The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

2 thoughts on “The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion”

  1. I remember when Palm dominated mobile. I remember when WinCE dethroned Palm. I remember when RIM chumped WinCE. I remember when iPhones couldn’t stay on a shelf for a few minutes. Android is now beating iPhone.

    It’s easy for iPod to maintain its position because people make very expensive commitments to their iTunes collections and don’t know how to get their music onto anything else (that’s one reason I still buy physical CDs and choose to rip them myself). Mobile phones/tablets/etc. are MUCH easier to drop (except for enterprises that develop internal use applications for them) because the average person spends about $10 on apps. There is little buy-in, and as long as the device you are looking at does what you want and has apps that fulfill your needs, you aren’t locked into what you have now.

    A year after release, Android had less than 5% market share, then the Motorola Droid came out. 18 months later, Android is the king to beat on phones and iOS in tablets. This market moves FAST and there are no permanent winners. WP7 could realistically be on top in a year. Windows 8 could be there. iOS could make a phone comeback and lose share in tablets. Android might still own phones and have half of tablets too. Palm or RIM may make a miraculous recovery.

    Anyone who is playing market share prediction past about 6 months in this market is a wasting their time.


  2. This goes back to the presentist view of things. We live in a life that we can’t see a future because we are so focused on the present. My favorite example was the time when Microsoft dominated every segment of the market they competed in and many people thought there would be no way to dethrone the mighty empire. They still are a powerful company, but not powerhouse they once were.

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