What Slate Makers Need To Do To Succeed

At CES2010 the “Year of the Tablet” was ushered right as the new year was beginning. There were promises of Tablet/Slates promised in just about every flavor you could imagine. All of this with this news that Apple was going to release its iPad lurking just around the corner.

Just like baseball’s spring training when hope springs eternal for every team (well, excluding the Chicago Cubs) there was a lot of promise in the air after all those CES announcements. But then it became clear, at least to me, that all those who were talking Tablet/Slates were willing to sit back and let Apple score a bunch of runs early in a market that it can be argued is still yet to be defined. It was a calculated gamble and in the long run, it still may pay off. Apple did announce as scheduled and did release the iPad. I don’t think anyone, including Apple thought they would meet with such early sales success (sales are supposedly over one million at this point).

The bottom line is that early success of the iPad along with the wait and see attitude (along with some other changes in the landscape like HP buying Palm) have put many hopeful Tablet/Slate makers into a tizzy looking for how to move forward. The WePad WeTab is one of the first competitors out of the gate, along with the JooJoo. Both are meeting with some resistance, the JooJoo with more than I would think any new product could possibly bear and still hope to be successful.

In reality the “Year of the Tablet,” as predicted, quickly got pushed forward a year to 2011 with many promises now targeting the end of 2010 and 2011 for possibly bringing devices to market. We’ll still have to wait and see how that plays out.

In the meantime, these are some things that I think these Tablet/Slate hopefuls need to aim for if they hope to score any runs in the early innings of this long game.

Battery life. Apple set the new standard at 10 hours. Even the 3G models are getting great battery life. Anything under 7 hours doesn’t stand a chance in the long game in my view.

Multi-Touch UI. It’s not perfect on the iPad and sometimes it’s confusing given the lack of standards, but it is quick, it is enjoyable, and it is fun. If new Tablet/Slates can’t be as fluid as the iPad then they will be playing catch up.

OS. We certainly don’t want everyone creating their own OS for their own device. That said, Android looks to be the choice for many of the products we’re hearing about. However, we’re hearing that Android 1.6 is the choice for some of these devices. While that may work, there will be a perception problem that it is inferior given the hoopla and focus that will surround future Android OS’s.  In some ways offering a device with Android 1.6 just sounds defeatist to me.

Flash/USB/Camera/Yada Yada. Yes these will be seen as differentiators but in the long run I don’t think they are really going to matter. Until we see Flash working on any mobile device, Apple will win that war that it is waging with Adobe. Having USB ports for moving data on and off the devices will be a key for some, but I’d rather see resources put into figuring out how to wirelessly sync info back and forth on these devices the way you can with Android phones. Apple’s single biggest flaw for the iPad OS is that you have to plug it into a computer and use iTunes to sync. I think that’s tied to DRM agreements more than anything else, but it’s still there in any case, and quite honestly it just feels like its past its prime. Cameras may or may not prove to be important. For me they are not on these devices. You might think otherwise.

Ecosystem and Apps. Face it, Apple has a murder’s row here. Between retail stores where customers can actually pick up and play with the devices (as opposed to Big Boxes where I’m guessing any future Tablet/Slates will lead to a new patent on how to lock down display devices), and the App Store, it will be tough for anyone to compete with Apple. The rush of “We’re creating an App Store” as thankfully calmed down a bit, but I imagine it will heat up again. The Android Marketplace offers promise, but I think the fragmentation issues between Android OS versions may be a hindrance. The fact that some Android installs can’t, by nature of the license, access the Marketplace is going to be a confusing factor as well.

Shift in Marketing Strategy. Face it, even the version 1 iPad can be classed somewhat has Beta Hardware, and if we actually see any of these devices that are being talked about and promised they will as well. In my view, Apple’s magical mystery marketing machine had has much to do with the initial success of iPad sales than anything else. But none of the other players are capable of fielding any sort effort like that. In my opinion, they should through out the playbook and put devices in as many hands as they can when they feel like they have something ready to go. Give the things away if they need to.

You may have noticed, Tableteers, that I haven’t mentioned Inking. I just don’t see it in the near future as something that is a priority. As sad as that statement is for me to make, there’s no marketing reasons beyond our loud and disappointed niche for the makers of the next generation Tablet/Slate makers to include Digital Inking at the moment. Perhaps there’s room for this in the long game.

Sadly, I have to admit that I see more strikeouts than I see home runs ahead. That said, if manufacturers take the long view I think there’s still a chance that we could see a competitive market in the future. But as fast as the tech sector is moving these days, “wait till next year” could quickly become a hollow slogan if we don’t see some early victories.