GottaBeMobile.com interviews Martin Smekal, CEO of TabletKiosk ….
Opening up conversations between vendors of all sorts in the Mobile arena is something that gets us excited at GottaBeMobile.com. We really want to see people ask and get answers from both sides of the sales channel.
What makes it even more exciting is when a CEO or other major player not only accepts the request to do an interview, he responds to all the questions in a forthright and open method. That is what happened in this interview with Martin Smekal, CEO of TabletKiosk. Here is the text of the interview:
GBM: Hi Martin, we very much appreciate your taking time out at such a busy time for your company to speak with us.
MS: Hello Dennis, good to speak with you and congratulations on the new GottaBeMobile.com site.
GBM: Thanks Martin. First of all, I think there is some confusion I’d like to clear up as to the actual structure of your company and exactly where you are positioned in the Tablet PC and UMPC market. Can you give us a quick description of Tabletkiosk?
MS: TabletKiosk is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sand Dune Ventures, Inc. and was founded three and a half years ago as a boutique ODM (original design manufacture) focused on the development of mobile computing devices and accessories. Our corporate offices are located in Southern California.
Currently we are offering the Sahara line of Tablet PC’s and we will announce a UMPC device at the end of this month to compliment this product line.
GBM: How about Martin Smekal himself? Give us a little personal bio and company position information. Tell us about Martin and what your typical workday looks like.
MS: I’m a veteran of the technology sector with over 20 years management experience, with companies like Aldus, Merisel, MetaCreations, PaceBlade Inc, Play Inc., and Time Warner. I have extensive experience leading teams in various disciplines from distribution, to sales and marketing to manufacturing and software development. I’m married and have two wonderful children. I hold a business degree from the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University; currently I’m the President & CEO of TabletKiosk.
Working in the technology field affords me the luxury of never having a typical workday.
GBM: We feel that direct consumer to vendor discussion is critical. You are known to us at GottaBeMobile as one of the influential people in this market who has been ready and willing to take time to speak directly to consumers in places like TabletPCBuzz.com and other areas. First we want to thank you for that openness! Why does this direct to consumer discussion seem important to you? Has it helped your business? Has it caused you problems? Would you advise other OEM’s and ISV’s to do this as a practice?
MS: As the leader of TabletKiosk, I feel that it is critical to our success that we maintain an open channel of communication with our dealer channel and the end-user community from every level of our company. I would like TabletKiosk to be known as the Nordstrom’s of the industry – caring about our customers and willing to do what is required to keep them happy. The Tablet PC community has some excellent OEM’s / ODM’s with long established pedigrees and excellent products – so its not good enough for us to just provide a comparable product, we need to be prepared to offer more in design, accessories and above all service.
Has it caused issues for us? Without a doubt, but the benefits of this direct channel of communication has allowed us to address issues before they became much more costly.
Our long awaited release of the Baja series is a prime example of this – the original product that we were developing was based on the Transmeta processor As it became clear to us this processor technology was being discontinued well into our development stages, we had to make a decision about releasing a product that was known to be utilizing end-of-life components in an effort to grab some market-share while potentially alienating these early adapters, or starting from scratch with a new design that would allow these users to migrate from one generation to the next on this platform without any problems.
Upon discussions with key customers and representatives of the Tablet PC community, on various boards and forums the decision was clear to us – scrap it and start from scratch. But by doing this we have had many questions to answer about a product that has been listed as “coming soon” for far too long .
I strongly urge other OEMs and ISV’s to designate an associate to represent and participate in these forums as the data you will receive is priceless – but I also must caution your readers, that some questions posed by members are of such corporate strategic nature or regarding proprietary information you can’t realistically expect a response in an open forum – i.e. product road maps, cost structures, distribution strategies, etc So when you pose them and don’t get a response .
GBM: Okay, let’s talk about your Tablet PC business. Who are you targeting specifically for Tablet PC sales? What are your current offerings, and how successful do you feel you have been selling Tablets? Has it met, exceeded, or fallen short of your goals long term?
MS: We currently are focused on five specific vertical markets: Control Systems, Education, Government / Public Sector, Gaming (Casino’s) and Healthcare. Currently we are offering the third generation of our Sahara series which represents a 12.1″ display platform utilizing either a Transmeta Crusoe, Intel Celeron or a Intel Centrino processor. This platform also has the distinction of being one of the few systems on the market currently that offers a Resistive Touch-screen interface and offers full Linux O/S support.
The Sahara line has a full line of accessories behind it from the traditional bump cases, docking stations and battery chargers to items that are exclusive to our design, such as our VESA Plate with I/O which allows for the mounting of our systems to any standard armature device with a VESA 100mm or 75mm bolt pattern, allowing users the flexibility to mount our systems cleanly on a table, in a car, on a wheelchair or hospital bed in a simple to use and clean design.
While the overall Tablet PC market has grown slower then originally forecasted, we have enjoyed triple digit growth each year since our inception, and the future looks very promising as we continue to expand our product offering and pursue new target markets with our solutions.
GBM: We understand that you are putting significant time and energy entering into the new Origami / Ultra-Mobile PC arena. Describe that journey thus far for us, and tell us where you are headed in the near future. Can you give us some details relative to models, markets, availability, etc.?
MS: As the word has leaked out already, TabletKiosk will indeed be a participant in the UMPC market. This is a very exciting technology platform for all of us at TabletKiosk, as it allows us to provide a level of computing power not seen before in such a mobile device / pricing ratio. We believe that this will be a milestone platform from which further device development will be nurtured and exploited as we strive to develop solutions to further enhance our daily lives.
We will formally announce this device in late March, and will begin shipping to customers by the end of April – anything beyond this I have to defer to our official release.
GBM: What distribution channels will you use for UMPC’s? Do you see retail as a successful place for you to sell these products?
MS: At this time our business model is not geared to the retail channels – We will continue to offer our solutions through our authorized reseller channel and on a direct basis from our website and our telemarketing team.
While I feel the retail channel is a natural fit for a UMPC product line, at this time we do not have the infrastructure required to support this client base at a level that would be on par with our current authorized reseller channel.
GBM: What do you see as the biggest challenge to doing UMPC right? Is it hardware costs, battery life, etc., or are there other challenges you see?
MS: I feel the first challenge is to make consumers aware of the benefits of the platform rather then the perceived weakness. There has been a lot of hype/speculation around an instant on, 1024 x 768, 5-8 hour battery, GSRM enabled, sub 2 lbs solution that would cost $500 – reality will not be able to meet these expectations. This is the first generation of this platform, and as technology advances this platform will mature as well to a point we all hope will meet these lofty goals.
What has been developed and announced is amazing by itself – a true 900Mhz – 1.0GHz PC that utilizes the Windows XP Tablet extension set, has wireless capabilities and is under $1000 – before the UMPC was announced the closest you could get to something like this would be based on a 8.4″ screen and carrying a price closer to $2000 – and people were raving about these units. When you consider how an average user might utilize the UMPC in their daily life to compliment their primary computer, you quickly recognize the value proposition is enormous.
GBM: What message and thought would you like to leave our readers with?
MS: I’d like to thank all your readers for supporting the Tablet PC platform and TabletKiosk specifically, because without you none of us would be here today and to watch www.TabletKiosk.com and this site for our formal release of our UMPC platform.
GBM: Many thanks Martin. We all wish you the absolute best in your goals with Tablet PC’s and UMPC’s!
Martin welcomes comments from customers at any time. You may contact Martin Smekal at [email protected] Please visit their website at: