In a recent post, I mentioned that 2012 marked the year tablets grew up, with most of the news being dominated by entrenched players. This was largely expected, except perhaps for Microsoft's surprise announcement that it would be entering the hardware business. For the first half of 2013, the tablet space also looks a bit uninteresting compared to bygone days when each week seemingly saw a new company and mobile OS appear on the scene. Here's what I see happening with tablets as I look into my crystal ball for 2013:
- We'll see even better battery life, not because of any long-overdue advances in battery technology, but rather, due to advances in mobile processors and tablet manufacturing. As hardware companies gain experience with high-resolution mobiles and mini-tablets, traditional tablets will effectively become big batteries strapped to a screen and system on a chip.
- The dedicated eReader will largely go the way of the dedicated word processor, save perhaps for one or two specialist devices that rely on e-ink technology to deliver massive battery life.
- Handwriting will reappear in a major manufacturer tablet. My mother-in-law showed up for Christmas with a stylus for her iPhone that she used to play a popular drawing game. I believe there's potentially a strong demand for a well-executed pen-based input system.
- Enterprises will slow laptop replacement schedules to accommodate the costs of supporting tablets, even if they're employee-owned.
- Savvy IT leaders will embrace employee-owned tablets and high-end smartphones, essentially making BYOD an employee benefit and allowing corporate IT to get out of the hardware business.
Predictions for 2013
Here are my predictions for the major tablet players this year:
Microsoft will continue to struggle with Surface RT and, if it's serious about remaining in the tablet space, it will be forced to adopt a more rapid OS update cycle, resolving the multiple unanswered questions around Windows 8. The Surface Pro's Achilles' heel will be that of most prior Windows tablets: limited battery life and high cost. In a world of capable $300 laptops and similarly priced tablets, a $1000 tablet is going to be a tough sell. Even for the enterprise, a traditional laptop and iPad or Android tablet will be price-competitive with Surface Pro.
If Microsoft can sort its battery issues and deliver a true "split-personality" device that combines the best functionality of a tablet, laptop, and desktop into one well-built device, it might turn things around. Microsoft has demonstrated prowess in the hardware side of the equation, but now it needs to build out the software piece.
Apple potentially has the most to lose in 2013. It has been king of the tablet hill for several years, while competitors have grown increasingly scrappy in their attempts to dethrone them. Apple also played a very cautious hand in 2012, refreshing successful products and releasing the long-anticipated iPad Mini. There's an obvious feature gap with the Mini that could be addressed with a newer Mini in 2013 — but otherwise, nothing incredibly innovative is on the horizon. Pundits keep clamoring for an Apple TV, which might deepen Apple's hold on consumers, but I doubt Apple will be able to garner the sweetheart content deals it gathered with music from an industry still smarting from the death of the recorded music revenue stream.
Google is the quiet force in the tablet world that could change the game in 2013 by further driving down prices. Android has evolved and matured to the point where it's competitive with iOS, and while consumers and enterprises might be willing to pay a $150 premium for an Apple device, that premium might become a bridge too far if Google can drive tablet pricing down further. Google has already demonstrated its ability to deliver a high-quality, low-cost tablet with the Nexus 7. Combine an even lower cost with the ability for companies to exert more management control over Android devices, and it might beat Apple in the enterprise.
What do you see happening with tablets and tablet players in 2013? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
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 over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.