Apple’s new iPad will help them keep their lead but there is a lot of growth left before the market matures. Google, showed a firm commitment to tablets last year, delivering two solid tablet OS updates to Android. The manufacturers got on board: most new tablets ran Android. Then there’s Microsoft which did not have a tablet in the market in 2011, but they have just released their next-generation Windows 8, with UI innovation and an approach to apps that bets on tablets and the touchscreen interfaces that drive them.
Apple Sets The Bar For The Category
Apple iPad 2
Apple dominates the tablet market, sitting between 60 and 90% of market share, depending on whether you include domestic or international numbers, or whether you're looking at usage or ownership. You could even argue Apple created the consumer market for tablets, essentially they created demand that prior consumer tablets struggled to generate. In explaining Apple’s success, it’s fair to point to their head-start but their real advantage lies foremost in the strength of the Apple brand and the iPad's integration with Apple’s larger device and service ecosystem. Apple marketing serves not only to entice customers, but to educate would-be users, from demonstrating gestures to explaining cloud services in simple terms. Apple’s user experiences are often called “intuitive,” but may more accurately be called “taught” through television advertising, online resources, Apple Store employees, and loyal Apple users.
Consumers can rely on the stability and longevity of iOS and enjoy the fruits of a flourishing iTunes store with not only hundreds of thousands of phone and tablet apps, but music, podcasts, TV, movies, magazines, books, and educational content. The visual style and interaction patterns of Apple’s UX are being applied increasingly consistently with Apple’s desktop OS, at first informing iOS, and now being informed by it. Finally, the proliferation of wireless and cloud functionality across devices through services like AirPlay, iTunes Match, and iCloud promises seamless interactions between all these Apple devices.
Android Becomes A Viable Alternative
Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab
Prior to 2011, there was no version of Android designed for tablet use, and many manufacturers just ported handset versions (Gingerbread) onto tablets. The user experiences suffered from this OS shoe-horning: they felt like big novelty phones. But Google demonstrated their commitment to Android tablets in 2011 with the release of both Honeycomb in February and Ice Cream Sandwich in October. Honeycomb finally gave manufacturers a proper tablet version of Android to create tablet experiences.
Honeycomb was unlike previous Android versions in more ways than one. As we’ve said, it was designed specifically for tablets, but more than that, it was specifically not designed for phones. Moreover, unlike previous versions of Android, Google did not open the source code for Honeycomb. Motorola and Samsung, both of whom have created their own custom Android OS variants, were forced to load stock Android on their devices. Without access to open source code, their Android builds did not feel as integrated to their respective handset lineups as they might have. By launching first, Motorola Xoom had the advantage in the Android category. Samsung’s response was to swap an alternate keyboard and to differentiate more heavily on hardware alone (the Galaxy 10.1 is the thinnest tablet on the market).
By not making Honeycomb open source, Google signaled they want to follow Microsoft's licensing model, enabling Google to assert more control over the Android tablet experience.
Business Class Tablets Fly Coach
HP TouchPad and RIM Blackberry Playbook
Two aspects were in Palm and RIM’s favor. Both were companies with unrivaled brands synonymous with business savvy and inseparable from the business crowd. They had – and in RIM’s case, still have – enterprise buy-in. Both the webOS Touchpad and Blackberry Playbook interfaces provided nice alternatives to iOS and Android. What they lacked in third-party apps they made up for with a connection to the smartphone operating systems they evolved from. WebOS in particular emphasized gestures and a unique approach to app switching. Unique wireless interactions provided some good contrasts to iOS and Android. Furthermore, their focus on cloud-based and distributed content sources gave a forward-looking contrast to some of the Android offerings that focus on local storage.
But, what could have been a strong enterprise play fell flat. Unfortunately, assessing the TouchPad and Playbook is a focus on what could have been.
They each launched headlining their bargain price and entered the market as the cheap alternative to iPad. While both showed solid sales numbers, their prices were absolutely not sustainable. The move signaled to buyers that the companies were either rushing to the market unprepared or that they were throwing a hail mary pass just to get into the tablet game.
