Cool Solutions

Tablet Musings



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September 7, 2010 3:56 pm

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As a Product Manager in the Collaboration space I track the mobility market relatively closely and, like collaboration, I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time in the space. I wanted to share some of my musings on Tablet PCs– I don’t declare that I am an expert by any means, but it is certainly a space that I love to follow at the moment.

At the minute it seems very hard to go more than a couple of days without seeing some news about a new tablet device. Of course, Apple started this latest craze with the iPad, which shipped back in April. There are already rumors of a new 7” iPad headed our way (I was wondering if they would announce it last week actually). I bought my wife, who is pretty much a technophobe, one of them and she loves it. It’s also amazing to see my youngest son, who is 2, pick it up, unlock the screen and start playing his favorite car game – and I think that this is the contributing to the continuing success of these tablets. People who struggle with technology, or don’t have the dexterity to use a mouse or press keys, can pick one up and get going pretty quickly (obviously this is not the ONLY reason they are successful).

There were signs almost immediately that the iPad was eroding the netbook market. This last quarter Asustek (famous for the Eee PC) lowered their netbook sales forecast and cited the iPad as the reason. http://www.digitimes.com/NewsShow/NewsSearch.asp?DocID=PD000000000000000000000000016049&query=APPLE
It should come as no surprise then, that the same company that popularized the netbook market has announced a tablet of their own.

Everyone is getting in on the action. Remember that purchase of Palm by HP for $1.2B? Odd choice in my opinion, with so much of the market getting in on the Android bandwagon, but that purchase has to be all about tablet PCs. I don’t recall seeing any kind of announcement from them as yet, but I am sure one is in the works. Dell released their Streak – I was on the phone with a customer (a hospital) this week and they were considering buying everyone a Streak as their primary device – super portable, VoIP comms without the need for a data plan and a platform (Android) that they can code to. I am hesitant to predict that Streak will be a winner – this is not a space that Dell has been strong in previously, but I think it is interesting that more and more PC makers are getting into this market – I credit that to the fact that these devices are blurring the lines between PC and Mobile.

I heard another customer of ours (also a hospital) buying all of their Doctors an iPad, and yet another equipping all of their porters with iTouches. Finally RIM, and their rumored Blackpad. Despite our great relationship they remain customarily tightlipped on its existence (as they always are regarding new devices) but, with their very strong enterprise presence and focus, I have to believe any potential Blackberry tablet will be a success.

Whilst we are talking mobility and everyone getting in on the action – Intel acquired Infineon (for $1.4B), who make chips for smartphones. Seems like Intel sees the massive growth potential in the mobile market, and the threat that creates for their traditional Wintel business.

Oh, and the biggest loser in all of this? Windows Phone/Slate 7 (or whatever their tablet version is called). Not seeing too many announcements about vendors buying into that platform. Having said that I also need to give Nokia an honorary mention here – these guys owned the mobile market in EMEA (90+%) – they have faltered of late as their high volume, low-end-device market share has been threatened by the vast amount of people shifting to smart phones. Symbian was not suited to this consumer space in my opinion, and Nokia have suffered as a result. They are now looking at Meego, to which Novell is a major contributor, as their platform of choice.

There is a certainly a lot more going on out there (4G and the threat to existing mobile providers anyone?), but it’s definitely fascinating watching it play out. From our side we obviously need to predict where it’s going and design our products accordingly – we did predict it with the iPhone 1, but we were certainly caught short when Nokia dropped Intellisync, but our Mobility Pack is shaping up well for a release very soon (public beta is out there if you have not already downloaded it).

We are working on new WebAccess templates for GroupWise, which I will share more detail on soon. Teaming also has iPhone and Blackberry templates for on-the-go access and, as we move Pulse forwards, we will be sure to include a mobile interface.
Anyway, I think I have rambled on long enough – like I said, an interesting space to watch, and I only really covered the tablet space and even that was at a high level. Mobility and Collaboration are closely linked markets and both of them are incredibly dynamic right now.

What are your thoughts?

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6 Comments

  1. By:blntskul

    I read an article the other day speculating about the 7″ iPad, and the author’s opinion was that it made no sense. I had to rebut because I think that’s the sweet spot for a tablet. For me, and likely many, tablets are not powerful or generally useful enough to supplant a laptop for most real work. There are tons of ‘apps for that’ out there, but I really don’t need 1001 varieties of table hockey. At the end of the day, I still have to carry a laptop or work at a desktop computer. That being the case, I don’t care to heft around another inconveniently and unnecessarily large device (like the iPad) that could offer me just as much value in a more manageable 7″ package. A 7″ tablet would fit nicely into a portfolio along with other items, and is a perfect eBook Reader form factor. It would be great for all of the same things that the iPad is great for now. No zooming to read websites, plenty large for clumsy fingers to operate. I tested the 5″ Dell Streak, and it’s very usable even at 5″. Unfortunately for the Streak, it’s probably too large to replace the smart phone for most people, and it’s too expensive to make sense. If I have to carry a smart phone and a laptop, the device between them needs to be differentiated enough from both of them to be worth the bother.

