Tablets

HP and BlackBerry abandon in-house tablet ecosystems

Patrick Gray offers his insight on what HP and BlackBerry's recent decisions mean for the rest of the tablet market.

This month has been an interesting one for enterprise tablets, as two players with grand visions, HP and BlackBerry (the former RIM), have made noises that they're essentially abandoning their in-house tablet ecosystems.

HP is an interesting case, as the first quarter of this year marked the sale of WebOS -- and more recently, HP moved into the lower end of the tablet market in the guise of the HP Slate 7, a 7-inch Android-powered device. WebOS was HP's ill-fated play in the mobile space, launched when the company acquired Palm and its innovative OS in an attempt to make inroads against Apple. Over $1.2 billion, a major marketing campaign, and 49 days later, HP pulled the plug on the WebOS-based TouchPad.

Several weeks ago, after a half-hearted attempt at open-sourcing WebOS, HP closed that chapter on its product strategy by selling its remaining assets to LG for use in smart televisions. While it's easy to brush off the sale as a trivial footnote in tablet history, HP had an incredibly grand vision for the platform. WebOS was not going to be limited only to tablets, but embedded into printers, expanded to desktops, and integrated and connected across all manner of devices, with WebOS serving as the "glue" that tied everything from smartphones to printers together.

Similarly, RIM (now BlackBerry) has grand plans for its PlayBook tablet. It was billed as an enterprise device that would revolutionize productivity when it went against the "entertainment-focused" iPad. The device marked BlackBerry's unveiling of a new OS, which -- like HP -- was developed from the acquisition of another company: QNX. A few weeks ago, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins quipped, "Tablets are not a good business model." Of course, this was a dramatic contrast with the hopeful statements surrounding the PlayBook launch a few short years ago.

Lessons learned?

Companies and individuals that invested in the TouchPad or PlayBook likely feel stung by vendors that have essentially abandoned entire ecosystems and associated promises of grandeur. While neither device gained broad market acceptance, that does little to assuage a company that purchased a fleet of these units based on promises that have since vanished. This is certainly not the first or last time in IT that a vendor has released a technology to much fanfare and later pulled the plug, especially in an emerging and turbulent sector. However, is there any truth to Mr. Heins' comment that tablets are on the way out, or are there any lessons to be learned from HP?

The obvious change that's occurred in the tablet market since the TouchPad and PlayBook were introduced is that it has matured around two OS vendors, with juggernaut Microsoft attempting to reinsert itself as a third player. At the time of the TouchPad and PlayBook, Android's future in tablets was uncertain, Microsoft was touting Windows 7 as its tablet solution, and a sea of unknown third parties were offering tablets and home-grown operating systems. The vendor landscape is now significantly more stable, with the biggest question mark being Microsoft, a company unlikely to abandon tablets in the near term.

Tablets look like a mature market, but there is some truth in Mr. Heins' sentiments. I believe that tablets as a device category will become less relevant. We've already seen the lines between tablet, laptop, and desktop blurred, and pricing pressure increasingly impacts hardware vendors. In short, much of the "magic" around tablets is happening on the software end, and it's largely occurring on cross-platform, cloud-based services rather than closed ecosystems like Apple's. These devices are making applications more accessible, yet manufacturing them is looking like a less lucrative business.

For enterprises, there are the obvious lessons around balancing a need for an emerging technology with the maturity of the market -- a lesson that we all know intuitively, but we'll likely repeat this mistake due to the nature of the industry. The more interesting lesson is the tectonic shift in computing away from the device and software residing on the device, to data and application access on a variety of form factors and connected operating systems. The sooner we can adapt enterprise applications to this paradigm, the better we'll be able to ride the mobile computing wave, whether it manifests itself on tablets, laptops, wearables, or an as-yet-unknown form factor.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

7 comments
Campbell Masters
Campbell Masters

I have both a Playbook, and a HP WebOS tablet, also several iPads, a Motorola Xoom and a handful of smaller/older Android tablets and a HTC Shift waiting on a Win8 uplift (if I can attract a geek friend to undertake that) - I guess that's a fundamental issue when you've worked in the mobility field for as long as I have (22+ years)

Each device has it's place still however, the HP tablet sits at the holiday house, gently charged by the cradle - the Playbook acts as an eReader when I require a second device (long train trips to the holiday house) etc so none are as yet 'redundant'

It's a shame though that both HP and RIM have stepped away from such devices in the future as the wider option set really started to focus clients on their choices in the market rather than what is now a de facto Apple / Android conversation with Win8 starting as the third option as better hardware starts showing up in the business market, Lenovo and HP have good options in place, and the Surface Pro is also beginning to show up on wish lists.

