Just the Beginning of the Tablet Computing Wars

An article on Inc.com has posed the thought that the tablet wars are already over. I posit that they have just begun.

The tablet computer will be the platform of choice for most of the developed world in the near future. It’s size and capability are ideal for the great bulk of the computing populace. It’s portable, easy to use and does everything the normal user cares to do, namely consume media and communications.

As for the market, it’s a bit too early to claim anyone a victor. When one takes into account the competitors to the iPad, thus far you can see that the players had obviously rushed products to market without analyzing the segment. They produced the over-priced, under hyped versions we see today.

To start, we can discount HP’s leaving of the market. HP has an identity crisis that is far larger than the competitive value of their tablets and pulling out of the market had very little to do with how the devices fared.

As for the rest of the market, I imagine that what we just had was the opening volley. Competing manufacturers are re-tuning their offerings to be more competitive. Arguably, the tablet has reached a sort of innovation stabilization point where large movements in features give way to refinements and styling. Usually, this is the point when most competitors get into markets.

Companies (that are not called Apple) will now focus on price structures, pushing tablet prices lower into what would be called something like ‘the commodity tablet market’. By doing this, they will hit a greater number of the population and simultaneously push Apple into the smaller ‘premium’ category.

There will be a massive battle for the commodity tablet in the near future. Apple will not be a part of it, just as Apple entering the low-end smartphone market has only been rumor up to this point. If that might seem a bit of a fantasy, think of both the smart phone market and even reaching back to the onset of the personal computer market. Apple had a similar dominance then, but as more competitors got into the game on a standardized, competing platform (Android for phones and Win/Tel for PCs) Apple got pushed out of the bulk of the market in favor of more cost-effective products.

The interesting thing is that the commodity market, thus far, has not been explored by any competitor – and it is, by far, the largest segment. To make it easy to visualize, this is the market that makes up all the folks who buy their computers from big box stores and discount centers. That group is the bulk of the US and other markets. A six hundred dollar tablet is hard to swallow, but a three hundred dollar tablet is much more palatable, and for a very large buying populace. They won’t care that it does slightly less than the iPad as long as it plays their media where-ever they want. Perhaps this may seem like an unreachable pricing baseline, but one look at what some Chinese importers are selling unbranded tablets shows, this is certainly not the case.

We could foresee a real victor to this war if there will be a tablet competitor who steps up with the magic $300 tablet just before the holiday season. Whomever does that, captures the tablet market for the season and sets the stage for the biggest tablet battle: the every-man’s tablet.

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