Chart: Internet Access by Device

As our readers know, every now and then I like to post a chart and tease out the highlights. Today, I want to do that with some updated data. Across many global markets, consumers were asked which devices they have accessed the Internet on, either through an app or browser, over the past 30 days. This data is updated frequently so we can track the growth of internet access by device over time.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 9.30.04 AM

Mobile/Smartphones: This is be obvious and we can expect continued growth in internet access by smartphones for the foreseeable future.

Tablets: Tablets remain the other growth area. Given the slowdown of tablet growth overall, we can make a few observations. The first is the tablet is continuing to steal internet time from other devices, mainly the PC. The second is the tablet market is actually growing. However, it is doing so by the secondary market. Meaning that many of those initial rush of iPad buyers are continuing to hand down older iPads to other family members as they upgrade their iPad. Since this upgrade isn’t happening all at once but is trickling in over time, we see slower sales but larger use of tablets. Another is the continued explosive growth we see of Chinese white box tablets. In certain markets like Russia, India, Mexico, Brazil, and to some degree China, these low cost, no name brand tablets are quite popular. Most are dedicated game players or portable TVs, but internet access at some level should also be assumed. This is happening to a degree in the US as IDC highlighted RCA being in the top 5 of tablet vendors for Q3 2014.

As I see this data on tablets and see quarter after quarter of more people say they are getting on the internet with a tablet than the quarter before, it shows us the category is still viable and still growing.

PC/Work PC: I like that these two categories are separated in the survey. It helps us get an understanding of how much larger the consumer PC segment is vs. those who use a PC at work. When you look at both numbers, it is possible to interpret their lines and believe the PC market is simply not growing. This certainly looks to be the case. We are not adding brand new PC users at anywhere near the rate we once were. Also, as I alluded above, more PC users’ internet use is likely shifting to other devices.

I point this out in many of my focused PC industry analysis reports through my firm Creative Strategies. What we discover when we study PC behavior in both consumer and enterprise environments is the device is becoming a much more focused product than a general purpose one. People use it for specific tasks and have now defined what tasks it is better for vs. others. A great example of this is Facebook. In our studies, we found over 75% of daily US Facebook users access Facebook on their phone but while sitting at their work PC. Facebook has a browser based version so why not just use it? We find people simply prefer the mobile version, so we see this dual use of a PC and smartphone at the same time. Responses we’ve heard were that it was faster, more private, more convenient, and they could use the mobile app to get a particular task done, even though they could have done the same thing on the PC. If general purpose computing moves from the PC to devices like the tablet and even more so to the smartphone, it will bring dramatic implications to the PC ecosystem.

Television: Increasingly, more people are accessing the internet from their TV. It is important to note in this data that a game console or set top box is included. This is not referring to a dedicated connected internet TV, but to the use case of connecting to the internet in some way from your TV. Clearly Netflix, online console gaming, and other use cases drive this, but the fact it is slowly increasing tell us quite a bit about the role the TV will play going forward and the internet services are poised to be monetized from the big screen.

Given this survey comes from over 30,000 responses, what the lines also show approximates volumes. The higher the percentage of the line, the more people using the device to access the internet. Like most surveys, it does not include mobile only consumers, but we can be assured there are more people accessing the internet from a mobile device than a PC, even though these lines don’t show that. What this chart sheds light on is what the internet by device landscape looks like in the multi-screen user world. The “internet embedded into everything” is the theme. What devices dominate its usage is the interesting part to watch going forward.

Rebuttal: 10 Reasons To Not Buy A Windows Tablet

ZDNet posted an article entitled: 10 Reasons To Buy A Windows Tablet Instead Of The iPad Or Android.

[pullquote]If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come sit by me. ~ Alice Roosevelt Longworth[/pullquote]

The ZDNet article proves to me you’re never too old to learn something stupid. The justifications used to support the proposition one should buy a Microsoft tablet are as stupid as they get.

Let’s review, shall we?

1) It’s all about choice

    “Having options available is always a good thing…”

That just ain’t so. Options don’t matter unless they’re GOOD options or, more specifically, unless they’re better than the options already available. Benedict Evans is fond of saying that some people suffer from “Technology Tourette’s” — a baffling disease that causes some technology enthusiasts to grow neck beards and shout out random tech memes like “Open!” and “Choice!” at inappropriate times. That seems to be what’s occurring here.

Choice is not an end, it’s a means and it’s the quality of one’s choices — not just the availability of choice — that matters. If you demonstrate Windows tablets are better, fine. But just claiming they’re different from what’s already available doesn’t cut it as an argument.

2) Plug it in

    “Windows tablets are full PCs. Most can do anything that their bigger siblings can do, and that includes letting owners plug peripherals in to do stuff.”

[pullquote]When it’s three o’clock in Cupertino, it’s still 1995 in Redmond.[/pullquote]

That argument is like a marshmallow — easy to chew, but hard to swallow. ((Inspired by Alberto Nikas))

First, most everything listed in the article can now be done wirelessly — no cables required.

Second, didn’t Microsoft just spend the last decade stirring up apathy about the wonders of having a full PC on a tablet? How’d that work out for them?

Third, didn’t the iPad become a computing phenomenon without all those cables?

160_F_31117682_7sZOFRNgAwbAjqfA4bMyMcFR9KPkmkekMicrosoft claiming their tablets are equipped with the full PC experience is like a hooker claiming she is equipped with a chastity belt. It’s neither a feature nor a benefit.

3) Keeps getting better

    “Windows 8 wasn’t that great on tablets when first introduced, but that’s a thing of the past.”

I think we can agree. The past is over. ~ George W. Bush

That reminds me of a joke:

Morty comes home to find his wife and his best friend, Lou, naked together in bed. Just as Morty is about to open his mouth, Lou jumps out of the bed and says, “Before you say anything, old pal, what are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” ((Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein ))

So who are you going to believe, ZDNet or your lying eyes?

Apparently the Windows 8 design team believe if two wrongs don’t make a right, try three…or four…or five…

  1. Saying Windows 8 is getting better on tablets is like saying one’s rash isn’t as noticeable anymore (although it still itches like crazy).
  2. Windows 8 is so bad that if it had been introduced 2,000 years ago, it would have been stoned.
  3. Windows 8 is so bad that if it were your lover it would give you an anticlimax. ((Inspired by Scott Roeben))

And Windows RT (also known as “I-have-no-idea-what-they’re-calling-it-now?”)? Well, that reminds me of another joke.

Q: What do you call a dog with no legs?
A: It doesn’t matter because it’s not going to come anyway.

It doesn’t matter what you call Windows RT because it’s a dog and its got no legs.

4) Double duty

    “Many tablets are available in hybrid form, a slate (screen) that plugs into a dock that turns it into a laptop. These are tablets when you want one and laptops when you need one, as Microsoft is fond of telling us.”

Double “doody” devices are a great problem, masquerading as a great good.

If you’re on a camping trip, you might want to use a Swiss Army knife. But if you’re at home, you won’t ever use it to carve the turkey, open a can or a bottle of wine. You’ll have better tools available.

Similarly, if you’re a road warrior, you may want a two-in-one. Like the Swiss Army knife, it’s a convenient, but compromised, tool. If sales totals mean anything to you — and they certainly mean something to the rest of the world — it appears that even most road warriors would prefer to carry both a tablet and a notebook rather than endure the compromises inherent in a hybrid computing device.

I think well-known-tech-reviewer, Abraham Lincoln, may have best summed up the problem with hybrids:

If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee. ~ Abraham Lincoln

5) Then there’s Office…

    “A lot has been said about the need for Microsoft Office on tablets, and while there are decent alternatives to Office on the other tablet platforms, there’s no solution as complete as the genuine article.”

First, many — nay most — do not need to use Office.

Second, there are numerous Office alternatives available.

Third, if you need to use Office, you’ll be much happier using a notebook than a tablet. Office is not optimized for touch.

Fourth, Microsoft is soon going to bring Office to the iPad.

So what was the point ZDNet was trying to make?

6) Do some real work

    “You hear a lot of discussion about what constitutes real work, and while I can do my work on any tablet, some need Windows.”

ZDNet conflates two arguments here. If you need to use Windows, then by all means, buy a Windows machine. (Although some contend “The Best Windows PC Is An Apple Mac.”) However, Windows desktop programs aren’t optimized for touch, so a notebook would probably be more appropriate than a tablet.

If you really need to know if your computer is doing “real work,” then first you have to know what the definition of “work” is and even before that, you need to know what the definition of “definition” is.

“Definition” is “an exact statement or description of the nature, scope, or meaning of something.”

You use a definition to define an object. You do not use an object to define a definition.

Defining “real work” by comparing it to what one can do on a PC or Windows tablet is the same argument — and the same erroneous argument — PC aficionado’s used to make when they contended tablets weren’t “real” computers. They looked at their PCs, listed all of its attributes and then excluded from the definition of computing anything that didn’t have all of those attributes. This is akin to looking at a cow and claiming anything that doesn’t have all of the characteristics of a cow isn’t a mammal.

“Work” is an “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.”

The “purpose or result” is defined by the user, not by the tool. It’s the user, not Microsoft, who gets to define whether the tool does the “real work” or not and the fact 95% of all Enterprise software on tablets runs on iOS should put to rest Microsoft’s pompous contention that non-Window’s tablets don’t do “real work.”

Unbelievably, here’s the screenshot that ZDNet used as support for their claim one can do “real work” on a Windows tablet.

06-real-work

Yikes! If that’s what ZDNet means by “real work”, you can keep it. ZDNet couldn’t have parodied their argument better if they’d tried.

PedalSkatesI suspect if Microsoft had been in the bicycle business at the turn of the last century, they would have offered “pedal skates” as their alternative to Apple’s roller skates, all the while claiming their pedal skates were “real” bicycles because they had “real” tires.

Sigh. It’s a “tired” argument that falls flat. ((There’s probably a RIM joke in there somewhere too.))

7) Lots of apps

Well, that’s just a damn lie. App support for Windows 8 is third of three, so it’s a reason NOT to buy a Windows tablet, not a reason TO buy a Windows Tablet.

One could contend Windows apps are “good enough.” One could contend it, but it still wouldn’t make it so. There are not only huge holes in the Windows lineup, but the apps that are available are often mere shadows of the originals – unoptimized for touch or poorly implemented copycats.

Windows 8 has less apps, the apps it has are less useful and Microsoft is porting its own apps to Apple devices. So how exactly are “apps” a reason to buy Windows tablets?

Microsoft app not only in the Mac App Store, but featured as Editor’s Choice. Different era, I know. Still weird. ~ MG Siegler (@parislemon)

BjB-ZruIEAE-DCu

The above ad came out yesterday. Notice anything missing? (Hint: It’s Windows 8.)

8) Run any browser you want

Geez, that’s some awfully weak sauce. Let’s tease out the reality.

First, most users don’t care about multiple browsers on their mobile devices.

Second, most browsers are optimized for their mobile devices. (Tip o’ the hat to @jseths)

Third, the browsers available on Window 8 are not touch enabled. Which kind of puts a serious crimp in the entire contention Windows 8 tablets come with multiple browsers.

Fourth, even the browser users are pulling out of Windows 8.

Fifth, if multiple non-touch optimized browsers are what you really want on your tablet then by all means the two of you should go out and buy a Windows tablet.

Regarding Firefox Metro, you can complain when devs don’t support Metro, but when they do and see no usage, hard to complain if they kill it. ~ Paul Thurrott (@thurrott)

9) Multi-tasking on the screen

    “Those who do two things at once on an iPad or most Android tablets are all too familiar with having to swap between the two app screens. Bouncing back and forth is OK, but it would be much better to have the two apps displayed side-by-side on the tablet screen. Windows tablets have you covered in this regard, as snap view lets you put two apps up at once.”

