical, they are in many ways the starting point; it's the overall user experience that really matters.

Take the iPhone, for example. In a nutshell, the tactile screens of the iPhone 1 and 2 are touch-friendly, and the icons and touch buttons are intuitively placed, so it's easy to navigate through the different applications. Then, there is the availability of the applications; the iPhone has more apps than any competing device.

The main lesson for OEMs is that it's not wise to launch a tablet in today's market if you think that the form factor alone will drive demand. That said, OEMs probably will flood the market in the coming years with hundreds of cheap tablets, in the hopes of making profits on very tight margins, without offering something truly revolutionary and competitive.

The tablet chip announced by {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} is a case in point. Intel is likely to target tablets with its upcoming “Cloverview” CPU architecture, and it will be interesting to see if Intel can manage to lower the power consumption of its x86 CPUs to compete with {complink 444|ARM Ltd.} in the mobile space.

However, the odds are long that any manufacturer can use that incremental-at-best advance in processor technology to reinvent the tablet experience to the extent that Apple has done with its iPhone OS.

I mean, how often in history has any original equipment manufacturer successfully reinvented an electronic device?

The iPad could still face some formidable competition, of course. The {complink 4644|Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)} PlayBook might have something to offer, especially for business users whom RIM has long targeted, although the reviews since its launch a few days ago have been less-than-stellar.

Also, if Gartner's forecast is correct, there are probably many more professional applications in the pipeline that will run on different platforms.

{complink 2294|Google} Android tablet pricing could help boost demand for Android devices. But Android offers a meager number of apps, compared to the iPad. That number probably won't come close to eclipsing the number of iPad apps anytime in the near future.

There is always an opportunity for a smart OEM to offer something new and different that could steal market share away from the iPad, of course. But Apple has set the bar very high.

21 comments on “Winning in Tablets Requires More Than Just Great Hardware

  1. AnalyzeThis
    April 15, 2011

    Bruce, I think you hit the nail on the head: the tablet form factor itself isn't the most important thing. It's the user experience and interface which is going to determine whether or not you have a winner.

    I think some companies are ignoring this and churning out rushed products, thinking that the form factor alone is what is going to sell. And that's not remotely true, as you say, you need to have a lot more than just great hardware.

    Although given Apple's head start in tablets, you're going to need both a great user experience AND great hardware if you hope to compete.

    I feel that there are already too many players in the tablet space… and many companies haven't even launched their versions of the form factor yet! Holiday time this year should be quite interesting as I'm fairly sure there will be a glut of products, heavily discounted and priced to move.

  2. Nemos
    April 15, 2011

    Despite the forecasts, I think Apple has a long way ahead if wants to dominate in the tablet market. Don't forget that since now Apple hasn't had competitors but today a lot of new players occur. Furthermore, customers don't like “black box” devices.  

  3. Ariella
    April 15, 2011

    True, and when someone stands on top of the hill, others climb up to try to knock him down.

  4. Anand
    April 16, 2011

    Bruce,

      Do you feel missing features like Adobe Flash, Swype, Google Navigation will impact sales of iPad tablets in any manner ?

  5. DataCrunch
    April 16, 2011

    Even with all the recent competition, Apple’s iPad is the still the tablet to beat.  Although there is a mad rush to put out tablets onto the market from would be competitors, the reviews on these tablets have yet to measure up to the features and the user experience of the iPad.  So far, the only one close from what I have read is the Motorola Xoom.  RIM’s PlayBook reviews have been disappointing.  So far the iPad still sets the bar on tablets and it seems smartphones too.

  6. saranyatil
    April 16, 2011

    although many players are entering into tablet market, android tablets will just remain as an alternate product lying on the table. No product can beat ipad in tablet segment. iOS has the best user interfaceand apps.

  7. Bruce Gain
    April 16, 2011

    @Anandvy: I certainly think so–for me, these missing apps help to convince me to not give up my laptop ianytime in the near future.

  8. Susan Fourtané
    April 17, 2011

    With new players and all, Apple may remain as the main player for two reasons:

    1.It may be the case that Apple dominates the market, in part, thanks to its devote users. Some of them become like zombies at the time of defending an Apple device. A good motto could be: It's Apple. It's the best reason to buy it. 

    2.Apple products have many advantages concerning OS and apps over the competitors.

    -Susan

  9. Nemos
    April 17, 2011

    I have seen this behavior , the zombie style, maybe that's why Apple “hit” the prices up. These two arguments you just said give me the impression that Apple has dominated  ,because the Αpple name is fashion. 

  10. Susan Fourtané
    April 17, 2011

    To certain extent, yes, it is. What makes Apple products so expensive if not that?

    -Susan

  11. Susan Fourtané
    April 17, 2011

    nemos, – I just read this http://www.ebnonline.com/author.asp?section_id=1150&doc_id=205518& – It made me think of what we had just discussed here. It may be just how the Apple empire started: with Steve Jobs not bothering by orders of less than $100. In a way of saying something like: this is the price, take it or leave it. 

