HP concedes Tablet Market and why Apple has nothing to worry about

Well by now those savvy tech people have already heard that HP today decided to fold its tablet device offering not long after cutting the price by $100. This doesn’t mean much in isolation, but then news comes that Galaxy Tablets will be given away with purchase of large LED HDTV at Best Buy. Is Samsung also suffering more than they can accept from the iPad’s dominance in the tablet space? Probably. I read a recent survey where about 90% of the people who were considering a tablet planning to purchase an iPad.

Just from personal hands on experience with several different tablets and their respective OSes, I can see why. Android, with its splatter painting approach to UI consistency and no quality standards is great for people who want the flexibility to customize everything and don’t want or need a walled garden approach. However, the geeks and technology hipsters are vastly outnumbered by the people that just want to get stuff done on a portable device. They, the unwashed masses, don’t care about customization beyond the very basics: wallpaper, app arrangement, alert/notification systems and what case they think looks cool or will protect their device best.

After 15 years in tech related jobs, I too am sick of the added complexity of managing aspects of eye candy the way Android and other OSes handle it. Also, most of those features the device manufacturers are touting are like greek to the average consumer. Who cares it your device runs on a 1.6GHz dual-core Atom or Snapdragon or whatever the marketing department’s “hot processor” du-jour is. What people really care about is how difficult it is to use your product, and how easy it is to learn. When you do update the OS, users expect the interface not to dramatically change and leave them lost until they relearn the GUI. Oh, and if your device crashes, you might as well count every crash as decreasing the likelihood of repeat business by 1% or 2%.

This is where Apple has the upper hand: They not only make sure things are consistent, and test the hell out of the stability and foundation of their UI standards on top of the research they put into making the UIs intuitive as possible. They also add things later that, in a way, make sense. In the rare case that a convention is changed, it is with thought and often allows the older users the option to do it the old-fashioned way. None of the other mobile platforms can claim this level of scrutiny and planning.

Sure it’d be easy to brand me an Apple Fanboy and move on. But read on. Everyone who knows me knows I’ve been an advocate of a lot of Apple products.  But what is less known is there are times I reject requests to purchase Apple hardware or software based on what’s available. This was when OS X was just getting off the ground and Apple’s product line up wasn’t nearly as focused as it is now. Newton and the first rev of the AppleTV were rejected based on their lack of focus as products or features.

Long ago, Newton got better but was always a device without a solid niche (or killer app) that was also too expensive to justify. When the managing editor of my company (who in the pecking order outranked me) came to me asking me to approve the purchase of one, I flatly refused on the spot and I told her why. She could have gone over my head, but my reputation as a keen judge of technology stopped her. She knew deep down that I was right and she wanted it more out of the “gee whiz” factor. She hadn’t considered what she needed a portable device for. Instead, I told her that for her needs, she’d be better off getting a Wall Street PowerBook G3 or its successor if she was willing to wait 4 months. I had picked out the Wallstreet for myself and even had a cool name picked out for it, “Gossip.” (The company was in cutting edge company and product performance research, so it was fitting in a kind of joking way.)  She loved the name and adopted it for her machine (a Powerbook G3 — Lombard I believe, that came out in the time I projected).

I was also “guilty” of purchasing PowerCenter computers when they offered the same performance as comparable Apple machines.

But I digress. Until manufacturers look at the end product and actually test the device’s GUIs for stability and usability as thorough as Apple, think of their device not as a computer, but a tool to get work/fun/research done, Apple will remain in the lead in the tablet market. Unless by some miracle they can make a $100-$200 tablet comparable to Apple’s and convince people to ignore Apple’s huge library of apps, accessories and support, not to mention rock solid ease of use.

Updates and Additons: Two articles I saw today from AppleInsider.com today support my conclusion in this post:

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/09/01/sony_tablet_effort_receives_lukewarm_reception.html

and

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/09/01/best_buy_slashes_rim_playbook_tablet_price_by_150.html

I had not read any of the bloggers nor reviews mentioned when I wrote this. But I must note this is the perception on the market by bloggers and does not indicate success or failure of other tablets. However, the signs are clear: HP’s exit at a loss, other tablet makers and retailers slashing prices, and the lack of sales gains. I also wish to add that in the comments section of the article I read about HP I predicted the WebOS might get a shot in the arm by the sudden sell through of the HP Tablet. I haven’t had time to read the article today. But I saw a headline indicate that the WebOS team would get a second act. This is perhaps the only chance to save WebOS — which I think is the on par and in some cases superior to iOS.

In fact I think that had HP given it time, WebOS could have taken the number 2 spot if HP would have marketed it properly and emphasized its features/ease of use over the Android and even Apple’s iOS.

Sadly, as the history of Betamax vs. VHS shows us: the best technology doesn’t always win out. If you look at the history of electronics and computing, the key is to build solid marketing and creating an ecosystem of services, create a “buzz” and simply outdo your opponent by responding faster than them to new technology and changing conditions or simply beat the other guy on price or a combination of the above. Microsoft is a master at marketing and building ecosystems. It also helps that they tend not to give up when defeated. They come back and improve their products through iterations with XBox>Xbox2, and NT>2000/XP and Vista>7 being a prime examples.

In the end, it’s hard to know what would have happened in tablets had HP stuck with it. But perhaps WebOS isn’t as dead as it appears. Perhaps there is hope for it.

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