Here’s my theory of market maturation (good enough to be taught in business
school, if you ask me): When a great product comes out, followed by a slew of
imitations, the market for that product is still in its infancy, and like any
other infant market, there’s no way to know whether it will mature and still be
around years from now.
But when the market begins to segment (with
specialized versions of the product developed to satisfy specific market
segments, instead of just another pale imitation of the “real thing” with a few
changes here and there to ensure that its maker doesn’t get sued), then you know
a product has “arrived” and is likely to be around for the long
There are many examples of this principle, but the one that
interests us today is the tablet. Until now, the iPad has, for all practical
purposes, been the only full-fledged tablet product around (I am excepting the
Kindle, of course, because it started out as, and still is considered, primarily
a device for reading books).
Not to start any flamer/fanboy wars, but it
cannot be denied that Android-based tablets are following Apple’s path, which
was the trailblazer with the iPad. The iPad is designed as a device for personal
entertainment/productivity, and so are the various offerings by Samsung and the
other tablet makers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that; some
would argue – in fact, do argue – that the Samsung Galaxy Tab is as good or
better than the iPad 2 on a feature-by-feature basis. But that’s besides the
point: Samsung, Motorola and all the other tablet makers are playing Apple’s
game, developing a tablet that follows the agenda set by Apple for what a tablet
is supposed to do.
And like any other game where the agenda is set in
advance, it’s hard to beat the “house” that sets that agenda. (In this case,
Apple is making a lot more money off each iPad than either Samsung or Google are
earning from each Galaxy Tab, if the tablet business follows the same patterns
as the smartphone business does.) Now, no one would argue that the iPad, or the
tablet phenomenon, is a flash in the pan; Apple is already busy putting the
finishing touches on the third version of the iPad, and the sales of current
iPads and other tablets show that consumers want these things. But it’s only
when there is a market segmentation, with another “take” on the tablet showing
up – with versions dedicated to specific needs – that the market will reach
maturity, in the sense that it is likely to stick around for the long
It’s unlikely that Apple will pull out of the tablet business
(although that’s probably what they said about HP, which quit tablets earlier
this year) – but you never know.
And then where would tablet innovation
come from? Not Samsung, which is, as I said, playing Apple’s game.
tablet just introduced by Motorola Solutions (as opposed to Motorola Mobility,
the division of the company that makes the Xoom and was bought out by Google),
on the other hand, could signify the real “arrival” of the tablet market into
something beyond an iPadtype, all-purpose consumer device.
Solutions ET1 tablet is not the type of thing you’re likely to watch Youtube
videos on, nor use to play the super-version of Angry Birds (although it can do
those things, too). The ET1 is all about business – not just office or mall
business, but factory and field business, too.
Although it uses Android
2.3.4 as its operating system, the ET1 is no Galaxy Tab or Xoom; it’s made of
tough but light material and has a very sturdy Gorilla Glass screen (30 percent
thicker than regular tablet glass), making it much harder to break than ordinary
tablets. It features an optional bar-code scanner and magnetic stripe reader,
hotswappable battery packs and secure system software.
The design of the
tablet, Motorola Solutions says, will also make it harder to break in field use;
it’s so durable, the company says, that ET1 tablets should last between three
and five years under “normal” tough conditions. And the deal includes Motorola
Solutions’s clever RhoElements HTML5-based application modules, making it easy
for businesses to develop apps for their own needs. For businesses, that’s at
least as good – if not better – than having access to tens of thousands of apps
in an App Store.
If further proof were needed that this is not just
“another” iPad-style dupe, the ET1 will be significantly more expensive than the
iPad2; the ET1 sports a 1GHz dual-core processor and 8GB of internal storage –
the same specs as a $499 iPad, although the ET1’s storage can be expanded to
32GB using a flash card.
The device goes on sale in December, so final
pricing hasn’t announced yet. But companies that buy multiple ET1’s can expect
to pay about $1,000 apiece, according to most online rumor mills.
sub-$500 price point for entrylevel iPads has helped Apple sell lots of them,
and both Motorola Mobility and Samsung have tried very hard to match or beat
that price. So it’s pretty clear that Motorola Solutions is counting on the
possibility that a market for tablets exists that has no use for iPads,
Galaxies, Xooms or any of the other current consumer offerings.
it’s pretty likely that the company did its research before putting money into
research, development and marketing for the ET1, we can assume that there is at
least some market out there for it. That means the tablet is now no longer an
item associated with one company; it’s now a real, grown-up product – and likely
on its way to commoditization, which is what happens when a product developed by
one company as a hot specialty item leaves the nest.
That’s another story
altogether – but for now, let us all celebrate the “arrival” of the tablet, as
it proudly takes its place among the enduring tools of work and