    I admit I like the Apple products. I just don't agree with the price. 

    -Susan

  12. Susan Fourtané
    April 17, 2011

    @Bruce – There are many different facts playing in the tablet game. More than just great hardware and a certain marketing vision plus what you have added and also a determination to be the first in innovation. 

    As we have been discussing with @nemos, customers' attitude and response toward the brand plays an important role at the time of defining who the winning tablet in the market is or could be, too. 

    -Susan

  13. Anna Young
    April 17, 2011

    I don’t think so. We'll rather see a revised and updated version. This is often the case.

  14. Eldredge
    April 17, 2011

    Apple has done a great job with the interface, and with it's marketing/branding strategy. As long as they continue to innovate, they should remain in the lead for the tablet market for the foreseeable futrure.

  15. Hardcore
    April 17, 2011

    Today I received one of the 'latest' clone Tablet devices from China, as one would expect it runs the Android operating system, has a new 10″ screen and 3G wireless capability.

     

    This is a next generation prototype that is under review .The hardware is good, it has a reliable Freescale CPU and capasitive screen, But I'm afraid to say that from a usability point of view it 'sucks' stronger than my Hitachi vacuum cleaner.

    Why?

    Because even the simplest tasks, for turning on/off a WiFi network, requires a complex navigation of a system application and menu subsystem, same with reconfiguring the time zone settings, this is not the case on the Apple product, and it is these little touches that are distinguishing the players in tablet market.

    It is not the fault of the manufacturer that the Android systems is 'weak' as regards usability, but this is why the Apple product is superior, because it is a complete system that is well thought out with a strong fusion between software & hardware, and until the other players in this field realize this fact, they are wasting their time.

    The future  will show a decline in Apple product domination in the tablet market, purely because Apple dominated the market from the start(there is not really anywhere else they can go).Apple are loosing the market because of a dilution effect, rather than to superior product designs.

    I would have to guess that  the Android operating system is not going to be ready to offer any serious competition to the Apple software until at least revision 2.5 or greater , but if Oracle get their way Android may be terminated before it can become a major competitor to Apple, the question will then be, what will happen to all of the competitors in this market if they are suddenly blocked from utilizing Android.

     

    HC

     

  16. DataCrunch
    April 18, 2011

    It seems that Apple also has another major advantage besides being the most elegant device is that it has a very healthy iTunes and App Store business.  Apple’s iTunes has become the largest music vendor in the US and over 10 billion songs have been downloaded since it started in April 2003 and generates now over $500 million a quarter in revenue.  The Apple App Store has also hit the same milestone recently of 10 billion apps downloaded since the App Store launce in July 2008.  With stats like these, Apple could lower their pricing on their devices because they receive healthy recurring revenue from iTunes and their App Store, which is a major advantage over their competitors.

    Some interesting graphs:

     

    Source: 148Apps.biz

    Source: Piper Jaffray

  17. elctrnx_lyf
    April 18, 2011

    Dave, the details you put in here is really makes sense why apple is able to acheive sales. Apple has got the best platform to deliver services, thats what make them distinct. Great user interface of apple devices is what is putting them in the number one position all the time. The hardware platform is just about providing the necessary infrastructure for the application to run. I think Android will catchup with iOS soon in this space.

  18. Taimoor Zubar
    April 18, 2011

    When it comes to designing an OS or any other application for tablets, the approach that most companies adopt is to modify the software working on PCs or laptops and shape it into a software for tablets. I think the approach is totally wrong. The companies need to rethink the entire design from scratch rather than modify it. Without that, they will not be able to provide a good experience to users. There are several useful interface features (such as multi-touch etc) which the designers are not able to take advantage of if they modify the design rather then reinvent it.

  19. tioluwa
    April 18, 2011

    I agree with TaimorrZ, creating a tablet OS is nothing like a laptop or desktop OS, but i think it has alot of similarities to mobile OS.

    Any company in the mobile inductry should find it easier to delve into the tablet market in the area of OS design.

    I'm surprised to find the Andriod tablet OS still grossly unable to compete with the Apple OS, but i believe things will get better in the near future, even RIM's Playbook seams to fall short in a number of areas.

    Apple has a powerful combination of style, flexible OS, and abundant APPs for users to choose from.

    I think they will still run the show for a good while

  20. t.alex
    April 22, 2011

    In fact Android devices is beginning to flood developing countries where Apple product is way too expensive.

  21. Mr. Roques
    April 28, 2011

    I'm confused about the strategy Apple will push moving forward with the mobile market (iPhone and iPad). The smart phone market is by default more expensive, which is the market they normally look for but they are not hands-down going for the top-end clients… the iPhone is getting to people everywhere!

    In that sense, they can't compete with 100 different models, each one launching a new feature. They launched the iPhone 4 less than a year ago, they are looking at the iPhone 5 for a fall launch and I've started hearing about a new iPhone.

    The same goes with the iPad… there's so much competition that they need to innovate so much that it becomes too much. Don't you think?

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