Tablets

Will Apple be able to retain tablet dominance?

Google and Microsoft have fine-tuned their tablet offerings and launched a counterattack against Apple, but Patrick Gray thinks Apple has opportunities to retain tablet dominance. Do you agree?

In a short amount of time, Apple has come to dominate the consumer tablet market and make increasing inroads into the enterprise space. When the first iPad was unveiled, competitors were caught flat-footed. Microsoft's relatively innovative Tablet PC platform suddenly looked clunky and overpriced, while every other hardware and software manufacturer attempted to launch a "me too" tablet with fruitless results.

Google's Android OS led the "me too" pack, with everything from overpriced and under-featured tablets to inexpensive, low-grade options that were sold at pharmacies next to the chips and cigarettes. Even HP and RIM had a brief foray into the tablet frontier, but HP abandoned the space and RIM's PlayBook was quickly consigned to irrelevancy.

The dust has largely settled since this haphazard response to the iPad, and the main remaining competitors -- Google and Microsoft -- seem to have finally tuned their offerings and launched a thoughtful counterattack against Apple.

Microsoft's promise

Like a sleeping hippopotamus poked and prodded a few too many times, Microsoft has finally lashed out with some competitive fury in the mobile space, even going so far as to take tablet hardware in-house after consumers panned the clunky hardware and poorly integrated software that represented the first response to the iPad.

With Windows 8 and its Surface tablet, Microsoft promises a multiple personality device of sorts. You can use it like an iPad to browse the web, bang out a long email with the integrated keyboard covers like your laptop, and slip it into a desktop dock at the office. Microsoft also answers the iPad's largest criticism, that it's geared toward content consumption rather than content creation.

Apple has attempted to respond by adding additional software, but the majority of enterprise users are more likely to use a full-featured and broadly compatible word processor than indulge their inner Scorsese or Adams. Microsoft thus puts pressure on the higher end for Apple, promising more functionality, more roles, and familiar software -- all in a similar hardware package that's likely priced on the higher end of the iPad spectrum.

Google's guerrilla effort

The more I read about Google's new Nexus 7 tablet, the more I'm convinced that it represents a focused and direct assault on the iPad that's likely to be successful where Google's past attempts have failed. Unlike Microsoft, Google attacks Apple at the low end, charging $199 (less than half of Apple's cheapest new iPad) for a high-quality tablet running the latest and greatest version of Android. Unlike 18 months ago, shoddy no-name Android hardware has largely been culled from the marketplace, and the Android OS itself has mostly overcome early growing pains.

Perhaps the biggest indication of the threat a device like the Nexus 7 poses to Apple is that the company famous for offering a bare minimum of different products is now rumored to be producing a 7-inch tablet with a reduced price. If the "iPad Mini" comes to pass, this is the first time Apple makes what looks like a reactionary play in the tablet space, something no manufacturer has been able to pull off since the iPad's introduction.

Et tu, Apple?

It seems major players Google and Microsoft are finally taking the tablet space and the business model required to play there seriously, each offering a compelling and distinct product that scratches some itch rather than simply shouting, "Hey, we have a tablet too!"

For Apple, there are certainly opportunities to retain dominance. Microsoft's Windows 8 and Surface tablets remain a largely untested commodity, and we don't yet know how close Microsoft will get to its compelling vision once reality strikes. Similarly, if Apple can achieve near price parity with lower-end Android offerings, it may win the day with its larger software catalog and current cachet, assuming it can avoid being dragged into a price war. Apple also retains a dark horse of its own in the form of its future plans for iOS and OS X, both of which have been increasingly cross-pollinating features in an effort that some think will result in a single OS across Apple devices.

For enterprises, the newly invigorated Microsoft and more intelligent Google simultaneously bring some clarity to the chaotic tablet space. The tablet field has these three key players, each with largely incompatible hardware and software, and there are unique pros and cons to each platform. The old bromide that competition will spur innovation does little to assure CIOs their investment in tablets today will be relevant tomorrow, which only serves to highlight the need for cross-platform tools and technologies that will work with whatever tablet platform finally emerges to dominance.

Do you think Apple will be able to retain tablet dominance? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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 ...

17 comments
T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I think a lot of people still don't get it. Windows 8 Pro tablet is for the enterprise and will soon dominate and potentially replace netbooks, ultrabooks and possibly your notebooks as mobility is an uber advantage plus an optional full Windows Desktop experience. Furthermore, if development permits, the major business system developers such as SAP, might just develop client apps for the Metro UI which I personally think will be a super added advantage over other tablets. From what I see, iPad is just for kids these days acting as a pacifier. It's cheaper than hiring a babysitter for a year. What else can you do besides entertainment, surf the internet and check some emails on your iPads or Android tablets? I don't think you have the options to archive your mails right? Or run complex Excel Workbooks with multiple chains of formulas? Surface Tablets potentially can handle all that. All we need is a quad core power efficient processor and cheaper SSD's.

hhitchco
hhitchco

And within 1 - 1/2 yrs if they keep the price competitive, possiblty undercut Apple just a little. Want a tablet that your staff needs to tweak and prod to interface with most of the enterprise servers, or one that interaces practically seamlessy, runs all the same software (seamlessly) that your staff is used to, that you can pick up, take home and intstall whatever apps you want for your personal use, and then take it to work the next day and hook it up (seamlessly). My compay bought the iPAD sometime ago for the IT and IS staff to play with. Very few connect to the enterprise desktops (W7+Office 2010 Pro) with the iPADS. I'm betting that the forthcoming Windows 8 on the MS tablet will change that in a hurry. I can't for that baby to hit the market!!!

