Here is what I do know about the tablet market, none of which are original thoughts:
- There is no tablet market, there is an iPad market. Imitating Apple’s iPad is not going to win significant market share. Apple has too many things going for it right now: superior product, control of supply, massive distribution, momentum.
- The TouchPad weekend (devices sold like hotcakes when priced at $99) means nothing. There is no lesson here other than people love a bargain.
- Remaining tablet makers have a choice: keep building your tablet and hope Apple screws up somewhere and you can quickly move to fill the void or invent a different kind of tablet.
If I was running RIM…
RIM is one of the companies that I think has a unique opportunity to differentiate. If I was running RIM I would laser focus the entire product on solving small to medium sized business problems. This would allow RIM to differentiate its offerings from Apple effectively. How would I do this? I would build a world-class web services layer that makes coordinating and sharing schedules, contacts and everything else across the office seamless and simple. In other words, I would explore how RIM’s technology advantages in BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Messenger could be the core of an approach that focuses on making technology control and integration as simple for SMBs as it has been for enterprises, without needing an IT department.
If I was running Microsoft…
Frankly, I’d keep doing what they are doing: combining tablets with Windows 9 to create a seamless Windows-tablet interface. Is this the right approach? Will customers prefer the “run Windows everywhere” approach over the “be restricted to specified tablet software” approach? Who really knows but Microsoft has to find out. There is actually evidence in both directions on this one. Microsoft, of course, has failed to sell Windows-on-tablets for a decade now. On the other hand, Apple managed to sell “iPhone apps” on tablets when it was first launched. If Microsoft’s approach is the same as Apple’s when it comes to Windows apps — “we have an awesome tablet for you with a unique interactive interface but if you really need a Windows app on the go, you can do that too” — then the strategy just might work this time. Can they beat Apple with this strategy? My feeling is this is a bet-the-company decision for Microsoft (meaning the company’s future growth is completely dependent on this decision) and frankly I’d be more comfortable betting the company on this than a copy Apple approach.
If I was running Google…
Speaking of a copy Apple’s approach… I spent the most time thinking about this one. Just like RIM, I don’t think Google would take the advice even if I was in a position to give it to them, but all the same here it is. Focus on social. Google’s future is social. It has to be. Google, you don’t really need to compete with Apple and Microsoft. While every action shows that these are the two companies you are most afraid of, neither is really a threat to your business. Neither makes money from advertising, neither competes on search (really), neither is in your league when it comes to web services. Facebook, however, is the one who sucks the wind from your sales. Same business model except Facebook says you don’t need search because everything you need to learn you can do so from your network. If I was Google, I’d be focusing all of my efforts on making devices that redefine social. I have no specifics on what that is. I am no social guru, tend to be a late comer to those technologies, and tend to see social through the lens of business, not through the lens of, you know, social interaction. But this is clearly Google’s biggest threat and strategically the entire company needs to use its strengths to win here.
If I was running…
To me there is a massive tablet section left that I don’t think has been focused on yet. RIM could do it (but won’t) as they at least had some mind-share in this segment. I honestly think this will likely come from someone who is not technically in the tablet space today, maybe an Amazon or Barnes and Noble. While I love my iPad, I still have a notepad I use. I desperately want to get rid of it. It needs to be good at three things: taking notes, reading, and browsing. Apple has nailed two of the three but the note-taking piece just isn’t there. Being restricted to a cursor and keyboard is a problem and pen input on an iPad is less than satisfying. Would I carry two devices? Of course as I already do: my iPad and a pad of paper.
The only way to beat Apple is not to outcompete them at their own game but to take on a segment of the market that Apple is either not focusing on or may be willing to give up. Jeez, hasn’t anyone in the tech space read Clayton Christensen? I don’t have all the segments here and some of these may be areas Apple would defend but by picking off a sub-segment and pushing Apple upstream, any number of tablet vendors could get a toe-hold and eventually compete head-to-head.