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Tablet Turblence Continues

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A funny thing happened on the way to the The Year of the Tablet 2.0. Actually several funny things happened. Of course they aren’t so funny if you’re a Tablet manufacturer or developer hoping for a competitor to the iPad. Things didn’t quite pan out for those Tablets released so far due to problems we’ve talked about before. A lot of the problems are self inflicted wounds brought about by a whirlwind pace that almost feels like desperation. Bloggers and journalists got caught up in this swirl as well.

As we’re getting ready to pass the midpoint of The Year of the Tablet 2.0, with a couple of big releases still to come, we’re seeing a number of those who cover the industry pretty much signing death certificates, or at least writing up fatal predictions, for what were some of the big promises and dreams dating back to this year’s CES. Of course everything in The Year of the Tablet 2.0 gets compared to the iPad. Here’s just a couple of examples:

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. We’ve been quite skeptical from the get-go as this Tablet thing is harder than most seem to think. And let’s face it, given the rush to market that some manufacturers thought was necessary, it’s no wonder talking about new promised Tablets in January is akin to picking possible candidates for the presidential field 18 months out. Nothing said that early in either game actually amounts to a hill of beans when push comes to shove, but hey, folks have to have something to write and blog about. And every possible entry has to have its build up, full of hope, and promise, otherwise you don’t have the possibility of a story when they either succeed or crash and burn. And as long as there are companies and PR reps trying to push promised products, there will be folks to cover them.

But once the dust settles and products are released and users actually get their hands on real devices (as opposed to prototypes and demo units) that’s when things seem to change a bit and lofty promises and hopes even out into a different landscape. The two examples I’ve cited above point out that there is still a long way to go for iPad competitors. James and John are not alone in their thinking. But James and John are staking out some turf that others who play the PR game are tiptoeing around with a little more caution.

I’ve been out on a limb for some time now saying that The Year of Tablet 2.0 wasn’t going to yield any real substantive challenge to Apple’s early iPad lead. From the looks of things currently that limb is still looking pretty strong, although anything can change with new entries into the field of play.

I’m not blaming the PR cycle or those who cover the industry here. Like I said it is a game and if you’re going to compete you have to play. But I’m slowly but surely coming to the realization that Apple’s iPad success and the failure of the others to date is changing more than just the new gadget game. It’s changing the way that game is covered. And at the moment the way the game is covered is just as muddled and insane as the game itself.

Parallel to this I’ve spent some time in my local retail outlets talking off the record with some store managers about Tablets. I’m not betraying any confidences here when I say the ones I’m talking to are all very frustrated. Their frustration comes from the fact that customers are indeed listening to the sales pitches and making purchases, but, as we’ve seen reported elsewhere, are returning Tablets at a higher rate than expected. They are finding it hard to compete with the iPad and its hype machine. And, perhaps more telling, they are hearing customers ask hard questions about what version of Android is on the device and will that version be upgradeable in the future. Perhaps consumers (some at least) are starting to pay attention to the fragmentation issues that those in the tech media have been talking about for some time now. I don’t pretend to base any trends on my conversations here, but I find the comments interesting given that this rural area is usually behind the curve when it comes to these sorts of things.

We’re about to enter the Dog Days of summer when things slow down a bit, before the hype begins to heat up for the fall selling season. We’ve got a few major releases yet to come that could change the today’s picture somewhat. I’d also bet that we see some price cutting going on as we move into the fall. As many have said previously this is a market that is trying hard to sort it self out, with many players aiming for second place, or at least a place at the starting gate. This fall of The Year of the Tablet 2.0 will go along way to telling us who the players will be in Year of the Tablet 3.0.

 

 

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

10 Comments

  1. Brad Linder

    06/24/2011 at 2:17 pm

    I think Apple has done a much better job than any of its competitors at letting consumers know exactly what to expect from its tablet. 

    The iPad was also criticized a bit at launch for being nothing more than an oversized iPhone. But the thing is, that’s exactly what many iPhone users wanted. They loved their iPhones or iPods touch, but they found the experience of reading, surfing the web, watching movies, or emailing to be a little less than perfect on a 3.5 inch display. So a device with a larger screen and the same simple interface was meeting a need for existing customers.

    Things are different in the Android tablet space, because the Motorola XOOM bears little resemblance to the Motorola Droid — and it’s not clear that Droid fans are such huge fans that they wouldn’t, say, buy an HTC or Samsung phone for their next device if the price happens to be better. So it’s hard for Motorola, Samsung, HTC or anyone else to compete with Apple on the consistent experience and software/service ecosystem. 

    Then there are companies like Asus which got into the tablet game without any Android phones at all.

    I don’t think this necessarily means Android tablets are doomed. Vizio’s $350 tablet which functions as a standalone device *and* a remote control for a Vizio TV seems interesting, although it’s likely a niche product for home theater enthusiasts. And Archos seems intent on bringing down the price of Honeycomb tablets and using Android on devices besides tablets. 

    But all told, I wouldn’t be shocked if the product category goes the way of UMPCs… a lot of hype initially only to become niche products with a limited audience in the long run. 

    On the other hand, Windows 8 could change things quite a bit… as could Android 3.1′s ability to use USB peripherals. Perhaps we’ll see more convertible style tablets that can run office and productivity software and function as a full-fledged PC when docked to a keyboard and a mobile media device on the go.

    Tablets might be ahead of their time rather than doomed. But in 2011, it’s Apple’s world and everyone else is just living in it. 

    • iKing

      06/25/2011 at 8:54 am

      One of the most well-thought out posts I’ve ever read…

  2. Flipb21

    06/24/2011 at 4:36 pm

    What “big releases” are still pending?  I am admit that I am a bit excited to see the HP touchpad.  At best it would be a second tablet device to my iPad…

    • Anonymous

      06/24/2011 at 5:18 pm

      I’d classify the TouchPad, whatever Amazon and Lenovo are planning as things to keep and eye on. But that’s me.

  3. Quentin Dewolf

    06/24/2011 at 6:05 pm

    people still have have not really indicated that tablets are a viable category. I love tablets of all kinds but Apple’s success is realy about a new “Apple gadget” rather than a new category. Maybe it will flesh out when people decide how they fit in?

  4. Anonymous

    06/25/2011 at 4:36 pm

    I don’t think tablets will be going anywhere.
    They are really just a realization of technological ability to meet our needs concerning computers.
    You have two things with a computer.
    1. I/O – namely control and its ability to deliver information to you.
    2. it’s capability – what it can do and how long it can do it on battery power.

    Ultimately the smartphones and these tablets are just the increase in CPU power and battery time coupled with portability coupled with acceptable control metaphors and screens large enough to satisfy us.

    That’s why I think patents on the shape of these things are absurd.  Not only was there prior art at least back to the star trek TV shows but it is also just the natural culmination of maximizing the above.
    Touch control with the entire face being a screen…. 
    Anyone could and should have predicted it – which is why nobody legitimately ‘invented’ it.

    As soon as folding screens come along that can make these devices smaller to carry but give us larger output they will use that.  Again – nobody should be surprised at that or claim it as an invention.

    “Inevitable Design” is what I like to call it.
    That’s me.

    Anyway – an 7″ to 10″ or there-about screen meets portability needs for many and the biggest possible screen is always desirable.
    The CPU/Battery capability today makes them more than usable.
    So – they will not be going anywhere.

    The question will just gradually change from “What can you do with them?” to “What can’t you do with them?”.

    Along the way, any company that expands what can be handily done (and delivers a decent product of it) will find success with it.  See the eeeeeeetransformer and keyboard dock, for example.

    - mike

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