RIM made some fatal mistakes that left would-be buyers questioning. RIM pitched the Playbook unconvincingly as both entertainment and business-class and struggled to convince users it could do either. The investor site Motley Fool said "The PlayBook tries so hard to be both business and party that it fails to be either. It’s the mullet of tablet computers." The Playbook’s most obvious gap was its lack of dedicated email and calendar apps, failing to convince business folks that RIM is committed to them.
Notably, RIM delivered on their promise last month with a BlackBerry OS update and showed further good faith, adding BlackBerry Mobile Fusion software for enterprises that have deployed BlackBerry phones and Playbooks.
The Reader is the Tablet Dark Horse
Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Color
In the sea of me-too tablets over the last 18 months, Amazon’s first color tablet, the Kindle Fire, stood out because of its concentration and courage to reduce Android down to a singular, content-first experience. The Fire UI holds almost no resemblance to Google’s OS and feature-wise it’s merely a skeleton. Only when browsing Kindle Fire settings will you find interface elements that resemble Android’s stock offering.
The tech bloggers got it wrong. They flouted the Fire as under-powered, lacking basic features like cameras, external storage and parental controls. Yet, the Kindle's holiday success is a stinging reminder that the tech blogs and early adopters do not lead the country in matters of taste or budget. The rest of the country were happy to put an affordable, nicely featured Fire under the tree (or in their own pocket) for the holidays.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble reminded the market it’s about one thing: content, content and content. (And, content is of course inclusive of the apps it’s delivered on.) These companies’ strategy to subsidize device prices with content sales brings the cost far below competing devices. Like Apple, Amazon’s other services make the Kindle a smart choice. For instance, Amazon e-book owners can access their books on any iOS or Android device via the free Kindle App. Amazon’s streaming TV and movies are also a perk to Kindle owners. The same cannot be said with iPad or iPhone given Apple’s closed content model.
Both Amazon and B&N’s have retail advantages as well. Nook owners get perks like free open-ended reading when they’re in a B&N cafe. Amazon's own retail channel lets the company promote their tablet over any competitors' and offer a free app of the day.
So, what comes next?
By the end of 2011 eMarketer research showed 33.7 million Americans were using a tablet at least once a month. The forecast predicts that number will rise to 54.8 million users by the end of this year and to almost 90 million by 2014. That figure represents more than a third of all US internet users. What trends can we expect to see in the tablet market in 2012 and beyond?
First, Apple will find a way to rise above the rest. They’ll do it with interface innovations like Siri integration and hardware innovations like retina displays and better cameras (1080p Video capture). They'll possibly add new sizes. They’ll continue making inroads to the business market such as Microsoft recently announcing Office Suite for iPad.
Apple has embraced the post-PC era and are not afraid to throw away old paradigms. With cloud computing they have discarded the file and folder metaphor the way they withheld floppy disks from the iMac 14 years ago. Apple has demonstrated that files and folders are the old way; tags, streams and apps are the way forward. You browse music in terms of listening, not by sorting MP3s. You browse images as smart collections grouped by places, people and events, not as JPGs. Expect Apple to deepen the reach of their cloud services and expect their desktop OS to even more fully integrate with iTV in the living room and across mobile devices.
There’s only room for one Android tablet leader on the block. Manufacturers that ship stock Android devices will still have to compete on hardware features alone: cameras, storage, network support, battery life, screen size, etc. Manufacturers will still face the same issue of keeping up with new OS versions from Google. Without UI and significant feature differentiation to insulate them, manufacturers will be battered every 3 to 6 months by device announcements that are only just incrementally better. This environment means that to the tech bloggers, the press, and those they influence only one Android tablet will matter at any given moment: the latest.
If Google keeps their stake in Motorola Mobility we might expect Motorola to lead because of their close relationship to Google. But as a counterpoint, they recently collaborated with Samsung on the Galaxy Nexus handset for the first Ice Cream Sandwich build. It seems Google likes to keep the analysts (and everybody else) guessing.