I'm writing this at a Lenovo desktop unit in my home office while my MacBook Pro is packed for a road trip next week - I guess there are options and many are straight forward, question may not be who's winning the game but what option meets you own personal definition of you winning?


Push Technology
Push Technology

One in five mobile phones sold last year was a smartphone, according to IDC . In use today, there are approximately 6,500 different models of mobile device too. From feature phones to smartphones and through to tablets, these devices are capable of accessing your website, and in the case of company phones they can also access your company network and systems too. At the end of the day, tablet and devices will come and go as market pressures and technological advances make themselves felt. Regardless of the shape and form of the device that your customers use over the coming few years, two things will remain constant: 1. The demand for customers and users to have mobile functionality will only grow 2. Your business needs to be able to support all mobile devices, regardless of brand or operating system, quickly, easily and cost-effectively In our busy, dynamic, real-time world where competitive battles are won in milliseconds, having the most up to date data delivered to mobile devices, leaves no room for error. Not only that, but the focus of your finite and valuable IT resources should be on innovation and even adding new services. It should not be swallowing up valuable time and effort ensuring that your website or trading platform is performing on all appropriate mobile devices. Time spent developing for mobile devices today, is competitive edge being eroded and attention diverted from your precious customers. The obvious answer is to manage the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets all with a single solution. That is certainly the sensible approach taken in many other areas of the IT world and would reduce the complexity issue in an instant. It is financially viable too when you consider the time lag and costs of development time. Tony DeMaria (www.pushtechnology.com)

Slayer_
Slayer_

That's why I didn't buy one, and instead got the Nexus.

Paul.a.s
Paul.a.s

It's a shame to see the oposition disapear, Being left with only one from a traditional computer company (Apple) and one supposedly open source alternatine (Google) is a tad boring, compred to all the posibilities on a PC. (Maybe one day Microsoft will get some traction) With the demise of HP and RIM's offerings, it makes me wonder why (on seeing poor sales etc) that they just didn't offer their OS as an option/alternative alongside Android. - Multiboot? They have already blown a kings ransom, why just flush the lot, let it ride for a while. I think an alternative, less popular os would be a good choice for many companies, because little is know about it, no viruses, and no 'angry birds' etc to be loaded. ie employees won't fiddle with it, they will just use it for it's intended corporate use. (And won't 'borrow' it for the kids to abuse on the weekends) This all hinges, of course, on the os being available to run on any tablet, a downside to how tablets are currently implemented "You can use the provided OS, or the provided OS!" A bit like Ford and their model T, black, or black.

Laurentian Enterprises
Laurentian Enterprises

I'm not surprised that Blackberry and HP tablets didn't sell. Both companies didn't check their crystal ball first. As to the future, who knows how it's going to evolve. Apple seems to be losing market share to Android (lost it in smartphones already). I have a couple tablets which I enjoy when sitting in my recliner, they are great for picking up e-mails (especially when on the road) and quick searches of the web. I am now addicted to angry birds, which is interesting because I never played computer games on my desktop. I also use the built-in GPS for maps on the road. But, I must say that I can't imagine using a tablet for any serious production work, they will never replace my desktop (at least in it's present format). I prefer a big screen and a real keyboard. I still hate laptops for that reason, though I have one (collecting dust after buying the tablets). I'll probably sell it now. If they come up with a dock for the tablet which allows me to connect a full size monitor and a full size keyboard to it, gave it better multi-tasking and more power, yes I would consider it then.

primartcloud
primartcloud

I am writing this on a Surface RT focused on what I am saying and the how to's while lying down on a recliner. That's possibly why MSF called their tablet "Surface" as it is not about the instrument and what is behind it but just the job at hand and how to get it done. I carry this tablet wherever I go and it has become my primary assistant. If I were working it would be a more robust version with more capacity.

adornoe
adornoe

abandoning their own ecosystems, meaning that, they won't have the full spectrum of support that the big OS providers have, like Google and Apple and Microsoft. Nowhere in the article did it say that Blackberry and HP would not make the devices/hardware/tablets. So, we won't have an HP with its own OS for tablets, or an HP apps store. But HP will continue to make tablets, and Blackberry might jump back in with their own tablets.

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