By Michael Finneran, dBrn Associates | Feb 1, 2011
The introduction of the Apple iPad and the subsequent birth (or "resurrection") of the tablet computer business was clearly one of the biggest developments in computing in 2010. Apple has certainly capitalized on their first-to-market advantage and the their truly awesome user experience, but 2011 promises to be the first year of the competitive tablet market.
The Consumer Electronics Show earlier in the year saw the announcement of over 100 tablet products. Avaya, Cisco, NEC and RIM all announced their first tablet offerings last year and actual deliveries will begin in the first half of this year. We have a session dedicated to The Role of Tablets in Enterprise UC at the upcoming Enterprise Connect show in Orlando. We'll get to hear from those four as well as Polycom, and hopefully they'll be bringing some units we can actually touch.
At this early stage of development it is interesting to speculate whether this market will develop along the lines of the smartphone or the PC. Mobile operators like Verizon appear poised to offer tablets on the same subsidized model that has served them so well in popularizing smartphones. Verizon announced a Minimum Advertised Price of $799 for the much anticipated Motorola Xoom, the first tablet to support the Android 3.0 or Honeycomb operating system.
With Best Buy offering the same device for $699, I can't see much reason why anyone would be opting for Verizon. However that Verizon price really seems to be a set-up for a subsidized offering tied to a 2-year cellular data contract--the "unholy alliance" of equipment and service trying to creep into the tablet game. Watch the smaller and more nimble mobile operators offering special pricing plans for dual-device customers.
Interestingly, an equivalent iPad with 32 Gbytes of storage and 3G plus Wi-Fi connectivity actually sells for $70 less than the Verizon Xoom price. It's a new experience for us seeing Apple cast in the role of a price leader. Of course the Xoom also features front- and back-facing cameras and an optional 32 Gbyte memory expansion, so we should really hold off comparisons until we see how the much anticipated iPad 2 stacks up.
It is fairly clear that Apple will stick to the familiar closed environment for the iPad that will allow them to control the user experience much in the same way they do with the iPhone. Android on the other hand appears to be shaping up for a flat out competitive war. Motorola has done a great job getting on top of the Android wave, but the vast majority of those new tablets are going to be running Android, and the hardware add-ons will come by the ton while the prices drop.
The big question for the likes of Cisco and Avaya is will there be any play for branded tablets for the enterprise? With the ennui that hangs over the whole idea of the high-priced office desk phone, it looks like this may be a last grasp at the brass ring. However, if they follow through with prices in the $1,000 to $2,000 that we've heard bandied about, this looks like another experiment in the "bigger idiot" theory of marketing (i.e. the only guy who's going to buy this is a bigger idiot than the guy who came up with it).
RIM’s approach is most intriguing, with their PlayBook. While PlayBook has direct Wi-Fi (802.11a, b, g, and n) it will not feature 3G connectivity. Rather, the PlayBook will connect (when it does connect) to the network through the user's BlackBerry smartphone using a Bluetooth-based connection called BlackBerry Bridge. In line with RIM's ongoing emphasis on security, if that connection is dropped, no sensitive information is left on the Playbook.
I for one am looking forward to hearing what are panelists will have to say about their tablet visions, plans and strategies when we get to Orlando. Hope to see you there.
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