Tablet Wars

DQW Bureau
23 Nov 2010

They come in sleek forms with digital keyboards. They do basic computing and could serve as an e-reader as well. These are ultra mobile, and a device for those on the go. It has really made information-anytime, anywhere! We are talking about tablet computers. Traditionally, tablet computers in the past had a rotating detachable display screen that can be taken out separately. It doubled as a tablet as well as a conventional notebook. But, yet again just like iPhones changed the smartphone dynamics, iPad changed the entire form factor of tablets.

Market Drivers
So, what makes the tablet PCs so exciting now?According to industry sources, the functionality of the tablets is what makes them more exciting. The availability of applications is unique to tablets, and that differentiates the experience of using a tablet computer compared with a PC or a smartphone. This trend is the key driver for tablet PCs. IDC predicts that worldwide, tablet shipments will grow from 7.6 mn units in 2010 to more than 46 mn units in 2014, representing a CAGR of 57.4 percent. In comparison, IDC expects 398 mn portable PCs will be shipped in 2014. Consumer demand for tablets will be strongly driven by the number and variety of compatible third-party apps for content and services.
Meanwhile, analysts at Gartner are predicting that 10.5 mn tablet PCs will ship in 2010, including traditional swivel screen tablets and next-generation devices similar to the Apple iPad. While Gartner expects tablets to account for about 3 percent of 366 mn PC units expected to ship in 2010, advancements in tablet technology could signal a shift in the PC market.

Tablets in the Fray
With this buoyancy in the anvil, no wonder most of the PC OEMs are aggressively putting in place a tablet strategy. But, it's a challenging market with buyers from both the consumer and the enterprise segment. As the category matures and more tablet optimized apps become available, IDC expects that tablets will evolve beyond the nice-to-have-devices, and become necessities for many consumers.
The number one tablet vendor globally is Apple. Probably, iPad is a disruptive development that changed the whole tablet dynamics. iPad launched in the end of January, 2010, marks Apple's foray in the tablet PC space. Some call it as a glorified iPhone. Apple iPad is a device, which competes with multiple devices-a netbook, a tablet, and wireless reading devices like Kindle and a low-end PC. Apple has also chosen to put inside iPad its own chip, thus taking a daring plunge of not going with low power processors like Atom or Snapdragon. The iPad is powered by Apple's very own A4 processor, which comes with 16 GB-64 GB of flash storage. Available information suggests that iPad can have a battery backup of upto 10 hours.
But Apple clearly has the first mover advantage, as at the time of launching iPad a similar competing device did not exist. But, as we take a look at the last few months, there was heightened activity in the tablet space with players like Fujitsu, Dell, and Samsung getting aggressive. Take the case of Fujitsu, which has launched a 3G-enabled tablet sometime back. Fujitsu had opted for 1.2 GHZ Intel Ultra Low Voltage Core i7 chip with high-end features. But, what makes the tablet space more interesting are the vendor innovations. In addition to features like 3G, all vendors are trying to carve a space of their own. Couple of very interesting launches the industry saw recently relates to the Dell Streak and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Dell Streak is an interesting device. With this device, Dell intends to take on the anticipated 3G boom in the country. Streak is a 5-inch Android based device, which is a smartphone as well as a mobile PC. Dell has put inside Streak Qaulcomm's Snapdragon mobile processor. Dell Streak is priced at around Rs 35,000.
According to Mahesh Bhalla, executive director and general manager, consumer, Dell India, “Dell Streak hits the sweet spot between the traditional smartphones and larger screen tablets. The smartphone facility distinguishes Streak from other tablets. Since the device is Android based, there are possibilities that lots of applications pertaining to industries like healthcare can be built on top of it.”
With the Streak, Dell opens up a new category of 3G mobile devices, and it is powered by Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon mobile processor which supports 3G HSUPA. The Streak offers a unique blend of powerful and power efficient mobile computing and broadband communication.
Meanwhile, the just launched Samsung Galaxy Tab is also based on Android 2.2 OS. According to Ranjit Yadav, director, mobile and IT, Samsung India, “The Galaxy Tab has made rich communication truly mobile; it presents a level of converged technology that moves beyond mobile or PC to an entirely new category. Users have new powers to consume, create, and communicate from wherever they are. There is a new and emerging consumer demand that the Galaxy Tab seeks to satisfy, and we feel that this demand is poised to grow phenomenally as users begin to experience the limitless potential of this device.”
According to company sources, the Galaxy Tab has features like 3G HSUPA connectivity supporting high-speed data upload and download, 802.11n Wi-Fi, bluetooth 3.0, and 1.3 MP VT Camera. The Galaxy Tab also has enterprise-centric features like optimized email viewing experience with PC like viewing and supports push email function of Gmail and Active Sync Exchange for easy retrieval of mails.
It also has features like 'ThinkFree Office' which allows easy downloading, document viewing, and editing of all office documents like Word, Powerpoint, and Excel files. Company sources say that using the digital keyboard on the large display allows the user to type with both hands easily and quickly. The integrated calendar helps the user to sync their calendar with SNS sites, allowing easy task management. Galaxy Tab is powered by a Cortex A8 1.0GHz application processor. The company says that it is designed to deliver high performance.
Another recent entrant with a new tablet is HP with its Slate tablet. HP unlike some of its competitors, is trying to bring in a full-fledged PC experience on a tablet. Vending at about $799, it's expensive than a traditional notebook. It sports Intel Atom, and runs on Windows 7. Unlike competition, HP is trying to tap into the enterprise segments with its tablets. HP is betting on custom apps for specific verticals like insurance and healthcare.
When HP acquired Palm, many believed that HP would launch webOS based tablets. But, industry sources say that HP will launch webOS based tablets only next year. The industry is divided on Slate and its adoption. One, it uses the same specs as netbook, but pricewise it is pretty steep. Industry experts believe that an ideal pricing for a tablet should be less than $400, so that high-end smartphone consumers will end up buying a tablet.

If we look at the tablet PC space right now, the competition is intense. Couple of years back, tablets were on the brink of extinction with onslaught of netbooks and low-cost notebooks. But since early 2010, the tablets' market's fortunes are going north. What has kickstarted this revival trend is clearly the apps market. Since tablets are more suited for lesser compute-intensive tasks, it clearly needs apps meeting the hardware and software ecosystem. Here is where Apple has significant edge over others, with thousands of iPad apps. Other smartphone handset vendors are also trying to replicate Apple's success. And in terms of level playing comparison to iPad, the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Pad looks like a device with good potential. This is because Samsung has significantly raised its bar in the smartphone market by developing its own OS Bada, and successfully fostering Bada based apps community. Now with Galaxy Pad, it can leverage the Android advantage and lure the buyers.
From an OS perspective, it is a two-horse race with Apple and Android locking horns. The third serious contender would be HP's webOS. But, it is to be seen how the market will react to webOS based tablets, as it is slated to be launched only in the next year.
From a market adoption point of view, except for the iPad, all others are just scratching the surface. From a buyer's point, the biggest disadvantage of tablets is limited functionality. But, as a second PC it fits the bill perfectly for lightweight productivity apps that are tailor-made for tablets. Every player is trying to differentiate, and vendors like HP are packing more power and trying to position the tablets as full-fledged PCs. So looking ahead, 2011 would see lot of interesting tablet PC form factors, and it is to be seen whether the tablet PCs can alter the smartphone and the netbook market dynamics.

Shrikanth G

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