The Fallacies of How To Compete with the iPad

on April 20, 2012

I take articles like this claiming the iPad will drop below 50% market share by as early as next year with a grain of salt. I don’t want this article to be about all the reasons why we believe the iPad will maintain significant market share, we have written quite extensively about those reasons. I’d rather examine a few flaws in competitors thinking about how to compete with the iPad and to do that I’d like to start off by making a point. I genuinely believe that it is possible to compete with the iPad. I don’t think it’s easy. I don’t think many companies can; but I don’t think it is impossible.

There is always room to innovate. The problem is simply that the companies attempting to create competing touch computers don’t understand touch computing or the market dynamics for tablets. It seems as though many vendors and software platform providers believe that by simply slapping a touch screen on a piece of hardware, regardless of what that hardware looks like, that it will hit the market and instantly be competitive. This is the fallacy number one.

Touch computing requires a touch based ecosystem. This is everything from carefully designed hardware, software, and to a degree services, all around touch (not mouse and keyboard) as a computing paradigm. This is no trivial task. Android is a weak touch computing ecosystem in my opinion. Mostly due to Android being an advertising strategy not a software strategy to Google. Time will tell with Windows 8 what kind of touch computing platform it truly becomes. Windows 8’s success rests largely on the hardware manufacturers and software developers ability to understand touch computing and develop a truly competitive ecosystem.

Fallacy number two is that the number of designs in the market on a particular platform is a competitive advantage. When I ask why a particular platform release may be competitive, often number of designs is the answer. “There will be over xx designs in the market,” is a phrase I hear often. I don’t believe that number of designs alone makes a particular platform competitive. In fact, it is perhaps quite the opposite. There is a book I like to reference called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. The overall premise of this great book is that too much choice or too much variation in choice can overwhelm the purchaser to the point of frustration and lead to the inability to make a decision. My concern with too many products on a particular platform is that consumers may find the decision making process painful and confusing. This is why I believe there is a lot of merit to the argument for very limited product offerings per vendor and per platform to a degree.

Fallacy number three is that low cost always wins. I don’t believe that today’s consumers in mature markets want things that are cheap. I believe they want things that are valuable to them at a personal level. A key point to understand is that in mature markets what is valuable varies quite a bit. This is because in mature markets consumers make specific purchases for specific reasons. Often in mature markets consumers know roughly what they want, why they want it, and they are shopping with a pre-set of conditions. What one segment finds valuable may not be the same as another group. This is why product segmentation is important. The key is to create products in a segment–hopefully a large one– that consumers in said segment find valuable. In the automotive industry, for example, minivans target a segment, trucks target a segment, motorcycles target a segment, economy cars target a segment, and so on and so forth. In this case, the automotive manufacturer understands the segment a product is being created for and then innovates and delivers solutions to meet that segments needs on an annual basis. This understanding of the market dynamics for tablets is what I think is largely being missed by those desiring to create competitive tablets.

The question anyone who desires to create a tablet to compete with the iPad needs to answer is “What will my tablet do better than the iPad.” And what can they do with it that they can’t do with an iPad?

If there is not a well reasoned answer to this question then get back to the drawing board and innovate. The answer may not be obvious or easy to figure out but just trying to be me too is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps if these new Windows tablet vendors can create a product that is unique, does specific things the iPad doesn’t, and meets additional needs that the iPad can’t (or Apple isn’t interested in), then they might have a chance to truly deliver a competitive product that gains market traction.