Well, on the one hand, many apps do not work with snap view. On the other hand, I really like snap view and if it’s a big plus for you, have at it on your Windows tablet. However, I strongly suspect that design-wise, mobile is made for full screen use. As the world-famous designer, Dieter Rams put it: “Less, but better.”

I’m comfortable letting the market act as the judge and jury on this one.

10) Long-term viability

    “Companies come, and companies go, and that’s especially true in the mobile space. Buying into a mobile platform with any device is making a leap of faith that the platform and the company behind it will be around for the long haul.That’s not a concern with a Windows tablet, as Microsoft is certain to be around for a long time.”

[pullquote]He’s a very competitive competitor, that’s the sort of competitor he is. ~ Dorian Williams, horse show commentator[/pullquote]

Whoa, whoa and whoa!

What a bizarre argument. First, saying Microsoft will be around in the long run is not the same thing as saying Windows 8 will be around in the long run.

Innovation is a process. Innovativeness as an attribute of a company is a measure of its processes not its assets. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

Second, saying Microsoft is committed to Windows 8 tablets is not the same as saying Windows 8 tablets will be around in the long run. I’m pretty sure IBM was committed to OS/2, Palm was committed to WebOS, and RIM was committed to Blackberry. The crucial question is not whether Microsoft is committed to Windows 8 but whether the developers are committed and the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

Guardian: Firefox on Windows 8 Metro only had 1,000 daily users. ~ Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur)

(Perhaps it’s not so much developers are rats deserting a sinking ship as they are ships deserting a sinking rat.)

[pullquote]Microsoft is like the guy at the party who gives everybody cocaine and still nobody likes him. ((Inspired by Jim Samuels))[/pullquote]

Firefox says Windows 8 is a black hole, kills its Metro app ~ Sameer Singh (@sameer_singh17)

Mozilla pulls the plug on ‘Metro’ mode Firefox browser for Windows 8. Windows 8 isn’t a failure? You’re kidding right? ~ Bhaskar Bhat (@bhaskarsb)

Windows Tablets have long-term viability? Au contraire. Windows 8 has the life expectancy of a small boy about to look into a gas tank with a lighted match. ((Inspired by Fred Allen))

Conclusion

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder. ~ Brian Aldiss

This article makes me wonder what the writer was thinking. Let me put it this way. If this author had been the Captain of the Titanic, he’d deny the ship had hit an iceberg and say they were only stopping to pick up some ice.

[pullquote]Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions. ~ Parody Bill Murray (@BiIIMurray)[/pullquote]

The fundamental problem with Windows 8 hasn’t changed: you’re still working in two operating systems at once. And it can’t be “fixed,” it can only be undone.

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This is the ultimate strategy tax. The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. ((Malcolm Gladwell)). The last thing Microsoft wanted to do was to start anew. They wanted to leverage their existing desktop Windows monopoly. Instead, Windows 8 is an anchor so big it’s sinking not only Microsoft’s mobile hopes but their desktop franchise as well.

Which reminds me of one last joke:

      A magician is working on a cruise ship, but there is one problem. The captain’s parrot watches every show he does, and after figuring out the tricks, the parrot has started yelling out the secrets of how the tricks are done.
The bird says, “Look, it’s not the same hat!” or “Hey! He’s hiding the flowers under the table!”
The magician is enraged. But it’s the captain’s parrot, so he can’t do anything about it.

One day on a long cruise, there is an accident. The boat crashes and sinks. The magician and the parrot find them themselves clinging to the same plank of wood in the middle of the ocean. For days neither says anything. Finally, after a week, with no hope in sight, the parrot says, “Okay, I give up. Where’s the boat?”

[pullquote]Anyone can win, unless there happens to be a second entry. ~ George Ade[/pullquote]

There is no boat. And there is no salvaging of Windows 8 either. You can “parrot” Microsoft’s PR all you want, but it’s like they say:

Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

How The Tablet Made An Ass Of The PC

[pullquote]If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. ~ Einstein[/pullquote]

Many tech watchers STILL don’t understand what a “disruptive innovation” is. I’m no Einstein, but I’m going to try to explain it in terms that even a six year old could understand (and with pretty pictures too!).

A disruptive innovation is:

an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

If that still doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay, because we’ve just begun and…

Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. ~ Khalil Gibran

(Author’s Note: For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using the term “PC” to describe both Notebook and Desktop computers, i.e, any computer with an attached keyboard.)

The Analogy

[pullquote]If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me! ~ Ma Ferguson, former governor of Texas[/pullquote]

The new often disrupts the old, which is somewhat akin to saying that the new often makes an ass out of the old, which brings us to my analogy:

The PC is like an Elephant and the Tablet is like an Ass (in the biblical sense).

ignorant donkey

I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming.

WHEN THERE WERE ONLY ELEPHANTS (PCs)

[pullquote]The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously. ~ Henry Kissinger[/pullquote]

Suspend belief for a moment and imagine that the PC is an Elephant and that the Tablet is an Ass. (That wasn’t so hard, now was it?) Imagine further that you lived in a land where the only pack animals were Elephants.

If you only have one tool, then that is the tool that you will use for most every task. If you only have one pack animal, i.e., the Elephant, then that is the pack animal that you will use for most every task. (Similarly, if you only have one type of computer, i.e., the PC, then that is the computer that you will use for most every computing task.)

ENTER THE ASS (Tablets)

Now imagine that the Ass (Tablet) is introduced into your Elephant-only (PC-only) ecosystem. If you were a purveyor of Elephants (PCs), would you feel threatened? Would you even care?

Of course not.

  1. An Ass can carry goods. So can an Elephant.
  2. An Ass can give people rides. So can an Elephant.
  3. An Ass can pull a cart. So can an Elephant.

ANYTHING AN ASS (TABLET) CAN DO, AN ELEPHANT (PC) CAN DO BETTER.

There is nothing that an Ass (Tablet) can do that an Elephant (PC) cannot do and do better. Not only that, but an Elephant (PC) can do many things that an Ass simply cannot do at all.

— An Elephant (PC) is far more powerful than an Ass (Tablet).

— An Elephant (PC) can pull tree stumps and clear forests. Try doing that on your Ass (Tablet).

— An Elephant (PC) comes with special options like a built-in trunk. All you get with a Donkey (Tablet) is a bare Ass.

— An Elephant (PC) is so big, it can make its own shade.

Elephant in the desert with umbrella.

— An Elephant (PC) is self-cleaning. (Let’s face facts — sometimes Donkeys stink).

Elephant bathing, Kerala, India

— An Elephant (PC) can carry heavy loads and add additional storage.

3d elephant isolated on white

— An Elephant (PC) will figuratively — and literally — go to war for you.

War Elephant - Antique Greece/Persia

In other words, the owners and purveyors of Elephants (PCs) would never have any fear of the Ass (Tablet). They would, instead, mock it. They would treat it with disdain and consider it beneath contempt.

So why on earth would anyone ever consider using an Ass (Tablet) instead of an Elephant (PC)?

Reader Alert: This is the part where we try to understand why disruption occurs.

[pullquote]Q: What’s that gooey stuff between an elephant’s toes?
A: Slow running people.[/pullquote]

An Ass is:

  1. Cheaper to buy;
  2. Cheaper to feed;
  3. Easier to stable;
  4. Easier to train;
  5. Easier to discipline;
  6. Easier to pack; and
  7. Easier to ride.

In other words, an Ass (Tablet) does most everything you use an Elephant (PC) for and does it cheaper and easier too.

The Four Stages Of Disruption

STAGE 1: OVER SERVING

[pullquote]The speed of a runaway horse counts for nothing. ~ Jean Cocteau[/pullquote]

The problem starts when the Elephant (PC) begins to over serve its customer’s needs. The consumer only needs and uses a smidgen of the Elephant’s (PC’s) many and mighty powers. A feature means NOTHING to the end user if it isn’t useful. In fact, it’s a burden, both in added price and complexity.

STAGE 2: INTRODUCTION OF A DISRUPTIVE PRODUCT

At first glance, the Ass (Tablet) SEEMS to be far inferior to the Elephant (PC) but, in reality, the Ass has several disruptive advantages — including lower price and lower complexity — over the Elephant (PC).

The Elephant (PC) can do everything that an Ass (Tablet) can do but an Ass (Tablet) can do everything that the consumer wants and needs to do and it can do it easier and cheaper too.

STAGE 3: OVERCOMING THE “DEAL BREAKER” WITH THE 4% SOLUTION

“But, but, but,” you say, “there are some tasks that the Ass (Tablet) simply CAN NOT do and that ONLY an Elephant (PC) can do. That’s a deal breaker!

True enough.

However, it turns out that if 96% of consumers only need the power of the Elephant (PC) 4% of the time, then they will find a work-around that allows them to get by with the cheaper and easier to use Ass (Tablet). That’s the 4% solution ((Why 4%? It’s the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule), redux. It’s 20% of the remaining 20%.)) .

For example, if you only need to use an Elephant once in a great while, you can simply borrow one from a neighbor, or rent one, or get by with the aging one that you already own.

[pullquote]I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G. K. Chesterton[/pullquote]

This is highly counter-intuitive, yet crucial to the understanding of disruption. The Ass (Tablet) doesn’t need to be all things to all people. It only needs to be most things to most people.

STAGE 4: THE TRICKLE TURNS INTO A FLOOD

Over served customers — gradually at first, then more and more rapidly — gravitate to the seemingly inferior solution that:

1) Best meets their needs;
2) Is cheaper; and
3) Is easier.

The customers leak away from the incumbent — whether it be an Elephant or a PC — until the incumbent is left high and dry, serving only the 4%; the “power users”; who truly do need the added power — and the added cost and complexity — that the incumbent’s product provides.

Conclusion

[pullquote]The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply. ~ Khalil Gibran[/pullquote]

The reason people don’t see disruption coming is because they compare one product to another when they should, instead, be comparing the needs of the consumer to the product that best serves those needs.

If you compare an Elephant (PC) to an Ass (Tablet), there is no question that the Elephant (PC) is superior. But that’s missing the point entirely. Because if you compare the task at hand – say, riding into town, or sending an email – to the available tools, then the lowly Ass (Tablet) kicks the Elephant’s (PC’s) keister ever time.

??????????????????

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Or more.

Alex Greer posted the following picture on Twitter under the caption:

I turn around and find my parents at the kids’ table at the @apple store. ~ @alexpgreer

BcJWbqDCYAAKsZhNow what can this picture teach us?

1) The learning curve on the tablet is so low that Seniors find it easy to use.

2) The learning curve on the tablet is so low that children find it easy to use.

3) Very important: Both seniors and children (and those in-between) are attracted to the tablet and ENJOY using it.

Extrapolating from there:

4) Whole new classes of people are being drawn to computing. Salesmen on the go, park rangers, kiosk owners, presenters, school children, soccer moms and seniors who never before felt a need (or felt competent enough) to own and operate a computer.

Speculating from there:

5) Our devices are mere windows to our data stored in the cloud. We don’t choose the one tool that does it all or is most powerful, we choose whichever tool works best for the situation at hand.

But I’ll say no more. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

Tablet Metaphysics

Are you ready for some Tech Metaphysics?

“Aristotle drew a distinction between essential and accidental properties. The way he put it is that essential properties are those without which a thing wouldn’t be what it is, and accidental properties are those that determine how a thing is, but not what it is.

