Every technology through the years depends upon, more than its introduction, upon its adoption. And, its adoption is often a complex function of a range of factors like form, price, content, specification and more importantly, usage and utility. Yet, there are some outliers.
Outliers we call innovators who go one step ahead and uncover a need hitherto even the people didn’t know existed. The sheer disruptive of that technology makes other factors like price, form weigh less in face of its utility. This, we now call, disruptive technology.
Apple is one such company, over the years, has taken up the self-assumed mantle of being an innovator, a disruptor. Right from its LISA-2, to Macs to iPods, to iPhones and more recently, iPads, Apple has not just capitalized upon, but even created a market for itself.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF AN iPAD
iPad, probably one of the first few entrants into the smart-tablet sector, was hailed as a revolutionary device with Apple’s characteristic style, quality and trust. Yet, over the years, iPad in particular is now being seen with a lens of suspicion, in congruence with the larger Tablet market.
After the initial mood of exhilaration and exuberance, people are now looking at the real benefit derived out of tablet computing, both comparatively with other device classes and for iPad, within the class as well.
This is where iPad has faced a dual problem.
If we look at a comparison between device classes, it is not very difficult to look at why iPad and tablets in general are being left behind. This is a classic case of neither fish nor fowl. In its very basic form, tablets are simply bigger phones. Coming in variants of 7” and 10-12” tablets use the exact same software platforms, more or less similar apps, similar technology. The only significant difference was the screen size. And that too when tablets came about.
Back then in 2010-2012, the heydays of tablets, the average screen-size of a smartphone was about 4.5”-4.7”. That made the screen size a differentiating factor. Assuming, though, that the screen size as a differentiating factor was a desirable feature can be wrong. After the initial hoopla, people started complaining how mobility was problematic and that having a tablet mandated them to have at least two devices on them at all times- the tablet and the phone.
While this equilibrium could have been successful if the mobile computing industry would have remained concentrated in a few hands with entry barriers, Android becoming readily available to manufacturers and adopted by users made for more competition. This competition, though, did not have the capital of a Samsung or an Apple to produce, market and sell two different product types. Hence, to bridge the gap, the phones kept getting bigger, and the tablets a bit smaller.
OH, THE DILEMMA
Now, we are at a stage when an iPad is available, like most other tablets, in a 7”-8” variant, and there are multiple flagship phone, much cheaper than the tablets in a 6.4” screen size, or the so called Phablets. This essentially makes the entire tablet category obsolete, simply because, there is no differentiation any more.
While the technology industry is used to product cannibalization as an acceptable profit increasing practice, what we are now seeing is an entire class of products being cannibalized by the modern smart-phone. This is where the introduction of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6Plus raises worrying signals for iPad. Further, it shows the lack of confidence that Apple has on iPads, going forward.
Within the tablets category (how much so ever shrinking), there is a race to differentiate and innovate, not only against smart phones, but against each other as well. Even though the iPad is the fastest selling tablet, and the highest in gross volume, sales have been shrinking and about 19% faster than the tablets market as a whole. The market share is being lost due to less value added, innovation by competitors and prices that are now becoming unsustainable for a brand of Apple’s stature.
iPad’s market share is being eaten by Kindle Fire and Nexus range, mainly. Kindle, which started as an e-book reader, still has that at its heart, and its unique proposition becomes the entire tablet system being modelled around that only. Further, the nexus range comes with Google’s trademark quality in form and performance. Coupled with prices about 40% lesser than iPad, users are adopting them more.
IF APPLE DOES AN APPLE
But its not all gloom and doom for iPad after all. One can bank upon Apple to come up with something that would re-invent the iPad. But more important than re-inventing is differentiating.
Differentiation from its competitors not only in the Tablet market, but in the device class wars as well.
There are new “Family tablets” coming about, with 16” screen size, aiming to make Television obsolete and more personalized. A special suite of business soft wares, powered by the MacBook OS platform on an iPad with options of detachable keyboards, something on the lines of Surface tablets by Microsoft, can be one solution.
But to revive the iPad and tablet computing In general, we need another round of revolutionary creativity and innovation, otherwise Tablets could be obsolete, just like MP3 players.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.