Tuesday, 05 February 2013 11:10

Tablets a bitter pill for MS

By

According to a new report from The Diffusion Group (TDG) at least 10% of TV viewing will be on tablets by 2017.

It may seem a long time away but tablets have already cannibalised the desktop, net/notebook PC and Mac market and R&D funding has swung to producing even more variations of this new touch enabled form factor. Let’s face it – desktop computing is dead (See iTWire article).

Over a decade ago I attended an Intel launch at Sydney’s Fox Studios. The gist was that PC’s as we knew them were only a small part of the future computing paradigm, that future computing needed to be device independent and allow for a great user experience on a variety of form factors ranging from the Dick Tracey watch to the George Jetson wall sized home screens (with an Intel processor powering all those devices please!). They implored software developers to ensure that everything they did could scale up or down and run on any device. And every day since I have remembered those prophetic words and seen them edging toward a reality.

In theory Intel was right but two factors were not aligned to make this happen. First was that miniaturisation and technology were not at the point where you could make a tablet weighing much under a couple of kilos and second the internet as a delivery mechanism was not yet ready (and it is only recently with 4G LTE and soon fibre to the home that enables this).

TDG estimates by 2017 that 65% of US households will own multiple tablets [replacing multiple net/note/books and desktops] “and companies need to be actively exercising their tablet [mobility] strategies now, not later”. They say that Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft will drive competition in the tablet market and there will be major new opportunities and challenges for content providers, TV networks, multichannel (pay TV) and advertisers.

But it is not just about TV watching – it is about tablets coming of age. And it is not about tablets which are by definition about 10” touch screens and weighing under 1Kg but about what they can do.

I spoke to a major computer retail franchisee about tablet sales. He made some significant points.

iPad mainly sells because it was the “first” and because of the App’s – what it can do. Apple is a cool brand and marketing, not technology drives its sales. iPad sells itself [and he hates the intrusion of Apple stores into “his” retail space]”.

“The Android market is crowded ranging from cheap $199 no-name specials to the heavy-weight Samsung. Buyers who don’t want or can’t afford Apple ask for the Samsung Galaxy Note that owns the Android space completely – it is the only Apple alternative.” Although Acer, Asus and Toshiba and others have Android offerings they are not as “requested” and don’t get retail display space prominence.

Windows 8 [RT] tablets sales were painfully slow in December/January – we could not sell Surface RT against iPad or Galaxy Note and still can’t. The big change is that we now stock (an important point – if you can’t see them you can’t sell them) Windows 8 [x86] tablets from Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, Samsung, Sony, HP, Toshiba and we will stock the Surface Pro and more in this space. We needed to get it through our heads that Windows 8 tablets don’t compete with Apple iPad - kind of like if you want a notebook/desktop buy a Win 8 tablet instead. Once we moved to this paradigm (and could show they had USB, HDMI, printer support, network access, ran Windows software etc) and put a specialist/enthusiast (and they are hard to find) behind the counter Windows tablets started selling over other Windows devices every time”.

“In the end we want volume and easy sales - “a tablet is an iPad or Galaxy” and a Windows tablet is really still a mobile PC”.

Opinion

Hmmm. By George I think the franchisee has got it - it is not about the device size but what it can do. MS aimed the Surface RT at iPad/Android tablet replacement and it did not gain traction in this space.

I think Intel (all those years ago) had a better handle on the Windows tablet market – it is simply a device that does more of what the traditional PC used to do and with new Atom, i5 and i7 processors replaces the traditional net/note/ultra/book and desktop market almost completely. It’s a new PC category and should stop trying to compete with iPad.

Using this logic Windows 8 RT Surface is doomed to fail but Windows 8 x86 tablets (including the much anticipated Surface Pro) will soon become the preferred and standard Windows computing and BYOD (bring your own device) platform – faster, cheaper, better and they will appeal to all those who need MS Office. 

As a postscript I noted that Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia had some interesting points to make on the mobility front (paraphrased).

First was that Nokia could not have entered the Android market – he wanted to avoid the Android battle where the market was too crowded including the dominance of Samsung there at the expense of everyone else.

Next that Nokia was in direct competition with BlackBerry by using Windows 8 Phone but he felt that the BlackBerry ecosystem would be far less impressive than Windows 8 Phone “We launched the Lumia with 6,000 apps and now have 125,000 that were specifically designed for it”. Not to mention all the Windows 8 Phone apps as well. Can the market support four phone/tablet OS’s (Five if you include Windows 8 as well)?

He added that Nokia was looking at a Windows 8 tablet to compliment the Lumia and “trying to learn from that [Windows Surface RT tablet] and understand what the right way to participate would be”.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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