For example, Aristotle thought that rationality was essential to being a human being and, since Socrates was a human being, Socrates’s rationality was essential to his being Socrates. Without the property of rationality, Socrates simply wouldn’t be Socrates. He wouldn’t even be a human being, so how could he be Socrates? On the other hand, Aristotle thought that Socrates’s property of being snubnosed was merely accidental; snub-nosed was part of how Socrates was, but it wasn’t essential to what or who he was. To put it another way, take away Socrates’s rationality, and he’s no longer Socrates, but give him plastic surgery, and he’s Socrates with a nose job. ”

~ Excerpt From: Thomas Cathcart. “Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.”

Now what the heck does all of this have to do with Tech and Tablets? Well, I’ll tell you.

One of the major mistakes that Microsoft and its OEM partners are making is that they are failing to properly distinguish between the “essential” and the “accidental” properties of a tablet. Here’s two opposing examples to illustrate that point.

KEYBOARD

If you take away the keyboard from a Notebook computer, it is no longer a Notebook computer. It can’t function. But if you take away a keyboard from a Tablet, it is still a Tablet. Using Aristotle’s definitions, a keyboard is ESSENTIAL to a Notebook computer but it is ACCIDENTAL to a Tablet computer.

With me so far? Here’s a second example.

TOUCH

If you take away the touch user interface from a Tablet, it is no longer a Tablet. (See Microsoft’s failed attempts to create a tablet from 2001 until 2010.) It can’t function. But if you take away the touch user interface from a Notebook computer, it is still a Notebook. A touch user interface is ESSENTIAL to a Tablet but it is ACCIDENTAL to a Notebook.

Just one more step and we can bring it home.

PIXEL INPUT IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH TOUCH INPUT

Both Pixel input and Touch input require a metaphor that allows our minds to grasp the use and usefulness of that input. For example, menus and scroll bars are standard fare on Notebook and Desktop computers but they are anathema to Tablets. Why? Because menus and scroll bars are too small for multi-pixel finger input. On Tablets, menus are replaced by large buttons and scroll bars by replaced by “flicking” the screen up or down. This is not minor matter. A wholly new, built from the ground up, Touch User Interface is ESSENTIAL to a Tablet.

Recap

Touch is ACCIDENTAL to a Notebook computer. It’s plastic surgery. It may enhance the usefulness of a Notebook but it doesn’t change the essence of what a Notebook computer is. A keyboard is ACCIDENTAL to a Tablet. It’s plastic surgery. It may enhance the usefulness of a Tablet, but it doesn’t change the essence of what a Tablet is. Further — and this is key — a touch input metaphor and a pixel input metaphor must be wholly different and wholly incompatible with one another. It’s not just that they do not comfortably co-exist within one form factor. It’s also that they do not comfortably co-exist within our minds eye.

In plain words, it’s no accident that tablets and notebooks are distinctly different from one another. On the contrary, their differences — their incompatibilities — are the essence of what makes them what they are.

How the Tablet is Killing the PC

IDC recently released its forecast of PC sales for the last quarter and said PC shipments were down 13.9%. It laid much of the blame on Windows 8, but I am not sure this analysis is completely correct. While others have also mentioned Windows 8 as a key factor in PCs’ steep decline, there are other layers to this onion and Windows 8 is just one of them.
Windows 8 being a transitional OS certainly played a role, but I think factors such as refresh cycles are also culprits. Even if the tablet had not been invented the PC industry would still face these challenges; these days consumers simply hold on to their PCs as long as they possibly can. It is not just that consumers don’t feel inspired to upgrade, it’s that the notebook they have been using is good enough.

To a degree the same has been true of enterprise accounts, and if Windows 8 is to blame at all, it would be with regard to IT purchasing. Large enterprise buying often leaned toward the first half of the year. With many IT customers not being early adopters of new operating systems, we never saw large quantity buys in this period of time for traditional PC form factors.

The days where we look at the PC as a benchmark for the health of the technology industry is over. Many PC buyers simply don’t value the PC as much as they used to. Instead the value in buyers’ eyes has shifted to mobile by way of smartphones and tablets. This is true of both consumers and enterprises. PCs continue to play a role in many people’s lives, but they are not as central as they once were. Tablets and smartphones have encroached on their place.

If anything, the PC’s future is one of very low cost. We buy them because we need them, but not necessarily because they are highly valued. Of course high-end market segments will still value the traditional PC form factor, but that is a much smaller niche compared to the mass market. This does not mean consumers are ready to toss PCs out of their digital mix altogether. We just see them holding on to current models longer, or if they do need to buy a PC, it will be the cheapest they can find to meet their basic PC needs. Current lower priced PCs are “good enough” to meet any needs unmet by tablets or smart phones.

The Revenge of Steve Jobs

I’ve mentioned Steve Jobs had hoped his Apple II, and then the Mac, would be the market leader in PCs. But IBM clones and Microsoft stole Jobs’ thunder and dominated the PC space for decades.

If you peel back another layer of the onion you see another key reason for PCs’ decline in demand. In one sense, Jobs finally did deliver a PC that gave Apple a weapon against Microsoft and the dominant IBM PC clones: you could argue Jobs finally got the dominant platform of the future with the iPad. With this tablet Apple has reversed the fortunes of PC vendors. All Things D published both the IDC and Gartner numbers for Q1, 2013 and wrote about both companies’ guidance for PC sales for the rest of the year.
“At this time,” wrote Arik Hesseldahl of All Things D, “it has to be said that much of the blame for the damage being done to the PC businesses of all the companies around the world can be laid at Apple’s feet: Sales of the iPad, the world’s leading tablet brand, have a lot to do with the collapse in PC sales.”

When Jobs introduced the iPad he said this product would drive the post-PC era. I think he knew his tablet was the reinvention of the PC he had long sought to bring to market, and that it would actually cause the decline of PCs, even if it meant cannibalizing Mac market share.” and “by the time he introduced the iPad he had in place all of the hardware, software, and services needed to connect the iPad to his ecosystem. Even with a decline in Macs he was insulated from the impact of a Mac sales downturn on his business.
On the other hand, HP, Dell, Acer, and other PC OEMs who were totally PC-driven are feeling the shock of the PC decline; unlike Apple they are not insulated from the impact of these sharp declines in PC demand. Their only hope is that Microsoft can deliver key software and services they can use on tablets and convertibles of their own. It may be too late however, given Apple’s strong lead in tablets, not to mention competitors like Samsung, Amazon and others who are in many ways better insulated through their own ecosystem of products and services.

While Jobs is no longer with us, I think he knew this would happen. Perhaps his last major act was to give us the iPad; final revenge for his years of toil in the PC market where he was always #2, despite being early with many of the innovations that actually took PCs to the masses. If Jobs were with us today I suspect he would not shed a tear to see the decline of the PC market. Rather he would revel in the role the iPad has played in bringing his PC competitors to their knees.
While we could see an uptick in PC demand later this year when low cost touch-based clamshell style laptops come out during the holiday season, I fear the heyday of strong demand for PCs is over. It is about to take a back seat to the tablets and smartphones of the future.

The Microsoft Surface Was Made For Surfaces…But That’s Not What Tablets Were Made For

The first Microsoft Surface Ad is out. It’s called “The Surface Movement” (although it probably should be called “Click”). In his article entitled: Marketing Surface and Windows 8, Ben Bajarin focuses on what the ad communicates to potential buyers. My focus is on what the ad communicates about Microsoft’s attitude toward tablets.

HOW MICROSOFT DEFINES A TABLET

Even before the ad aired, industry observers had picked up a theme:

The message we seem to be getting from Microsoft with its Surface tablets is that you need a keyboard with your slate to take full advantage of Windows. ~ James Kendrick, ZDNet

Microsoft is really is focusing on the keyboard as what enables the Surface to work equally well for consumption and creation. ~ Mary Jo Foley, CNet

It’s all about the keyboard and it’s all about using the keyboard on a flat surface.

WHAT DEFINES A MICROSOFT SURFACE

The Microsoft surface has five characteristics that distinguish it from the iPad:

— Windows 8 user interface;
— Windows desktop applications;
— Kickstand;
— Upturned rear-facing camera; and
— Attachable keyboard.

The last four of those five characteristics are most useful when employed on a flat surface…

…but that’s not what tablets were made for.

WHAT DEFINES A TABLET

The tablet has two defining characteristics: It is touchable and totable.

The tablet was made for standing, and walking; for moving from room to room, and moving from door to door; for sitting back and leaning forward; for remote locations and touch occasions. The tablet was made to be touched and toted. The Surface was made for a surface.

The Microsoft Surface goes on sale on October 26th. We’ll soon see what really defines a tablet.

The Return of the Tablet PC

Photo of Acer Iconia W510 (Acer)
Acer Iconia W510

Microsoft’s decision to offer tablets in two flavors–Intel-powered slates running full windows 8 and ARM-powered units running Windows RT–has created a marketing and branding problem for manufacturers: How these very different products going to be distinguished for buyers?

One solution that seems to be gaining popularity is to call the Intel/full Windows versions “tablet PCs.” This seems to assume, probably correctly, that customers have little memory of the ungainly and, outside of some niche markets, unpopular, touchscreen laptops and slates that went by that name starting in 2003, and that they are willing to give the name, and the category, a fresh look with Windows 8.

Acer today announced its latest entrant, the Iconia W510 Tablet PC, a 10.1″ , 1.3-lb.slate powered by an Intel Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) processor. The W510 will start at $499 for a 16 gigabyte version and $599 for 64 GB. A keyboard and battery dock that turns the tablet into a sort of notebook adds $250 and doubles the weight to 2.6 lb.

Hewlett-Packard is also using the tablet PC moniker, though it applies it to a broader ranger of products. On its small business website,  the Slate 2, an 8.9″, $849 pure tablet currently shipping with Windows 7 is called a Tablet PC. But so is the EliteBook 2760p, a more traditional 12.1″ touchscreen convertible (meaning the screen can rotate and flip over to form a bulky slate) notebook. It runs an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, weighs 4 lb., and starts at $1,479.

Dell calls its current 10.1″, $679 Latitude ST Windows 7 tablet a Tablet PC. It also uses the name for a the Latitude XT3,  a design similar to the HP EliteBook but even heftier with a 13.3″ display. Dell’s web site does not make clear whether it will use the Tablet PC names for its upcoming XPS 10 pure Windows 8 tablet or the XPS Duo 12, a sort of old-fashioned Tablet PC with a novel screen that can rotate vertically.

Lenovo, interestingly, calls the ThinkPad X230, the latest version of a conventional Tablet PC that has been in its product line for several years, just a “convertible tablet.” Like Acer, Lenovo is also shipping Android tablets in addition to planning for the windows versions.

Microsoft, meanwhile, seems to believe its customers will know what its tablets are when they see them. It plans both Windows 8 and Windows RT versions of the Surface, which will come with a very thin membrane keyboard that doubles as a cover. But Microsoft is staying out of the naming game. Its web site avoids calling them either tablets or slates, let alone Tablet PCs. They are just Surface.

HP’s Surprising Tablet Attack

I recently attended HP’s Securities Analyst Meeting (SAM) where HP made its case to Wall Street on why investors should believe in
the company and buy the stock. I will write about the conference later when I have thought through the content a bit more, as, unlike financial analysts, I need to think three to five years out. Thinking short term about HP doesn’t do anyone any good. What I do want to talk about are two of the products shown at SAM, a new impressive tablet lineup.