PC manufacturers will jump on Windows 8. They have relationships with Microsoft and legacy desktops that Microsoft is committed to. We expect to see a lot of Windows tablets in the hybrid category, experimenting with configurations for folding or slide out designs, tablets that fold out as notebooks and dual-screen varieties. Windows 8 is a fresh alternative and touchscreen tablets will be Windows 8’s signature moment to define the way forward for Microsoft. Whether Microsoft (and app developers) can lead users toward a Windows 8 vision of the post-PC future will be tested this year.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire foretells the first of many, as we’ll show in a moment. The success of the Kindle Fire will embolden manufacturers and possibly even service or media brands to find a niche audience and innovate there. Kindle Fire is not just a modestly equipped, bargain priced Android device. The Kindle Fire’s success is also tied to the strength of Amazon’s Kindle brand with its devoted base of users ready to upgrade and an ecosystem of content and cloud services supporting users’ collection of music and documents. Building on Android, Amazon can match the new iPad in terms of a media store offering, cloud services and the Android market.
Niche Examples Show There’s
Always Room To Grow
Not all of these niche tablets will hold the mainstream appeal as the Kindle Fire, they could find their own foothold in the mindshare of post-PC electronics consumers.
A newcomer, Razer, has a dedicated gaming tablet called “Project Fiona” that made a splash at CES 2012, impressing the tech crowd with high frame rate, first-person gaming device. Characters are controlled by tilting the tablet and hardware buttons control the actions. It will have limited appeal, but if gamers see it as a more immersive way to play their favorite genre games it could spike interest, especially as there’s nothing stopping Razer from also including web browsing, email and other content feature via the Android Market.
LeapFrog launched their LeapPad, a connected touchscreen learning tablet for the pre-school age and up crowd, which piggybacks off the success of their Leapster handhelds. LeapPad will be right at home in the toy section at Target or Wal-mart – where mom’s will see it – and not sitting alongside a sea of other tablets over in electronics. If anything holds this back it will be price. It’s not just expensive hardware to put in the hands of a toddler – that isn’t stopping parents from putting iPad in kids’ hands. The LeapPad will compete instead for third-party apps loaded onto adult tablets. We’ve also seen that when hardware looks like it’s designed for toddlers, kids feel like their getting a toy and want the adult version.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a hybrid smartphone and tablet that deserves mention as one offering some unique set of interface features beyond just a unique size. The Galaxy Note hits right where the smartphone landscape suffers – from overwhelming sameness. Smartphones have basically become slabs of touch screen glass. Android devices especially fall into the sameness rut. They scream me too in cacophonous synchronicity.
The Galaxy Note uses custom stylus gestures, such as holding the pen button and swiping left for undo or right for redo, demonstrate that Samsung has invested heavily in stylus input not just a gimmicky hardware bundle. With this approach Samsung is providing a few key feature highlights to create enough of a unique point of view with the device. This is not just a bigger smartphone, (besting the 4.7 inch HTC Sensation) but at 5.3 inches, with a unique approach to stylus input, it has a story users can latch onto.
Vizio aims to control the living room with the 8" Vizio tablet. With the built-in IR users can configure a universal remote app to control 95% of home entertainment devices like TVs, home stereos and Blu-Ray players, and not just Vizio products. The tablet can remember multiple devices in multiple rooms or in different locations altogether (living room, master bedroom, vacation home).
Vizio’s remote app feels a little bit first-generation, with all buttons and no gestures. Yet, to their credit, Vizio has designed the controls to be nice and large, which may be just what users need in order to keep their eyes off the remote and on the TV. Successful remotes keep focus on the screen being controlled, not the screen doing the controlling.
Vizio is undoubtedly after the bigger trend: that users readily browse the web while they watch TV. Laptops, smartphones and tablets are right at home couch-side. In some cases we have observed users watching different TV programming (with headphones on) while others watch the primary TV. Yet, in our experience, the activity on a tablet is rarely in sync with the activity on the big screen. Users are more likely to give continuous partial attention to different content on two screens. Only during big, live TV events like the Super Bowl, the Grammy’s, or American Idol are users’ likely to engage content on smaller screens that is directly related to content on the big screen.
Because TVs are shared devices and often so are tablets we anticipate some frustration in homes where control of the TV is locked to a tablet because it’s inevitable that one user will want to control the TV while another wants an uninterrupted round of Angry Birds. What will stop a tablet from wandering into another room? Then again, maybe Vizio is just upping the ante in the war over the remote.
