Friday, 3 September 2010

Media Tablet Froth

So with the advent of this year's Berlin IFA tech show (which i don't ever recall making the general news before), the media seem to be going crazy about some tablet competitors to Apple's iPad. However instead of just reporting fully what the new devices are about, they simply indulge in frothy and supposedly dramatic stories about how other manufacturers are about to attack the market leader.

As usual, most of the stories revolve around tech spec comparisons (cameras, memory, flash, etc) and then highlight price differences. Again they miss the point; it seems as if they never learn! As I have said in many posts here: "it's the experience, stupid!" This means it's about quality... the quality of the design, the quality of materials used, the simplicity of use, the level of eco-systems (services, support and accessories) around the product, and the quality way in which the hardware and software blends together. The latter means that the overall experience will always be better than a hybrid product where different manufacturers build hardware and then slap someone else's operating system on top of it. To make matters worse, most of the competitors are choosing various versions of the Android system which is so wide open that it will permit any nasty coder to distribute viruses and malware through un-verified and uncontrolled third party apps. Anyone want to bet against this ever happening? It's bad enough on your PC, but on your phone?

And so about price... High quality doesn't usually come cheap. The media don't make themselves look foolish by comparing a new luxury model of car (say a Lexus) at a motor show with a lower quality Korean model (e.g. Kia), yet they do it with the tech industry. Most commentators in the latter, even the Apple-sceptics, were remarking how affordable Apple had made iPad for what it was at the time of its launch. Of course others will try to join this market, (which is extremely healthy for all, especially consumers) in a standard product marketing strategy of undercutting the leader on price. But consumers (especially those who are in the market for a device such as a new computer form factor), understand that you don't get cheaper prices without losing something.

Finally, we have to remember that some of these competitors tried this market before. Apple didn't invent the tablet; they simply created a new computerised mobile device form factor that people wanted. The other PC manufacturers tried many times before, using ugly interfaces (e.g. styluses), inappropriate operating systems (e.g. Windows), and without bundled content/application eco-systems, and all failed with early tablets. Some of them still seem to believe that positioning their tablet product offerings as a PC or laptop substitute, rather than a new and different type of device will prove successful; these are often the ones who simply try to pack the tech spec with goodies for the lowest price. Unfortunately average consumers tend to care little about tech spec comparisons, and packing in loads of 'stuff' to a price-point tends to result in low quality.

Some of the media should know better. Luckily, their hyped stories will have been long forgotten as the tablet market matures and the real leaders cement their positions in it.

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