The tablet market right now is exhibiting all the traditional signs of any tech market. You have a lot of experimentation going on right now to see what consumers and business users really want. Apple, like the early days of the consumer PC, is punishing everyone who stands in its way in the tablet market. If you have any doubt on that, just ask Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and anyone attached to webOS. As experimentation progresses, the markets starts to settle into more of a predictable rhythm and then after that, massive segmentation and specialization will occur. This is classic product lifecycle behavior. HP, like Dell and Lenovo have learned a lot over the last 18 months, and HP, in particular, put the pedal to the metal with their latest tablets.

HP segmented its line into a consumer and large enterprise line. What about small business? Too early to know and quite frankly this will be the last market to adopt tablets, so I like this decision. Technologically, HP has opted to forgo ARM-based technology in its latest offering and instead has opted for the Intel CloverTrail solution. Only after we all see pricing and battery life will we know if this is a good decision. Let’s dive into the models.

HP ENVY x2 for the Consumer
The first time I saw the ENVY x2 at the Intel Developer Forum I was stunned, quite frankly, at how thin, light, and sexy the unit was. My latest Intel tablet experience was a thick and heavy Samsung tablet with a loud fan used for Windows 8 app development. The HP ENVY x2 wasn’t anything like this as it was thin, light, fan-less, and sexy industrial design made from machined aluminum. No, this didn’t feel like an iPad… it felt in some ways even better. This is a big thing for me to say given my primary tablets have been iPads… gen 1-2-3. It is very hard to describe good ID in words, but it just felt good, real good.

It was apparent to me that HP stepped up their game in design and after talking with Stacy Wolff, HP’s Global VP of design, they have amped up resources a lot. While most of Intel’s OEMs are focused on enterprise devices, this consumer device stands out. The only thing that could potentially derail the ENVY x2 is Microsoft with a lack of Metro applications or too high a price tag. Net-net I will need to see pricing and Windows 8 Metro launch apps before I can assess what this will do to iPad and even notebook sales.

HP ElitePad for Commercial Markets
Let’s face it, commercial devices run counter on many variables to what consumers want. The tablet market is no different. Enterprise IT wants security, durability, expandability, cheap and known deployment, training, software, and manageability. Consumers want sexy, cool, thin, light, easiest to use, and based on the amount of cracked iPad screens (mine included), durability is not that important. HP has somehow managed to cross the gap between beauty and brawn in a very unique way. When I first saw the ElitePad, I thought it was a consumer device. It even has beveled corners to make it easier to pick up off the conference table!  Like the ENVY x2, it also feels like machined aluminum.

The ElitePad, because it has at its core an Intel CloverTrail-based design, can run the newer Metro-based Windows 8 apps and legacy and new Windows 8 desktop apps.  IT likes to leverage their investments in software and training, and they will like that they can run full Office with Outlook as well as any corporately developed apps without any changes.  You don’t want to be running Photoshop on this as it is Atom-based, but lighter apps will run just fine.

IT “sees” the ElitePad as a PC. Unlike an iPad, it is deployed, managed and has security like a Windows PC. For expandability, durability and expanded battery life, HP has engineered a “jacket” system that easily snaps around the ElitePad, which felt to me like the HP TouchPad. The stock jacket provides extra battery life and a fully bevvy of IO including USB and even full-sized HDMI. If HP isn’t doing it already, they should be investing in special jacket designs for health care, retail, and manufacturing. Finally, there is serviceability. While I don’t want to debate if throwing away a device is better than servicing it, IT believes that servicing it is better than tossing it in the trash. For large customer serviceability needs, HP is even offering special fixtures to easily service the tablet by attaching suction cups to the surface and removing the display. Net-net, this is a very good enterprise alternative to any iPad enterprise rollout.

I am very pleased to see the care and time put into the planning and design of these devices. The three unknowns at this point are pricing, battery life and Windows 8 Metro acceptance and the number of tablet apps. If there are a lack of Metro apps at launch, the entire consumer category will be in jeopardy in Q4, but commercial is quite different as ecosystems can grow into their show size over time. I cannot give a final assessment until I have actually used the devices, but what I see from HP in Windows 8 tablets is exceptional.

The iPad Is Selling like Mad And Making The Competition Sad

At the iPhone 5 event held on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, Tim Cook announced these facts regarding iPads:

1) Last quarter, Apple sold 17 million iPads.
2) Apple sold more iPads than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC lineup.
3) Apple has sold a total of 84 million iPads since its launch in April 2010, less than two and a half years ago.
4) Competitors have launched hundreds of tablets to compete with the iPad. One year ago, the iPad had 62% market share. Today the iPad’s lead has grown to 68% market share.

Five Observations:

First, all the action, all the growth in computing is in mobile devices. As for the future of computing, in my opinion, smartphones will have the bigger numbers, but tablets will have the bigger impact.

Second, neither Apple, nor HP, nor Dell, nor Lenovo, nor Acer, nor any one else who makes a living selling computing hardware cares a whit about whether you call the iPad a PC, a computer, a media tablet or a toy. That’s all just meaningless semantics. What they do care about is that Apple is selling more and more $500 (and up) devices while they are selling less and less.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value” ~ Marshal Ferdinand Foch

Third, Apple is just crushing the competition in this all-important new category. Starting with nearly 100% market share in 2010, it was inevitable that Apple’s overall market share would drop as seemingly every other manufacturer on the planet started selling this new, and rapidly growing form factor. So to see Apple’s market share GROWING after a two and a half year span is simply mind blowing.

Fourth, Google – and therefore Android – has, in my opinion, completely missed the boat in tablet computing. Andy Rubin and Google stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference between smartphone apps and tablet apps:

“I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet…if someone makes an ICS app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.” ~ Andy Rubin

Apple just announced that there are over 250,000 iPad specific apps in their store. Developers don’t create apps for kicks and buyers don’t buy iPad specific apps for no reason. There is a difference between a smartphone app and a tablet app. Apple gets it. Google doesn’t.

Android tablet manufacturers have paid the price for Google’s misstep as the lack of tablet specific Apps has cut the ground out from under their tablet efforts.

And with the introduction of the Google Nexus 7, Google has all but ended any hope that any Android manufacturer – other than Google – can make a profit on Android powered tablets.

Fifth, when you see the above numbers, you can see how very desperately Microsoft wants and needs to be in this sector. Microsoft Windows rules the notebook and desktop markets but they have nothing going on in phones and tablets…yet.

Conclusion

The future of computing is in tablets. And right now, Apple owns that future.

Google Created the Mess and Now Must Fix Android Tablets

Android for phones by any measure has been a success, while Android for “premium” tablets by every measure has been a disaster.  According to IDC, the iPad held 55% market share of all tablets in Q4 2011.  When you remove lower end tablets like the Fire and Nook and leave "premium" tablets at $399+, best case Android has approximately 13% market share, leaving Apple with 87% share.  This incorporates sales from some very nice Android tablets from Samsung and ASUS.  This is beginning to appear like the iPod market where Apple is squeezing every ounce of life out of the premium competition.  So who is to blame for the fiasco and who needs to fix it?  The responsibility lies squarely on the back of Google who in turn needs to fix the problem.

I was very excited about Android the first day I learned about it in 2005.  The market needed another strong choice for client operating systems to ensure the highest growth as Linux just wasn’t making headway. I bought the  T-Mobile G1 Android phone in October  2008, the Google Nexus One in January 2010 and many more Android phones including the HTC EVO 4G, the Motorola Atrix, and more after that.  The phone apps were there, more importantly the popular ones.  While the experience wasn’t as fluid as the iPhone, I and many others appreciated the openness, notifications, and live screens.  While the market was very excited about Android phones, it was a completely different story for tablets.
 
The first looks at Android for tablets, aka "Honeycomb" were amazing. Honeycomb, on paper and in demos, did almost everything better than the iPad. The interface was incredible and looked three dimensional and “Tron”-like. Multitasking, notifications, Flash video support, SD storage and Live Screens looked great.  The Motorola XOOM at CES 2011 won many awards including CES’s "Best of Show Award."  The anticipation mounted and the ecosystem was excited…. until it actually shipped.
 
As I explored here, I show that the XOOM was slow, buggy, without many apps, without Flash, without SD card support, and sold at a $300 premium to the iPad at $799. New models and prices were introduced starting at $379 seven months later.  Needless to say, it was a complete disaster. This was followed by Samsung with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in June 2011 starting at $499.  This tablet experienced a similar fate as the XOOM but not as pronounced because it more quickly moved to Android 3.2.  The best premium Android tablet out there was and still is the ASUS Transformer Prime with its optional keyboard, but it also struggled because of Google’s operating system.  Google then released Android 4.0, aka "Ice Cream Sandwich" which didn’t add meaningful features for tablets, but instead aligned the application development environment between phone, tablet, and TV.  Android 4.0 tablets missed the holiday selling season and didn’t sell many at all compared to the iPad.
 
In summary, the following are the characteristics of what Google allowed to be introduced into the premium Android tablet market place:
  • buggy with crashes
  • slow interface
  • few tablet optimized applications
  • few services at launch for music, books, and movies
  • unfinished features
  • price points on top or higher than market leader Apple with lesser experience
  • missing key consumer retail time frames
So why do I place this primarily upon the shoulders of Google and not the brands, retailers, or component suppliers?  It’s about leadership.  If Google had fully understood what they were walking into, they should have:
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until it was feature complete.
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until there were at least 100 optimized, popular applications.
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until it had full support for movie, music and book services
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until there were greater levels of application compatibility issues that resulted in crashes.
  • instituted some tighter marketing management of hero SKUs to assure their experience was flawless

The result of Google allowing Android tablets out the door before it was fully baked is that the operating system is now viewed by most as a liability as opposed to an asset. Every major tablet maker that I’ve talked to loses money on premium Android tablets in a big way.  Also, anyone’s brand associated with the Android tablets has been marked as well. Motorola and Samsung both had premiere brands but I believe has been sullied by their association with Android for tablets.

Google’s reaction to all of this was to buy a hardware company (Motorola) versus working even more closely with their partners like ASUS and Samsung. Additionally, it’s rumored that Google will introduce their own Google branded tablet which will alienate Google all that much more.  Does the Google brand lend a cachet’ to the equation?  Absolutely not.

All of these issues and confusion benefits Microsoft right now. What was previously considered a free ride from Google with its "free" operating system now has turned OEMs directly into the arms of Microsoft and Windows 8 for tablet.  What a turn of events over the last 18 months.  The pandemonium isn’t over yet.  With undoubtedly more information coming out at this year’s Google I/O, Google is planning Android 5.0 which I am sure will be positioned as the savior of Android for tablets.
 
The problem is that there’s no savior in sight for Android on premium tablets.  We all know Android sells at $199 without much or any hardware profit, but how about $499 where the entire ecosystem can make money?  Google needs to seriously reconsider everything they are doing with  for tablets starting now because nothing else is working.  The new plan needs to fully account for the needs of the silicon partners, ODMs, OEMs, channel partners, application developers and most importantly, the end user.  It needs to find an entirely new name, too, because the Android name has been thoroughly destroyed in the high end tablet market. 
 
It’s time to stop treating Android for tablets like a hobby and start treating it more like a business.

Apple’s Brand Unraveling? Ridiculous!

I came across an article yesterday in which the headline screamed out “Apple’s Brand Unraveling.” The author even went on to call the new naming of the new iPad “weird.”