Mikki40
Mikki40

I'm thinking Apple will keep control and this is based on the Asus quad core tablet I've been playing with. The Android system is not as refined as the Apple IPAD. The Google play is based on advertising more than providing quality apps. For Microsoft to come close to Apple their tablet will have to offer everything from Office, email, cloud services, and other Apps. I would never want to spend my entire day working on an IPAD or Tablet I'll keep my laptop and desktop for that.

tedcjohnston
tedcjohnston

With cloud computing, VDI, and other trends, I don't think MS has as much of an advantage as stated. I'm not looking forward to Windows 8. Converting to a touch interface on desktops would be painful and I doubt it would enhance productivity. So, I'm looking for a tablet that I can issue to an employee that works for all the tasks that an iPad or Android tablet do today (read email, short responses, check web content, read articles or books), yet can attach to a docking station to power a traditional keyboard, mouse, monitor combination. Once in the docking station, the user could use Citrix receiver or similar app to launch their cloud/virtual desktop and have a desktop experience. Syncing from the desktop to the tablet can be done today. The Toshiba Thrive looked to be able to do this, but coming after the iPad it was not well received. There are docks for various tablets, but where is the one with USB and HDMI support. I've missed it if it is out there. Any of the hardware vendors could develop this dock. Whichever one does first, with a 10" tablet like the iPad or Transformer Infinity, will be on my pilot list. MS has the advantage of integrating with management tools, but integration with the cloudy future may make that less important as data resides off the device.

user support
user support

Yes Apple will be able to retain tablet dominance in the consumer market. We don't have "enterprise tablets" in our enterprise. We do have professional type laptops for business use. We have plenty of employees that have their own Apple iPhones, iPod Touch Devices, iPad devices and various Kindle devices here at the workplace. Not sure why Apple would want to cannibalize itself for market share with a 7 inch Kindle/Nook competitor when they already have a Kindle app for the 3 products I mention in a previous sentence. Back in 2004 to 2006 I believe we tested the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet version but the hardware was the problem. The Lenovo was portable but lacked a CD drive unless docked. The Toshiba was too heavy and the battery only lasted 2 hours. One place I have noticed that seems to have a dominance of Fujitsu tablets of this type is in the medical industry; doctors' office, medical centers and hospitals. Our organization has gone back to the Dell Latitude laptop series for our users in the field and the mobile users carry on with their Blackberry devices. All other users continue to work on Dell desktops with Microsoft XP OS and Office 2007 as we plod ahead towards Windows 7 and Office 2010. Not sure if the Microsoft Surface Device is in the short term plans of the organization but I am sure that some of our users will buy and try it on their own.

dugaljaspal
dugaljaspal

Apple MAY just retain it's "domination" as the single largest selling model for the near future or even for quite some time - being a single manufacturer. But in the long run other brands & models combined will out-sell Apple 10 to 1 as in desktops and laptops.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

That's what I expect to see in the long run as Android may have taken too long to really break into the tablet market as more than a modified netbook. At least at the moment the ASUS Transformers seem to be the best-selling Android devices in general, though I can't argue that the Nexus 7 at least for now is doing remarkably well. I also feel that the Nexus' sales will peak quickly and plateau at a much lower level. It has its advantages, but it appears reliability isn't one of them. Surface has a huge advantage by integrating with Windows' dominant desktop user base. Its ability to integrate with Windows itself and hopefully initial connectivity to Windows-based networks along with a more established security system will invite adoption into the enterprise at a rate Android can only dream of--having been blocked so far by its weak security up to now. In fact, if Surface does do as well as I expect, I would also expect a halo effect of RT-based Windows phones making a strong comeback to the point of driving the Android smartphone market back down from its current dominant levels through sheer, simple usability. Will Apple retain dominance? Definitely not by the margins it's held so far. I believe iOS and RT/Surface will be the lions in the fold.