    I also personally don’t wait in line for whatever Apple produces. They’re innovative, but they’re also elitist pigs. If it’s not their idea, it must not be good. If it doesn’t work, it’s the customer’s fault. So I look forward optimistically to the 7″ tablets from Samsung, Dell, Viewsonic and others that will be powered by Android. The platform and the form factor makes more sense. I’m also very intrigued by the Cisco tablet that’s coming. If it does everything that they say it will for a competitive price, they’ll be a top seller as real productivity tools.

    The netbook isn’t finished yet either. With new Intel chipsets in the pipeline, better operating system choices and a nice dose of reality, the netbook may just prevail in the end. I think if Apple had produced a netbook rather than a tablet, it would have set the bar higher as well, mostly due to the operating system. Windows killed the first round of netbooks. Maybe Android or some of the clever Linux distros for netbooks that are out there now will revitalize it. I have an iPad, and always think how much better I would like it if there was a keyboard attached. :-)

    • By:aevans

      I don’t see a tablet being my daily device for some time to come, but I know some people who are doing more and more with them. There are Citrix apps for the iPad which are pretty usable (I don’t have it, so this is anecdotal). We had an analyst event in Boston just after the iPad shipped, and there were 2 analysts there that had already relegated their laptops to their bags, and were taking all of their notes on the iPad. I also know of one partner who only takes his iPad now when traveling. Still a long way from primary device, but it’s coming.

      You are right on with the apps though – it is getting hard to see the wood for the trees out there, and this is going to become very confusing for the less tech-savvy users. Too much of a good thing, but I believe that law of supply/demand will resolve some of that. As the app market gets over saturated with Air Hockey apps the developers who are not making money will move on to other things.

      Like you I also don’t believe the netbook is finished, but it has certainly not lived up to the massive hype that surrounded it – who knows, I may be saying the same thing about tablets next year :) Personally, a netbook never made sense to me – I viewed it as “like my laptop, only less usable”. I’m not fussy, and if my laptop bag weighs 10 pounds or 13 pounds I really couldn’t care – the laptop is not the heaviest thing in there, so the minor weight saving, for me, was irrelevant. Oh, and arguably Apple did produce a netbook (kinda, maybe) with the Air – though immense in price I believe they were going for the ultraportable market, even though it was slightly larger than netbooks generally are. I have never looked at the kind of volume that it shipped, but I don’t recall seeing too many of them on my travels.

      I think that the iPad, and many tablets, are more concerned with content consumption, rather then content creation, whereas netbooks cover more of the creation component. It may be this that is dividing the use cases for now, though I would also expect convergence there.

      • By:blntskul

        About the netbook being “like my laptop, but less usable”. They made some missteps that created that problem. Microsoft and Intel can take the blame for that. I think they wanted to say that there were inexpensive options out there, but make them so undesirable that no one would want them. I think what would have gone over better is an 11″ wide screen device with a decent resolution – at least 1024×640 but preferably 1440×900. Wide screen and 11″ mostly because that affords you a decent keyboard. They generally went smaller on the screen/keyboard and unusable on the resolution. Other factors are the underpowered processor and, at least in the early rounds, 1GB memory limits, which they overcame. Essentially, take the smallest ULV notebook and scale it down a little further to 11″, and keep the price under $500. Of course the operating system was part of the problem too. Windows just isn’t designed for low end devices. Netbooks run ever so much better with Ubuntu, etc. Hopefully Android will be a factor here.

        I saw some photos of a Dell Inspiron convertible tablet. I don’t know if I like it. It’s kind of funky, but at least they’re thinking in the right direction. What would be cool and highly useful, in my opinion, is a tablet that has a dock/carry case/keyboard where the tablet snaps/locks on, and closes like a typical clam shell laptop for portability. Essentially a laptop concept where the LCD comes off. I saw an IBM product like that some time ago, but they took a different approach. Their idea was to run a typical OS on the machine while docked, then when the display is removed, the display would run its own, different Linux based OS. While creative, it’s a little too much. Keep the functionality with the display and make the dock/keyboard/case dumb, cheap and optional.

  2. By:aevans

    I just saw this article about iPads at SAP. They currently have something like 1000 iPads in their workforce, and the plan is to be at 17,000 within 12 months.
    http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2010/09/ipad_fever_hits.html

    • By:blntskul

      The comment about the 17,000 count being the same as the number of Blackberries? That’s interesting. If an employee can use an iPad in lieu of the Smart Phone, that’s a worthwhile investment. Maybe they use data a lot of make calls very little, or maybe they plan to use bluetooth headsets for calling. If they’re not supplanting one technology with another, it doesn’t make that much sense to me. It would be nice to hear the real story from SAP.

      The Samsung Galaxy Tab is looking like a really nice option. It’s in the 7″ size that I’m looking for, and generally kicks butt. I couldn’t personally ditch my smart phone for it, but I would want to.

      • By:aevans

        Yes I noticed that too. I am not sure that I would give up my smartphone to do all my calling through the iPad – would need a VoIP client for and will rely on the background app update. Certainly not portable enough for that. I have not yet looked at the Galaxy – we are keeping our eyes on the market to see which other pads get user traction, so we can buy one and test on it.

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