Apple’s brand unraveling is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, what Apple did with the new name is extremely calculated and strategic and in fact sets in motion a most important new branding statement. Before I get into the strategic value of the new name, you might ask how I know that this branding move is strategic. Well, it came from Steve Jobs himself. The last time I spoke to him when I caught him at the end of an Apple launch early last year, I asked him about the iPad’s positioning. When the iPad launched, it seemed very consumer focused, but by the time I asked him about it, the iPad had crossed into being a pretty solid productivity tool. I won’t go into detail here about his view on this but one thing he said in the conversation is that he wanted people to think of the iPad as their designation for their tablet and the fact that it had broad reach. He did not say iPad 1 or iPad 2. It was very clear to him that the brand was the iPad and the first two versions were just model numbers. He never even referred to them as 1 or 2.

Now from a strategic position, this new iPad actually represents the real iPad he and Apple always wanted to deliver to the market. I consider the first two models early versions of the iPad and this new iPad is the first one that really represents Job’s vision for the iPad. Apple had to use the existing screen technology that was available for the launch and used this in these first two models. But Apple executives told me that it has taken close to three years and incredible engineering work to finally bring to market the real iPad of Steve Job’s dream. This goes back to Steve’s incredible attention to detail. Remember in his Stanford speech when he talked about getting into the beauty of calligraphy? I am sure that he was somewhat disappointed with the fonts and even fancy letters on the original iPads as the screen just did not have the resolution to deliver the high quality non-pixalated text he came to love. And it is that vision that was always in Jobs’ plans when he and the team were creating the iPad.

Now, do you really think that Jobs, who had worked with the team on a long-range plan for the iPad well before he passed away, was not aware of the iPad retina project? And that he was not involved with the branding and new naming of this new version since it was the one he really envisioned from the start and represents the real iPad he always wanted to give his customers? For Jobs, this one with the Retina Display was the iPad! And as such, it now finally deserves the name “iPad.”

So, what does that mean? From this point on, any iPad they do will have at minimum this Retina display and deliver extremely high-resolution images, video and text in the ways Jobs envisioned it to be from day one. Now, text on an iPad is actually better then it can be even on paper. (My colleague Steve Wildstrom has a good piece on this today.)
And images are closer to being what you see in real life. And movies can be seen in higher resolution then you get on your HD TV set today.

All of this and nothing less is what from now on will define what an iPad is. While they may have future models such as an iPad mini or iPad biggie should they create other versions, the brand is iPad and from now on the name is set to mean all Apple branded tablets with their Retina display and high quality imaging experience. This represents a strategic branding move and a very important one.

So, let’s be clear. The brand of all Apple tablets is the iPad. There may be other models, but they will all be iPads. Doesn’t sound too weird to me.

Let’s Stop Classifying the iPad as a PC

Last month, Canalys reported that “Apple is on track to become leading global PC vendor”. That would be a tremendous accomplishment, given that no reports had Apple in the top 5 at the end of 2010. How will Apple accomplish this? Well, according to Canalys, they will do it with iPads. You know, a “PC” without physical keyboards, trackpads, or mice. This re-classification got me thinking, what is a PC and how wide does this definition go?

I must point on very early that I am not debating here if the iPad can duplicate, replace or augment certain usage models a PC can do. I know first-hand this is true because I use my iPad now in circumstances that two years ago I would have only used my PC. A few examples are airplane trips and at Starbucks. I am not alone. Respected journalist Harry McCracken wrote a piece on Technologizer  entitled, “How the iPad 2 Became My Favorite Computer“.  That is NOT what I am asking. I am asking about the industry classification of the device.

I’d like to propose a few tests and run a few products through to see what filters out. A PC today must have or be:

  • Electronic: a PC must run off some kind of electric power, AC or DC.
  • Operating system: a PC must run something above BIOS or machine code
  • Personal: the PC is designed for one or a few people, not many. In other words, it’s not a multi-user server. (Clarification: It could serve many people, but isn’t classified as a server.)
  • Portable: a PC can be moved
  • Apps: a PC must be able to run an application above the operating system level
  • Storage: a PC must be able to store personal data, settings or content
  • Customizable: a user can change the PC’s settings
  • Input: a user can input data so that the PC will react to commands
  • Display Output: the PC will visibly show data based via some visible display technology

So, this seems fair, doesn’t it? Well, what products then are “personal computers” by with this definition?

Echo Photo

           

Is this fair? Some of the items above even have generally accepted industry designations like e-readers, consoles, watches and refrigerators. Well, so does the iPad. IDC, Gartner, and Forrester already designated the iPad a “tablet”, so it seems there’s precedence.

We all know the iPad isn’t a computer; it’s a tablet, so why do we all keep pretending? It is fun, I know, even I’m amused when writing this. So what is a PC?

I believe a PC has all the nine characteristics at the top of the page but with the following conditions:

  • display greater than 5″
  • physical keyboard
  • physical mouse or trackpad
  • light enough to be picked up by an average age adult 
  • open application environment where users can load, side-load without having to jail-break

While there will always be exceptions to the rule and definitions will evolve over time, I suggest this definition could help the industry to simplify and better educate.

Does any of this classification debate anything?  While I agree with Tech.pinions colleague Ben Bajarin when he says, “Consumers don’t care nor think about it.  They just hire products to get jobs done”, I do believe it matters a lot.  Companies, investors, developers and consumers are influenced by classifications.  Classifications get used to describe market share, which then impacts financial analysts, which then could impact the stock price of the company. This is also a factor that comes into play with technology investments. “Should I develop this piece of technology for the PC or tablet market”?

My final thoughts are on the future.  The way technology is headed in the future, calling the iPad a PC will set precedence that will only lead to even more confusion and misinformation.  I believe there’s a scenario where the smartphone has a chance to dethrone the PC.  If people change their usage models and start adopting it widely, should we re-classify the smartphone as a PC in a few years?   If the answer is “yes”, then let’s also be prepared in 2015 to announce, “Timex could become the leading PC maker in 2016″.  Let’s stop classifying the iPad as a PC, it only serves to confuse people.

I’d love hear your thoughts. Do you believe an iPad should be classified as a PC?

Also see: Who Really Needs a PC Anyway?

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7″ Media Tablets Like Kindle Fire…”Dead On Arrival”?

UPDATED with Amazon Kindle “Fire” references.

A few weeks ago, TechCrunch reported that Amazon’s 7″ Kindle tablet was “very real” and would ship for the 2011 holidays.  (UPDATED: Now rumored to be called “Kindle Fire“.  ) Almost a year before that, Wired’s Brian Chen reported that on an earnings call, Jobs said, “the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival.” So the stage is set for an interesting war of beliefs and concepts this holiday shopping season.  In one corner, the world’s most trafficked internet retail stores and Kindle inventor, Amazon, and in the other, Apple, the most valuable company on the planet and inventor of the iPad.  Will the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet be treated in the marketplace with very little respect or will it shock everyone like the original Kindle?  It really comes down to the basics of the consumer value proposition.

Many Variables at Play

With a considered technology purchase, consumers actually do a bit of research before they buy.  It can be as simple as asking a geek friend for advice, doing a Google search for reviews, or as complex as side-by-side feature analysis, but in the end, it’s still research.  Consumers looking at buying a 7″ or 10″ tablet will look at variables like perceived price, value, content, brand, size, display, and weight.  More meaningful, though, is how they apply those variables to what they believe they want to do with their tablet and the location they will do it.

For the sake of this analysis, I will use the iPad 2 as representative of the 10″ tablet and the combination of a Nook Color and the rumored Amazon Kindle “Fire” tablet as the 7” designate.  I will also assume that each tablet has access to the same books, magazines, movies, videos, music and games.  The only “iffy” one may be games given the iPad’s tremendous lead today.

IMAGE_1000003527

Potential Advantages with a 7″ $249 Tablet (Amazon Kindle “Fire” Tablet)

  • 20-30% lighter and even smaller means easier to carry and hold for almost every usage model.  Anecdotally, I have heard that women prefer the 7″ tablet because they are easier to carry.
  • Half the $499 price of the cheapest iPad 2. Not only is the tablet less expensive, but I will guess that every accessory will be less expensive, too.
  • Free subscription to Amazon Prime, which means free access to Amazon Instant Video Service.  Again, this is rumor, not confirmed.
  • Most of the same books, magazines, videos, movies, web content as the 10″, $499 tablet.
  • Simpler, as in fewer choices for apps and content providers, yet plays the same content. There is one button only.
  • Standard micro USB power and data cable.  These are everywhere in the house, your cars, and at the local convenience store.  You can also charge from your PC, unlike an iPad 2.
  • More durable, given plastic and rubber design.  I don’t care when someone drops my Nook on the carpet.  I shriek when someone drops my iPad 2.

Potential Advantages with a 10″ $499 (iPad 2)

  • Twice the viewable image area of everything you see, like pictures, videos, books, newspapers, and web pages.
  • Battery life, although tough to predict.  Apple claims up to 10 hours for web, video, and music while Barnes & Noble claims 8 hours for reading.
  • Use more complex applications and basic activities are more responsive, given dual core processor and better graphics subsystem.  Think better looking games, richer video and photos, and more complex web pages.
  • Watch videos and listen to music from the tablet to an HDTV, PC, Mac or other AirPlay compliant device.  Maybe the Kindle will have some sort of DLNA capabilities, but from what I’ve seen on Android tablets today, it won’t hold a candle to the iPad AirPlay.
  • Take pictures and home movies.  While I scoffed at this at first with the iPad 2’s low res camera, I find myself taking pictures and videos with it.  It’s just so convenient to take it and show it to someone immediately.  Maybe I will stop doing this when iCloud immediately uploads my pictures and videos, but we will see.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are potential benefits in a less expensive, smaller and lighter 7” media tablet like the Kindle “Fire” as there are in a fuller-featured, twice as expensive, 10” media tablet. I believe that if the Amazon Fire tablet ships this as rumored above and with Amazon Video on Demand, it will sell extremely well. That is, given competition stays still, which it rarely does. So does this mean Steve Jobs was wrong? No, because when he made that statement a year ago, 7” tablets were priced right on top of the iPad 2 with a lot less content and a much degraded experience. A lot has changed since then and a lot will change in the future. And I am sure of that.

Is there a market for Good Enough “Tablets?”

In April I wrote in my PC Mag column about Amazon Stealing Android from Google and argued in this piece that Amazon was most likely building their own proprietary approach to integrating their overall Android Store and a set of music, video and cloud services and integrate it into their future tablet offering.

Then, in August I wrote how Amazon Could disrupt the tablet market by creating a tablet that could sell for $249 even though it would cost $300 to build, but make it up by amortizing users purchases of books, music and videos over an 18-24 month period.

I suggested that if Amazon did this they could disrupt the entire market for tablets by introducing a new pricing model tied to their services that would make it very difficult for any hardware only tablet vendor to compete in this burgeoning market.

Now, in a most interesting post from MG Seigler at Techcrunch we get an actual hands on description of this tablet and it reinforces the price I suggested Amazon would sell it for. And he goes on to give actual details about it coming out in November including the fact that it has a color 7” screen but no cameras and no i/o ports.

If what Mr. Siegler says is true, then this Amazon tablet is more like a Nook on steroids then a serious competitor to Apple’s iPad. It will have very limited features as a multi-purpose tablet, but will excel in offering Amazon driven music, video and clouds services. And of course, we expect that it will have a browser so it would give people using it broad access to Web based content although apparently it will not support Adobe’s Flash.

But this brings up a very interesting question. Is there room in the market for what we would call a “good enough” tablet? Clearly, Apple’s iPad seems like it will be the Cadillac of tablets and to stay with the GM metaphor, the Amazon tablet is probably more like the Chevy Malibu of tablets. Both are very functional but what is inside and what they can do on the road are very different.

While there is always a market for full-featured products like the iPad, there is also perhaps an even larger market for “good enough” tablets like the first gen Amazon tablet might me. And Amazon, with this limited design and low price point, seems to be aiming at the “Chevy” market for tablets where bells and whistles are less important then price and basic functionality.

This concept of good enough computing has been bandied about in the industry for decades. It started with desktops where high end gaming PC’s ruled the gaming and engineering/graphics market, while lower cost PC’s with less horsepower and functionality took the lions share of the bigger “good enough” PC market. And the same thing happened with laptops. Gaming laptops powered the upper end of the portable market, while thin and lights went after the business crowd and value laptops with less power compared to the other two models took the lions share of the broader portable market. And they were good enough for a very large audience of consumers.

Could this “good enough” approach to the market be repeating itself again with tablets? There is no question that even though Apple’s iPad may be the Cadillac of tablets today, Apple was quite aggressive with their pricing so that it has appealed to much more than a more well-healed audience that normally buys upper end models of everything. On the other hand, there will always be a large audience who either won’t spend much on products or can’t for economic reasons and will opt for something in this value line of products or in this place, a just “good enough” tablet if it is available.

My sense is that as with desktop’s and laptops there is room for both and I suspect we will see tablets at a lot of different price points taking aim at the needs of all level of customers wants and needs. And if history is our guide, the products in the “good enough” category could be very large indeed.

Amazon Plans on Stealing Android Developers From Google

You may think such a statement sounds absurd. However if a recent report from MG Siegler at TechCrunch is true then Amazon wants to lure Android developers for their own version of Android and Kindle products.

Tim Bajarin in an April PC Magazine column explored this similar line of thinking and now we have more data confirming this assumption.

Earlier today MG Siegler published his scoop on the upcoming Amazon Kindle Tablet. Throughout the report he details his own experience using the yet unreleased and unannounced tablet.

It is interesting to think about how and more importantly why MG Siegler came about this information. This is an important baseline for us to establish since it determines whether or not we can count the details of his experience as credible or rumor.

Given the amount of detail disclosed to MG and that the conditions of his arrangement were that he would get info but couldn’t take pictures, we can reasonably assume this is a planned leak. We also learned that he was in Seattle for this encounter and we know Amazon’s headquarters are in Seattle which strengthens the planned leak assumption.

Strategically this also makes sense for Amazon. MG is very smart, and he has also been one of Android’s harshest critics. He also covers Apple. A lot. So to give the scoop to a rather influential Apple journalist, especially if the outcome of his reaction is positive, which it was, is a smart PR move. My applause for Amazon PR.

All of that to say that I believe his account is credible and is a planned PR leak from Amazon. Therefore I am assuming his account is correct and the information is not rumor or speculation and therefore credible.

Now on to the part where Amazon wants to steal Android developers.

MG details the version of Android as “nothing like the Android you’re used to seeing.” So as to be expected Amazon has taken and created their own version of Android. Because Amazon has their own marketplace they don’t need Google for anything therefore customization is feasible. Google only allows “approved” versions of Android to get Market Place Certification, so if an OEM wants Android Market on their device they have to play by Google’s rules.

Amazon never wanted to, has no intention, and has no need to play by Google’s rules.

The most interesting detail of MG’s account is the detail of what version of Android Amazon built this new Kindle experience on. He details that it is built on some version prior to Android 2.2 Froyo.

This is fascinating.

Why would Amazon not use Froyo? Why would they not use Gingerbread? Why would they not want to go live with Ice Cream Sandwich? Why would they choose what many would deem a supremely inferior and outdated version of Android to build their experience on?

The answer I believe lies in Amazon’s desire to lock Google completely out of benefiting in every way from their tablet, should it be successful. First off Google made major changes which included adding restrictions when they released Froyo. A strong case could be made that Android was more open prior to Froyo. More importantly many of the toolkits and technologies related to the SDK for Froyo evolved.

My point is that to take a version of Android that is not cutting edge means that Amazon intends to make their version cutting edge and will most likely release their own better version of an SDK to write apps for the Kindle.

If Amazon does fork Android as MG states then it means developers will be presented with a choice. Support and develop apps for the Kindle or develop apps for the broader Android ecosystem. I believe Amazon in this move plans to entice developers to follow them down their forked path of Android. They can use their marketplace, as well as their economic incentives to get developers paid, to create all the needed nuggets to attract developers.

If Amazon can show developers the money, and I believe they can, they may have a real shot attracting loads of developers to their market place who will develop apps for their version of Android.

Given that Amazon’s version of Android is so highly customized I am guessing that they have stripped every benefit to Google in terms of data, ads, revenue etc out of this product. Which would mean that Google would not benefit at all should this Kindle succeed. In fact I would be comfortable if we agreed that in fact this Amazon Kindle is not really running Android at all.

Why non- iPad Tablets Aren’t Selling Well is Fundamental

So why aren’t non-iPad tablets selling as well as the iPad? I read a very interesting article Wednesday from James Kendrick at ZDNet. His contention is that one of the biggest issues is competing with Apple’s “consistent marketing experience”. I agree that’s a big issue, but I think there’s an even more basic core issue here and it starts with consumer risk, the considered purchase process, the influencers and the product experience.

Tablets are a Risky and “Considered” Consumer Purchase

Consumers, regardless of demographics and psychographics, share some common behaviors. When they are posed with a risky, considered purchase, they are looking for reasons to reject products and not look past their warts. And tablets are a risky, considered purchase. For a time, tablets started at $499, well above the starting prices of a notebook, desktop, or smartphone. Tablets don’t run programs or content like the PC that consumers are familiar with. And they are very fragile when compared to other devices.

Consumers Research to Mitigate Risk

As I said above, when posed with an expensive, risky purchase, it is “considered”, meaning they will research it or find a brand which “buffers” the risk. By researching it, I don’t mean doing a master’s thesis. I mean doing a few web searches, going to a recommended tech site, asking a few “geek” friends and tossing a few questions out on Twitter or Facebook. What consumers heard back were some positive and some negative things about non-iPads. Even more importantly though, is that very few if any negatives ever came back from their iPad research. Worst thing you might hear back about the iPad is that it doesn’t run Flash, it doesn’t have SD memory upgrade, and it’s expensive.

So was it some conspiracy that the negative things were being said or were they just the facts of what actually shipped at launch? The fact is, the clear majority of non-iPad tablets at their launch suffered from many issues as it related to the iPad, which established the bar of a successful tablet.

Tablets Lacked Convenient, Paid Content at Launch

Many media tablets launched without a whole lot of media:

  • Lack of video services like Netflix, Hulu, movie rental, or movie purchase capabilities
  • Lack of music services like Pandora, Spotify, or music purchase capabilities
  • Lack of book services like Kindle or BN Reader

This issue is being slowly solved, but the damage had been done at launch.

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Tablets Lacked Stability and Responsiveness at Launch

Many tablets launched with multiple application crashes, hangs and were intermittently unresponsive. When apps would become unresponsive, the users would get a message asking them what they want to do, similar to the way Windows alerts the user. The iPad 2 launch experience was responsive and stable. Yes, the iPad 2 does still experience some app crashes, but it’s less frequent and when it does, it just closes the app.

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This issue has been solved for all non-iPad tablets with OS updates, but again, the damage was done at launch.

Tablets Lacked Premier Applications at Launch

I don’t believe consumers are fanatical about the 100’s of thousands of apps that should be on a tablet. I do believe that they want to have the most popular applications that they care about, though. Most non-iPad tablets launched without premier apps, like premier news, sports, and social media apps. One tablet even shipped without a built-in email and calendar client and research shows that email is the #1 tablet application. Android tablets shipped at launch without a Twitter app.

Only Android 3.2 tablets have addressed this issue so far, but again, the perceptual damage was done.

Tablets Shipped at Launch with Hardware Challenges

Not only were there software issues at launch, but hardware as well. Tablets shipped with inoperable SD card slots and USB ports that didn’t work properly. Even competing with the physical iPad 2 design was a challenge. Some tablets were nearly twice as thick as the iPad, used plastic design versus aluminum, and one tablet even shipped with a case that blocked major ports like power, USB and HDMI.

Some of these issues have been addressed, but the damage was done.

Should Everyone Else Just Quit?

With all of these issues at launch and challenging sales so far, should everyone except Apple just quit and concede to Apple? Absolutely not! This is the first inning in a nine inning game, and the game hasn’t been lost. In short order, every tablet will be thin and light enough and power efficient enough until it’s inconsequential. Most apps will move to web apps virtually eliminating the app barrier, and everyone will have the right paid content. Apple obviously won’t stand still and I agree with Ben Bajarin when he says, “success will only come to those who want to compete with the iPad by thinking fresh and taking bold and innovative risks.” I have had the honor to work for companies who slayed goliath and I have been slayed myself, so I have seen both sides. It takes courage and conviction and I believe the tech industry can and will do that.

Pat Moorhead is Corporate Vice President and Corporate Marketing Fellow and a Member of the Office of Strategy at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.

See Pat’s bio here or past blogs here.

Follow @PatrickMoorhead on Twitter and on Google+.

Android is Finally Ready for the Tablet Market

Over the last few weeks, Android for Tablets (aka Honeycomb) 3.2 started rolling out to tablets like the Asus Transformer and the Motorola Xoom. While the announcement of Android 3.1 was met with great fanfare at Google I/O 2011, Android 3.2 didn’t receive a lot of attention as it started actually rolling out to systems. Ironically, I believe that with the rollout of Android 3.2, the operating system is finally ready for tablet prime-time.

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Background

Android 3.X, aka “Honeycomb”, is Google’s operating system for tablets. It was first shown at CES 2011 and the first product it rolled out on was the Motorola Xoom. After its launch, the firestorm ensued and Honeycomb was viewed as having significant issues:

  • Sluggish performance even while having superior hardware specs.
  • Lack of stability and reliability as evidenced through repeated application crashes.
  • Lack of apps. Even as of July 1, 2011, NY Times David Pogue reported that at the most, 232 apps were optimized for Honeycomb. The iPad had 90,000 optimized apps. To make matters worse, Android phone apps ran in a tiny window.
  • Lack of external SD card support. Just do a few Google searches on “SD card” and “Xoom” and you will know what I am talking about.
  • Limited USB connectivity. Keyboards, mice, digital cameras, card readers either didn’t work at all or were very inconsistent.

Needless to say, this didn’t exactly equate to a very good experience, as I have personally experienced on three separate 10” Android Honeycomb tablets.

Improved Performance, Stability and Reliability

Between Android 3.0 and 3.2, my Honeycomb experience is like night and day. Single-tasking responsiveness is close to the iPad 2, although the iPad 2 is still faster. Honeycomb does outperform iPad 2 on multitasking though.

When I use a tablet, I use it as a primary device. I load around 20-30 apps, and I do set up the background tasks and widgets as they are differentiated features versus the iPad. Where I previously experienced between 10-20 application crashes a day, with Android 3.2, I may get one a day. This is a huge breakthrough. And yes, I do get application crashes on the iPad 2. iPad 2 crashes are less pronounced and “hidden” as the app just dies and you are taken to the home screen. In Android, a dialogue box pops up on the screen and you are given the choice to wait, kill, or report the crash.

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Improved Application Support

Android 3.2 added the capability for users to better tap into the library of approximately 300-400K applications. Applications come in three forms that are somewhat transparent to the user:

  1. Tablet optimized apps: Resolution, layout, fonts, content are optimized for the tablet.
  2. Stretched phone apps: Phone applications are stretched to tablet dimensions keeping phone layout, fonts, and content. In some apps this is automatic; in others it requires the user to toggle a menu icon in the apps bar.
  3. Zoomed phone apps: Fixed-size phone applications are zoomed in like the iPad phone apps. In some apps this is automatic; in others it requires the user to toggle a menu icon in the apps bar.

