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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

What do you actually use your tablet for?

It's been an interesting few months since Apple introduced their revolutionary Apple iPad during 2010.  A product category that we as retailers thought existed for years but had a very limited potential in business-to-business applications suddenly morph itself into a different being.  What was a sleepy category suddenly became the category of 2010 for us.

So what did make Apple click and what was the difference from earlier generations of tablets?

Well, first and foremost was form factor.  At Jacky's, we'd been selling tablet computers from the likes of HP and LG for a number of years but basically what they were was notebook computers with a touch screen.  They ran the same Microsoft Windows operating system that you found on your regular notebooks and largely ran the same applications as a regular notebook.  We were told that the real potential for that generations of tablet PC's (or rather tablet notebooks as they should've been called), was in segments like car-hire companies (where a person could come out with the tablet PC and inspect the car on the spot) or in the medical sector (where probably medical records, transcripts, X-rays, MRI's, etc. could be kept and instead of moving around a patient file, a tablet PC with the person's records would be used instead).

Honestly, it wasn't a terribly exciting category for us as a retailer and as such always had a muted presence in our outlets.

Then came along Apple and shocked us, our customers and most other manufacturers.  All of a sudden a tablet had become cool.

The user-interface that Apple's been running on the iPad was largely developed for the iPhones and had the "touch" elements integrated as part of the development of the platform.  This immediately stood out as even Microsoft will tell you that Windows is not designed for a touch interface per se.

Apple also had the advantage that they could further leverage on their huge pool of iPod / iPhone family experience.  This included the fact that they now had an App store concept in place, they had experience with wireless radio technology (both GSM/3G and Wifi), a marketing buzz that generally was associated with their products and a huge install-base of loyal customers.

Apple has till now never actually focused too strongly on the business or enterprise capabilities of the iPad.  It is a true consumer device, which then begs the question, what are we actually using tablets for and why do so many men & women in suits carry them around?

Our experience thus far is that tablets have been used for primarily the following:

  • Gaming - there is a huge segment of casual gamers that has been created with the launch of the iPad and the thousands of games that Apple now has on their App store.
  • Music and Videos - compared to the iPhone, the screen size on the iPad is much easier on the eyes and with Apple's experience with the iPod, the audio capabilities of the iPad were never in doubt
  • Browsing - with Wifi and 3G technology now prevalent in most places, it's become a lot more convenient to whip out your iPad to surf the net instead of sitting in front of a desktop PC or waiting for a notebook computer to boot up.
  • Reading - while Amazon's Kindle interface is not available in our region yet, there have been various book and magazine subscription services that have now been launched for reading on the iPad.
  • Email - for those people who used to carry around a notebook or netbook just for e-mails, the iPad has become a convenient alternative now
  • Writing Pad - Many students and business people have started using an iPad instead of a conventional writing pad or paper-based notebook that they would otherwise carry around with them.  
Why then are so many people in suits using an iPad?  Virtually every airport lounge or coffee shop is littered with them and a lot of the people who carry them are business people who obviously can't use it for word processing, spreadsheets or presentations (though Apple's iWork is available for the iPad, it isn't the ideal solution by any means).  

At the heart of it, it probably comes down to the fact that it is just easier to carry it around.  Whether there were once people embarrassed to carry a PSP onto a plane, they are now busying playing away on their iPad.  While it may have once looked awkward to open up your notebook, wait for it to boot up and then watch a couple of TV shows, you now find it very convenient to do the same off your iPad.

With a slew of new tablets to be launched into our region very shortly (we already have the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak now available), it'll be interesting to see how the other brands manage to differentiate themselves from Apple.

Even though the heading for this blog post asked the question what do you use your "tablet" for, we've loosely interchanged the word "tablet" for "iPad" throughout this post on purpose.  The iPad has created this category and as we move into 2011, it remains to be seen if it still continues this way.  As brands like Xerox and Coke managed to name entire categories after their brand name, Apple has done much the same with the iPad till now.  Will 2011 turn out to be a game changer?  Whatever we get, we've bucked ourselves in and prepared ourselves for what we hope turns out to be a roller-coaster journey through the world of tablets in 2011.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC