Convince Me Not to Buy an iPad

on October 8, 2012

We at Creative Strategies, as a part of our study of consumer markets, frequently interview consumers in order to get a pulse of the market needs, wants, and desires. To do this we have conversations with groups of consumers in a specific part of the adoption curve. I was having a conversation with some folks who would not fall into the early adopter or the early majority but more toward the late majority of consumers. This group, unlike the early majority, represents the largest part of the consumer buying segment and one of the more interesting and diverse. Early adopters are predictable; the early and late majority are not. Their needs wants and desires are often more realistic, practical and nuanced, or one may say more down to earth.

During a recent interview I had an interviewee say something that got me thinking. When I asked a woman how strongly she would consider competing tablets, she said she was willing to consider other tablets but she would need to be convinced not to buy an iPad.

Why Should I Buy This Over That?

What many companies making personal technology products struggle with is address why this over that question. Often times they assume that a single feature can sway a consumer their way. Or some believe price is the ultimate factor. But the reality is that most consumers do not walk into a retail store genuinely unconvinced of what they want or are interested in when walking in the door. Generally speaking, when a consumer walks into a tech retailer to buy a tablet, they don’t walk in uneducated and hope to use retail to make a decision. Right now, since the iPad is the market leader, consumers are walking into retail thinking “I’m very interested in an iPad.” They have their mind mostly made up. For a competitor to have any shot at swaying these consumers, they need to convince them to not buy an iPad.

From our study of the early and late majority and the things they value and find desirable, I am convinced it is still an uphill battle for iPad competitors. This doesn’t mean this will always be true; just that it is right now. Take the iPhone for example. It took just over six years for a single product from a competitor to outsell the iPhone for just one quarter. And with the iPad no single tablet is even close.

The bar the iPad has set is so high that tablet competitors have resolved to try and change the conversation rather than go head to head with the iPad. This is a wise move but the tradeoff is that you focus more on a segment of the market rather than the mass market as a whole. Apple is having success targeting the larger mass market but competitors are having trouble making ground in this market. Again, I’m not saying this will always be true; just that its the current market sentiment.

All Things Being Equal

The challenge for companies trying to gain the attention of consumers is to avoid trying to just make all things equal. The key for competitors is to focus on differentiators that matter to the early and late majority, the biggest part of the market. We can debate all day what those features are, but I remain convinced that software, and specifically apps, are key in appealing to the desires of the market. And it is not just quantity but quality. Consumers want to know they are getting a tablet that will help them make the most of this new form factor.

When it comes to both Android and Windows 8 tablets, their keys to success will reside in the ability to have showcase apps that can not be found elsewhere. The example I like to use is the original XBOX and the game Halo. Halo for Microsoft’s original XBOX was a platform driver. This game alone paired with XBOX Live for online multiplayer play was one of, if not the, primary reason for many who bought the first XBOX. Microsoft was then able to keep many of these consumers loyal but Halo was the gateway to Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem.

Both Android and Microsoft tablets need software that would be considered platform drivers. This would be a step in the right direction to address the why buy this over that question. Perhaps for Microsoft Office will play this role although I am not convinced at least a point.

Ultimately consumers make trade offs in their own personal preference value chain. If they value price, they must evaluate the tradeoffs in things like design quality and cutting edge features or specs for example. Understanding the tradeoffs and having key differentiators are fundamentals to product strategy.

Tablets are tricky and because we are in the maturing cycle where consumers are still figuring out their needs, wants, and desires with them. Because of that, I remain convinced competing with the iPad will be a challenge. The next year will define much of the tablet category. Those companies who have clear and distinct differentiators that clearly make the case for consumer to buy this product over that have a shot. This applies to hardware, software, and services.

Consumers are buying iPad in droves. And if Apple releases a smaller less expensive version of the iPad they will make it even more difficult for competitors. Many millions of consumers are not being convinced to buy other tablets over iPads and they are researching their options more than many assume.

So the key to tablet success? Convince consumers not to buy iPads. Seems simple, but its not.