If a user runs across a a manually scaled-app, they are given the option to stretch or zoom. Many of the apps, though, were automatic and stretched properly into place.

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Here is how some of the top Android phone apps look on Android Honeycomb 3.2 tablet.

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As you can see, some of the phone apps look really good and others could be improved. The net-net is that Android Honeycomb tablet buyers just got 300K-400K more apps to run on their tablets.

Conclusion

Like the first Android phone OS, the Android tablet OS has quickly undergone a massive overhaul and improvement in a mere 6 months. The most recent improvements in Android Honeycomb 3.2 were virtually unnoticed by many in the press, but ironically, the update improved the experience to the point that Android is finally ready for prime-time.

So does a massively improved experience guarantee success? Of course not. Android still has to deal with its IP challenges, fragmentation, spotty paid video services, and some “me-too” hardware designs, BUT, if you don’t first have a responsive, reliable experience with lots of apps, you have nothing. And Android finally has that for tablets.

Have your say in the comments section below.


Do Students Hate Textbooks More than They Like Sex?

It’s no secret that students hate both buying bloated, overpriced textbooks and lugging those bricks around in their backpacks. But we didn’t know how much.

A new survey sponsored by Kno, Inc.–which, not coincidentally, is in the business of e-textbook software–found that 73% of college students would do something they otherwise wouldn’t consider, including giving up sex, if they never had to shlep another textbook.

You can take that finding with a grain of salt, but there’s little doubt that the movement to e-texts is hitting an inflection point. The Kno study, conducted by Kelton Research, also found, more believably, that 71% of students want their texts to go digital.

A big driver, of course, is the rapid adoption of tablets, particularly the iPad, which make excellent textbook readers. An early attempt by Amazon to promote the jumbo Kindle DX as a textbook reader fizzled, mostly because of the limitations of the monochrome, video-free device. But the iPad is so natural for the job that Kno abandoned plans to come out with its own hardware to focus on iPad software.

The most recent big development in electronic textbooks was the announcement by Amazon that to would be renting texts for as little as 30 days and for up to 80% less than the print edition price. The books will be available on all devices that support the Kindle reader,  though I suspect that reading a typical textbook on a phone screen will not be a happy experience.

Amazon has initial partnerships with John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier, and Taylor & Francis. That will limit the selection of text available this fall, though other big players such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson will certainly join if the initial efforts shows legs.

That calculus text pictured above? Single Variable Calculus by James Stewart (Brooks Cole) is one variant of a widely used introductory text that is not available in digital form. A hardcover copy is still going to set a student back more than $100 and create a 2 1/2 lb. lump in a backpack.

 

 

Why Apple Can’t Chase the Low End

In a post here earlier today, Ban Bajarin dismissed the frequent criticism of Apple for failing to serve the low end of the computer market. Ben focused on consumers’ willingness to perceive, and pay for, value in Apple’s relatively expensive products.

But in wondering why otherwise knowledgable people keep hammering Apple on this point, it’s worth considering just how the company’s business model is working. Everyone else in the PC business depends on selling enormous volumes of product at razor-thin margins. This has steadily driven the average selling price of PCs downward, though NPD data show that the average retail ASP in the U.S. has stabilized a bit at around $600. Apple has exactly one product close to that price point, the $599 bottom-of-the-line Mac mini. In a world of $500 to $700 notebooks, the entry point for a Mac is $999 and goes up quickly from there.

And what has the refusal to chase the mass market done to Apple? It absolutely owns the market for computers selling for more than $1,000. As a result, with about 10% of the U.S. market and less worldwide, it is grabbing the lion’s share of industry profits. Apple’s operating margin from all products in the most recent quarter was 32.8% compared to 5.7% for Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group. HP, with total revenues of $127 billion a year, has a market capitalization of $76 billion. Apple, with just over $100 billion in revenue, is valued by the market at $362 billion.

With numbers like that, it’s just silly to argue that Apple should be chasing the profitless low end of the market (or, for that matter, offering low-cost, lower-margin versions of the iPhone and iPad.) The history of the tech business is full of companies that won large market share by cutting margins to the bone, or sometimes further. Apple is in the sweetest of all possible spots, and it would be lunacy to change the business plan.

 

The Need for Smarter Mobile Notifications

Push notifications on our smart phones and tablets are shaping up to be a central part of our experiences with those devices. The concept itself has many benefits, particularly where it lets us get information quickly and choose how to respond to that information. I have however recently had an experience with a notification that not only frustrated me but in turn forced me to conclude that we need smarter notifications.

The experience was several weeks back and it was with the CNN app. Tennis is among many of the sports I enjoy watching on TV. I especially like the major tournaments where 3 out of 4 are held in other parts of the world. The most recent major tournament was Wimbledon held in England. I watched many of the big match’s leading up to the championship between Rafael Nadal and Novak Jokovic.

Because of the time zone difference between the US and England the time for the championship match was on a Sunday morning. We had family things to do that morning so I set my DVR to record the finale. Perhaps you know where this story is going. Later that morning as we are driving around and I heard my phone alert me of a notification. Responding quickly to nearly every sound my phone makes, I quickly pulled it out to see a message from CNN saying Novak Jokovic had defeated Nadal and won Wimbledon.

Given that I was recording this match I would have loved to watch it without knowing the outcome. However the CNN app gives me no options to tell it not to send me any alerts related to sports or in even more detail which sports. Therefore the outcome was spoiled for me entirely and thus frustrating.

Perhaps deeper personalization of our phones would give apps the information necessary to know more about us and craft notifications that way. Or perhaps some level of context awareness could be used to dictate which notifications I receive and when.

Notifications are needed but they should also be smarter. However we solve this problem there needs to be a way for us to tell our smart devices which bits information we would like to be notified of and which ones we don’t need to be bothered with. This level of app personalization needs to be a key part of how we think about software in the future.

The Revenge of Pen Computing?

I’ll admit, when I heard about HTC adding pen capability to its tablet, I rolled my eyes and wrote it off. Then I watched HTC’s promotional video on the HTC Flyer and read comments from respected journalists and analysts and knew then I needed to try it out for myself. You see, I have been involved with pen-computing for 20 years, and I have the scars to prove it. Will the HTC Flyer usher in a new generation of mainstream, pen-based tablet usage models?

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Cycle of Mainstream Pen-Computing

Over the last 20 years, the industry expectations of mainstream pen-computing have risen and fallen like a scary roller coaster at Six Flags Texas. Don’t confuse this with successful vertical pen-computing in medical, transportation, construction, military, and retail industries.

The mainstream pen cycle has historically gone like this:

  1. Pen-computing is knighted the “next big thing”
  2. The entire high-tech value chain including semi’s, ISVs, ODM, OEM, and distribution invests heavily
  3. Products get shown at CES, PC Expo, and Comdex
  4. Products emerge with very few pen-centric applications
  5. Product sales-in to channels meet minimum expectations
  6. Product sales-out of channels fail to meet expectations and get blown-out at rock bottom prices
  7. The industry retreats, folds its tents, and chases another shiny new thing
  8. In five years, go to step 1 and repeat.

This cycle has repeated itself many times, over and over again.

HTC Flyer Overview

The HTC Flyer, even without its pen capability, is the best 7” tablet I have used and that says a lot, given my affection for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.

It’s very peppy and I attribute a lot to HTC’s decision to go with a single core 1.5 GHz CPU versus a lower frequency dual core CPU. That makes sense now because of the infancy of the OS and its application multithreading. Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) is VERY stable, light-years more stable than Android 3.X (Honeycomb). The 5MP camera is the best I have used with the exception of the iPhone 4.

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HTC Flyer Pen Features

The HTC Flyer is impressive even without pen input, but what about the specific pen features? Essentially, if you see anything on the screen, you can annotate on it. Also, HTC pre-installs a multimedia notes program as well.

· Annotations: If you are viewing anything on the HTC Flyer, click the pen to the screen and it takes a screen shot. This included web sites, applications, and even photos.

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· Notes Program: HTC preinstalls the “Notes” app, a program that can take notes with the pen, text, voice, videos, and even attach files. I believe this is a re-skinned Evernote app with the added pen-inputs as it syncs with Evernote. As you can see on the far-right, it doesn’t improve my handwriting at all.

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· Multiple Pen Types: I could choose from multiple pen types, colors, and sizes, all by tapping the pen to an icon in the lower right hand corner of the Flyer. As you can see on the far-right, it doesn’t improve my handwriting either.

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User Interface Modality

With pen-computing, the user has three modes: pen, touch, and virtual keyboard to do most of their input. I found it difficult to go back and forth between pen and finger, but found a way to do both without having to place the pen down.

Future of Mainstream Pen Input

The pen capabilities of the HTC Flyer are the best I have ever experienced on any mainstream computing device BUT I do not see pen input using a specific pen getting popular outside specific vertical industries. Why? The modality between switching between finger and pen will be an issue for many people. There are solutions, though.

The Problem

If a pen is an impediment to pen computing, what would allow for precise input without the pen? The iPhone only partially solved it with the “finger”. Finger input has two major problems:

· The palm: No other body parts can touch the display, like a palm. Try drawing on any iOS device with your palm resting on the display. Come on… try it.

· Fat finger: On a 7” display, unless you have fingers as skinny as a pencil, they are too imprecise.

Technologies That Can Solve This

· Object recognition: If the tablet can recognize that an object that it “sees” as a pointing device is getting closer and touches the tablet, any object, finger, feather, or ball point pen cap could be the “pen.” Object recognition combines an input sensor and software that identifies what the object is. PixelSenseTM from Microsoft is just one example. Objects could also theoretically be captured and recognized accurately with stereoscopic cameras. Below is a picture I took at CES 2011 of PixelSense object capture in action. This is an image of what the pixels in Microsoft Surface® 2 are seeing.

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· Improved touch algorithms: Object recognition is a difficult task but doesn’t solve everything. You identify what something is, but you then need a decision engine that triggers a response. Improved touch algorithms can determine what to do with the finger and ignore the palm of your hand. Or, if it’s a larger display and a painting program, it knows what to do with the palm and the finger simultaneously.

Conclusion

Pen-computing has undergone a roller coaster of ups and downs and has only been successful in vertical industries and specific usage models. Could the HTC Flyer usher in a new revolution of mainstream, pen-based computing devices and consumer usage models? Well, I don’t believe so, and not because the HTC Flyer isn’t an awesome tablet, as it’s the best 7” tablet available right now. The biggest impediment to pen computing is the pen itself, and until the right technologies enable any finger or object to “be the pen”, the usage models won’t take off. The good news is that technologies like object recognition, improved flat panel sensors and algorithms are on their way.

The Asus PadFone is a Glimpse of the Future

As a part of my work as an industry analyst I do a great deal of thinking about the future. Many of the projects we get pulled into and asked to add analysis on are related to the distant not the near future. This happens to be one of the things I love most about my job, thinking about the future and imaging what the world of technology will be like 5 years out.

Pat Moorhead wrote an article yesterday highlighting Why Convertible PC’s Are About To Get Very Popular. I agree these product designs have a place in the market and we will likely see a good deal of hardware experimentation through 2013. I however think another product idea may have much longer staying power.

Without going into too much detail on things I can’t go into much detail on, I want to use the Asus PadFone as an example of a future I think is highly possible. This future is one where the smart phone is the center of our personal connected ecosystem and in essence becomes the brains that power all the other screens in our lives.