TNT
TNT

I see Android taking the inexpensive consumer space, with Kindle leading the pack. This space will appeal to the population that wants an information consumption device without spending a lot. Microsoft I foresee taking the higher end space, those who want a tablet to use as a laptop replacement. Apple will continue to dominate the middle ground, but that middle ground will not be the cash cow it is today.

jpkerr
jpkerr

A better question would be how much will the rumored 7 inch tablet change the equation? Without the tablet in question, my bet is that between the Nexus series, the new Nooks and the new KIndle Fire series, Android will close the gap and capture the remaining non-iTunes customers out there in the seven inch market segment. They will not convert current Apple customers who are already invested in the Apple ecosystem. On the other hand, I don't think Apple will gain much new business (outside their current customer base) with their new tablet. I suspect that most of the sales will be to customers who already own an iPad and are looking for a more portable and/or cheaper version. Given all the Apple rhetoric about fragmentation in Android, it will be interesting to see how they pull off a smaller tablet without scaling some of the interface and creating...more fragmentation in IOS. Last, savvy customers will look at these new choices and their respective ecosystems and weigh the portability of the ecosystems, meaning either get looked-in to iTunes without much possibility of freeing that media library should they leave vs. Google, Amazon and a host of other venues to acquire media through. A lot will depend on presentation of those choices.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Quite honestly Win8, both RT and Pro stand a good chance of knocking Android completely out of the game as far as the enterprise is concerned. I do believe the iPad has made enough of an impact that other Apple devices now have the opportunity to grow on the strength of both its hardware and OSes in the workplace.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... the potential to stick in a market that Android is having serious problems doing more than getting their foot in the door. The follow through with this is that if Surface tablets do make a strong impact, that could be all Windows Phone 8 needs to turn its sales around and start pushing into the market again. If the quality of the WinPhones also match the iPhone's in general, then that could put the hurt on Android phones at a time when their sales numbers have already peaked and are stabilizing. At that point, I'd say Android has a lot more to lose than iOS.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... is that for this previous quarter the iPad's dominance rose back up to 70% from the prior 62%. At least for the moment other tablets see a surge at introduction that peaks and falls off far too quickly while the iPad's sales continue to rise.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

First off, as you yourself mentioned an Apple 7" tablet is still a rumor, albeit a seemingly well-backed rumor. As such, I really don't believe Apple is headed in that direction, but if they are then Apple could well take the ground right out from under the Nexus 7's boots. Personally, I don't see a need for a 7" device as anything more than a media reader since the display, to me, is too small to perform well in any real productive manner. At 7", it would live up to the naysayers' expectations of what the iPad would be at its first announcement. Apple isn't alone when it comes to talking about Android's fragmentation; nearly every tech blogger online has acknowledged that while Android as a platform is apparently superior to iOS itself, no one iteration of Android has really become dominant and Ice Cream Sandwich, despite it's obvious superiority over previous versions, has only managed to wrangle a 7% adoption since its release a year ago. This isn't a fault of Android itself, but rather due to OEM fragmentation simply not pushing the new version onto older devices in an attempt to sell more new devices. This mindset wreaks havoc on customer satisfaction and customer retention. The Google Nexus 7, as a direct Google device, has the advantage of being the first and maybe the only mini-tablet that will have a direct line to OS updates rather than relying on OEM/Carrier procrastination. The fact that the Nexus 7 is $200 cheaper than the 10" iPad gives it an economic advantage though as yet I'm not certain about the reliability of the Nexus giving it a practical advantage. Finally, I do believe Microsoft may have a viable product on its hands with the Surface tablets--more specifically the ARM version though the Intel version will have separate advantages over the short term. This is more due to the advantages of Windows compatibility more than the Metro interface itself, since Metro app files will seamlessly synch with desktop versions of those apps. It's greatest advantage then, even over Android at this point, will be the integration with the desktop in much the same way Apple's productivity iOS apps integrate with their OS X apps. By removing certain manual steps in the collaboration between devices, Surface becomes the easier-to-use non-Apple solution which also has a much larger infrastructure supporting it.

dugaljaspal
dugaljaspal

These are early days yet. Give it time. Yes - apple had first mover advantage. It will take time for things to settle. Google, for example, did not spend over $12 Billion to acquire Motorola on a whim - and it wasn't just for their patents either. I'm sure they have eome serious plans for the future. My opinion relates to the future - once all the dust, hype and lawsuits settle. And the Visionary Jobs has gone - not much can replace that.

dugaljaspal
dugaljaspal

Yes, Google did take a page out of Apples book and realized that if you want to push a platform then you have to lead from the front and for that having control over your own hardware to push it with and set the trend / direction - hence Motorola Mobility. And it's not only phones and tablets - There will be other stuff coming - the Google TV Project is one that comes to mind. This is proved with the Google / Samsung Nexus phone - It's the ONLY android phone that gets updates almost immediately. The other manufacturers waste time worrying about their UI's and other layers before releasing the upgrade. Similarly even Microsoft has got the play - hence the Surface Tablets hardware. BUT - the Apple "Walled Garden" analogy does not apply entirely - Apple would never open up its ecosystem. Android being open-source is open to as many manufacturers as can be encouraged to use it. so too with Microsoft and Windows 8 - though not open-source.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I personally believe the reason is that they're tired of the other OEMs and carriers screwing up the OS and the updates. Keep in mind ICS has been out for over a year and yet only 7% of users have adopted it--mostly through new purchases. Google has realized that rapid adoption of an upgrade needs to be handled independently of either supplier source and --I believe--now understands Why Apple has been as successful at staying in the forefront at least as far as tablets are concerned. Google hoped that the 'market' would prove more resilient, but greed has obviously inhibited adoption rather than supported it. In other words, Apple's "Walled Garden" is proving far more effective than anyone expected.

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