Digital World: Motorola sets sights on iPad

The tablet just introduced by Motorola Solutions could signify the real "arrival" of the tablet market into something beyond an iPad-type, all-purpose consumer device.

Motorola 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Motorola Solutions)
Motorola 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Motorola Solutions)
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 term.
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 term.
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.
The 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.
The Motorola 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.
That 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.
Since 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 play.