When future households have multiple tablets the tablet sharing problem will diminish. Remote control is a unique start. Manufacturers like Vizio should make the companion aspects of their tablets more indispensable with content discovery, including social sharing and recommendations, and playback from local and cloud-based media sources. The ultimate companion TV device should navigate all of the various, disparate components and TV content sources independent of their source – streamed over the internet, broadcast via cable or on local storage on home DVRs and hard disks.
We’re witnessing what Steve Jobs called the post-PC era: a time when tablets will begin to outsell personal computers. Analysts predict that tipping point is as early as 2013. It’s not a question of if, but when. The astounding growth we're about to see is not automatic: it will be fraught with successes and failures among all the dominant platforms. What matters most as we look forward in 2012 is not just the tablet form factor, but the connected experiences these devices enable and the services they deliver.
Punchcut understands the differentiation needed for manufacturers’ success. In our 9 year history we have partnered with North American, Asian and European device manufacturers to design custom OS-level experiences across all major connected-device platforms.
We have helped media and content brands design compelling iPad and Android tablet apps whose interfaces and experiences are tailored, not scaled, to the devices where they’re used. We understand the complexity of multi-device households and workplaces and more importantly, the mindset and intent of the people who engage there.
Notes & Sources
_ Tablet comparison | Tablet PC comparison 2012
_ Tablet Roundup | BH inDepth
_ Online Press Releases by Industry | Recent – NPD
_ iPad dominated Q3 tablet sales; Kindle Fire and Nook rising | Guardian
_ U.S. tablet sales to soar as sharing of devices decreases | GigaOm
_ NPD Insights | The Newsletter from The NPD Group
_ Why Android tablets failed: A postmortem | TechRepublic
_ Tablet Publishing Is Poised to Revolutionize Higher Education
_ Comparison of tablet computers | Wikipedia
_ Apple’s January Media Event to Involve Digital Textbooks and Education? | Mac Rumors
_ ’iPad 4’ Headed for October Launch with iPad 3 as Interim Upgrade? | Mac Rumors
_ iPad 3 to Gain Improved Cameras? | Mac Rumors
_ Leaked Photo of an iPad 3 Retina Display? | Mac Rumors
_ Apple to Use IGZO Displays to Achieve a Thinner Lower-Power iPad 3? | Mac Rumors
_ Unsurprisingly, Apple Will Not Release the iPad 3 at Macworld/iWorld | Mac Rumors
_ Apple’s Multi-User Face Recognition Plans for iPad Revealed in Patent | Mac Rumors
_ Not a Phone, Not a PC: Why Tablets Must Be Different | Punchcut
_ Android Ice Cream Sandwich, this is not the treat you are looking for | ExtremeTech
_ Exclusive: Windows 8 pre-beta hands-on video and pictures | The Verge
TABLETS RELEASED IN 2011
_ PanDigital 72-70FW, 7-inch | Android | 2/25/2011
_ Apple iPad 2 | iOS | 3/2/2011
_ Le Pan TC 970 9.7-inch | Android | 3/15/2011
_ Maylong M250 7-inch Tablet | Android | 3/22/2011
_ ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101-B1 10.1-inch | Android | 4/26/2011
_ Toshiba Thrive 10.1-inch | Android | 5/6/2011
_ RIM Blackberry Playbook | Playbook OS | 5/16/2011
_ HP TouchPad 9.7-inch | webOS | 5/19/2011
_ MID 7-inch | Android | 5/24/2011
_ Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch | Android | 6/1/2011
_ VIZIO 8-Inch | Android | 7/5/2011
_ Amazon Kindle Fire 7-inch | Android | 9/27/2011
_ Coby Kyros 7-inch |Android | 10/12/2011
_ Samsung Galaxy Note | Android | February 19, 2012
_ Sony Tablet S | Android | TBA 2012
_ Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0, 8.9, 10.1, Series 7 Slate
_ HP Slate, TouchPad
_ Barnes & Noble: Nook, Nook Color
_ Asus Eee Slate, Eee Pad Transformer
_ Motorola XOOM
_ Acer Iconia Tab A500, A100
_ Amazon Kindle, Kindle Fire
_ Dell Streak 7
_ LG T-Mobile G-Slate 4G
_ Vizio 8” Tablet
_ Sony Tablet S
_ MSI WindPad
_ Fujitsu Stylistic