We talk a great deal about the “smart screens” which will invade consumers lives and homes. Although it certainly looks like we are heading in this direction, I sometimes ask: “if the smartest screen is in our pocket why couldn’t that device power the others.” Thus eliminating the need to have a high performance CPU in all my screens.

The Asus PadFone is an example of this concept. In Asus’ solution the smart phone is the most important device in the ecosystem because it is the device with the brains. The smart phone has the CPU, the OS and the software. In the PadFone solution the smart phone slips into the tablet thus giving you a two in one solution.

The Motorola Atrix 4G employs a similar idea where the Atrix can be docked with a laptop shell. The laptop shell simply has a battery and a screen and the Atrix provides the rest of the intelligence needed to have a full laptop.

Both of these designs highlight something that I think gives us a glimpse of how our future connected gadgetry may come together. The biggest indicator for this future reality is the trajectory every major semiconductor company is heading in. Namely very small multi-CPU cores performing at very low power consumption levels.

We can envision a future where we could have an eight core processor in our mobile phones. An eight core mobile chipset would be more than adequate to power every potential smart screen we can dream up. In this model you would simply dock your phone into every screen size possible in order to make every screen you own “smart.” Docking your phone to your TV would create a “smart TV” for example. Docking your phone with you car would create a “smart car.” You could also purchase laptop docks, desktop docks, tablet docks, smart mirror docks, smart refrigerator docks, etc.

What’s also interesting about this model is that your phone can also power devices that don’t have screens. In this scenario you would be able to use your smart phone to interact with all your appliances without screens like washer, dryer, coffee pot, and others. We call these specific interactions “micro-experiences” where you use your phone to have experiences with non-screen appliances.

It is obviously way to early to conclude when or if the market could adopt a solution like this. None-the-less it is an interesting future to think about.

Why Convertible PCs Are About To Become Very Popular

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Convertible computers are those that can serve as a standalone media tablet and, when attached to a keyboard, can serve as a notebook. I believe that in 2013, these will be immensely popular. This is aggressive for many reasons, primarily because a convertible PC has never been widely successful. I’d like to share a few reasons why I believe this will be true.

 

 

Opposing Logic

First, I’d like to share with you the reasons people have told me convertible PCs won’t be successful.

  • “Never worked before”: Convertible PCs have been around for a while now and have sold into targeted vertical markets like healthcare, education and sales, but haven’t sold to wide-spread audiences in mass volumes.
  • “Can’t be all things to all people”: This line of logic says that a device cannot be a good tablet and a good clamshell notebook. This makes sense at face value, especially when you look at examples like Heelys. They don’t make great shoes or a decent pair of roller skates you would take to the roller skating rink. Other examples are why all cars aren’t convertibles and all jackets don’t have zip-off sleeves.
  • “Too chunky and heavy”: People point to designs with non-detachable displays that are, in fact, thicker compared to a thin a light notebook.
  • “Too expensive”: This line of logic says that you will need to pay a major premium to have this functionality.

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So those are the reason people have given me for why convertible tablets won’t be successful. Now let’s turn to why I think they will.

Purchase Justification

Everyone who buys something that’s a considered purchase has some justification, emotional or data-driven. Sometimes reality equals testing, sometimes it doesn’t. When I researched consumer PCs in the mid-90’s, consumers said they bought them for “children’s education” but they were used for that only in single digit percentages.

I believe consumers and IT will justify convertibles for similar reasons. They will say:

  • “I/my company’s users want a tablet because they are cool, but I need a notebook, but I don’t want both.”
  • “I/my company’s users want a tablet and need a notebook, but I/we cannot afford both.”

Buyers will justify the purpose in this way and buy a convertible.

Future Mechanical Designs

How thick and bulky does a convertible PC in the future really need to be? Consider the thickness of a few modern devices:

  • Mac Air: 17 mm at its thickest point on an 11.6” display design
  • iPad 1: 13.4 mm
  • Asus Transformer: 12.98 mm thick, without keyboard
  • iPad 2: 8.8 mm at its thickest point
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard: ~5 mm thick

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I am not a mechanical designer, but it certainly seems possible to have:

  • tablet (10mm) +
  • keyboard (5mm) +
  • torsion control and connector adder (3mm)
  • ~18mm total thickness

So conceivably someone could design a convertible that mechanically makes a nice tablet and notebook when connected to the keyboard.

Future Operating Systems, Applications and Multi-Modality

Over the next few years, operating systems and application environments will undergo dramatic changes and will most likely impact the uptake of convertibles. Let’s take a look at a few signposts:

  • Windows 8: At D9, I personally witnessed the new OS incorporating elements of tablet and notebook in the same platform. Yes, the multi-modality created some discussion and controversy, but it is coming.
  • Android: My Asus Transformer, albeit having Honeycomb OS challenges, delivers a decent tablet and clamshell experience today. It can only get better from there, right? Judging from some of the news to come out at Google I/O in May, Ice Cream Sandwich will incorporate elements of tablets and clamshells. Imagine a single .apk for phone, tablet, and clamshell device.
  • Apple: If OS/X and iOS share a common kernel, is it impossible to imagine unification on a convertible device? I certainly noticed many common UI elements between Lion and iOS 5, did you? Check out Lion’s Full-Screen Apps, Launchpad, Preview, and Multi-Touch Gestures.  This looks familiar to any iPad user.

Improved GPU Capability

Today on my Asus Transformer, when I toggle between tablet mode and clamshell mode, I get the same exact UI. But I could do a lot more, especially when I have a mouse attached. The mouse is a precision HCI device providing the ability to control more data and information.

Here is the interaction I really want:

  • Clamshell mode (tablet + keyboard): Fonts, bars, and buttons get smaller and more appropriate for a precision UI environment.
  • Tablet mode: Fonts, bars, scale larger for an imprecise, finger-driven UI environment

This would not only take awesome programming, but improved GPUs for tablets, which we know is on its way from AMD and others.

Additionally, we cannot forget about the emerging OpenCL standard supported by AMD, ARM, Intel and Nvidia which will leverage the GPU to drive compute cycles which are today executed on the CPU. With future GPUs better leveraging OpenCL and their corresponding apps, this will enable a much better experience on convertibles.

Conclusion

Convertible PCs have been around for years, but never took off in big volumes across mass markets because they didn’t deliver on the promise of making a good tablet and a good clamshell. Between now and 2013, enhancements in design, operating environments, improvement in GPU capability combined with buyer’s purchase justification will make convertibles extremely popular.

 


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10 Days With the HP TouchPad Tablet

 
As I have described in previous posts on my AMD blog, part of my job entails forecasting future usage models for consumers and businesses. One of the various techniques I use is living with today’s technology and then extrapolating forward. I look at all sorts of hardware and software, and lately I’ve been looking at a lot of mobility devices, specifically tablets. One of the latest products I checked out was the HP TouchPad tablet. I lived with the HP TouchPad for the last 10 days and I wanted to share with you my thoughts. I won’t be extrapolating out five years, but I am intrigued about many aspects of the HP TouchPad.

HP TouchPad Advantages

· Setup: I have an HP Veer phone that I had previously setup and the HP TouchPad automatically imported ALL of my accounts. That included Exchange, Box, Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Skype, Yahoo, and even MobileMe. I entered their passwords, and I was connected to everything. This is superior to Android in that it connects non-Google accounts and superior to iOS in that it automatically connects non-Apple accounts. THIS is the way every tablet should be.

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· Real Multitasking: This has been an advantage with Palm products since the inception of the Pre with “cards”. When I mean real multitasking, I mean a way to see what is actually running simultaneously and the ability to quickly switch and/or kill apps and functions. The only thing even close is the BlackBerry PlayBook.

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· Synergy: Managing all of the different best-in-breed services is typically very difficult with a tech device. Synergy gathers all of those services and contacts in one place to present an integrated view of an app or a contact. My contact in the HP TouchPad, for example, has 10 linked profiles, consistent with my services. One contact, not ten. Here are some specifics on accounts supported by HP Synergy.

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· Notifications: There are two types of notifications, lock-screen and in the activity center in the upper right hand corner of the screen. These are superior to the iOS 4.x notifications in every way and really pull on Palm’s experience and legacy.

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· Exhibition Mode: This mode adds utility to the HP TouchPad when it’s charging and/or sleeping. Instead of seeing a blank screen or some silly screensaver, you see a clock, your calendar, key photos and even a very-well designed Facebook page.

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· TouchStone Inductive Charging: This is a feature I am surprised others haven’t tried to replicate because it’s just so awesome. The inductive charging feature allowed me to charge my HP TouchPad by setting it on the charger, without having to plug anything in. On other tablets, I continually plug in the unit incorrectly (iPad) or it’s hard to plug in (HTC Flyer).

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· Printing: I have personally used over 15 tablets with all the add-ons for printing and the TouchPad was the first one that “just worked”. I have yet to print correctly or easily from any iOS 4.X or Honeycomb device.

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· Connecting to Corporate IT: This was the easiest tablets I have connected to my corporate Exchange and wireless LAN. Literally, all I needed was to enter my email address and password and I was connected to Exchange. Its ActiveSync support is superior in every way. On the corporate LAN, all I needed was to email my security token to myself, import it, log-in, and I was on the corporate wireless LAN. The HP TouchPad was the first browser to actually work correctly with our web front-end for SAP.

What I’d Like to See in Future HP TouchPads or Software Releases

· More Apps: Some of my favorite apps are missing that I literally cannot be without. I need apps like EverNote, SugarSync, Kindle (coming), Google Plus, and HootSuite.

· More Pep: Even though the HP TouchPad has some of the highest-specification components like a dual core 1.2 GHz CPU, it didn’t feel like it. It lagged in many areas compared to the iPad 2 and even the BlackBerry PlayBook.

· Browser File Access: Without a specific app, I’d like to be able to upload files through the browser. For example, even if I didn’t have a Google Plus app, I’d like to upload photos via the browser. This requires file system access to do. The BlackBerry PlayBook did this very well and in many ways, compensated for the lack of apps.

· Video Services: There is a placeholder app for the HP MovieStore, but I’d also like to see Netflix and Hulu. Hulu runs in the browser, but it’s also very laggy. If Hulu ran more quickly in the browser, I wouldn’t need an app.

· Video Out: I like to display videos and photos on my HDTV. I cannot do this with the TouchPad, but I can with the iPad, PlayBook, and virtually every Android Honeycomb tablet.

· Video Chat: I tried to use the Skype-based video conferencing but I got no video and crackly audio. The BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad 2 do video conferencing near flawlessly.

· Synced Bookmarks: I spend, like many, a lot of time on the web, and not just on a tablet. I access the web from multiple phones, tablets, and PCs. I’d like, at a minimum, an Xmarks app.

· Mouse: The HP Wireless Keyboard is great, but only solves half the produ

ctivity interface challenge. Reaching across the keyboard or doing “fine-grain” editing is just sub-optimal without a mouse. Android Honeycomb has the best mouse support today, closely followed by the PlayBook.

Conclusion

There is a lot to love about the HP TouchPad and it offers many things that make it stand out amongst the iPad, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Android tablets. Unfortunately, one of those attributes is a low number of applications and some lagginess in certain usage models. HP is a company I have had the fortunate honor to work for (Compaq) and work with for almost 20 years and when they commit to do something, they do it. I expect the issues to be cleared up and when they are, I believe more people will be focusing on its great attributes.

Feel free to give me a piece of your mind. Comments section is below.

 

See Pat’s full bio here or past AMD blogs here.

Follow @PatrickMoorhead on Twitter and on Google+.