Tablets need a champion

Tablet PCs are still struggling to make an impact in the market, according to the latest quarterly figures from IDC.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  August 16, 2003

Tablet PCs are still struggling to make an impact in the market, according to the latest quarterly figures from IDC.

The results for Q2 show a decline of 31% in tablet shipments from the previous quarter. Such a sudden drop in interest in such a new PC segment led IDC Analyst Andrew Brown to describe the position of the tablet form factor as “perilous”. So what is the problem?

IDC sees a few different reasons for the tablet’s troubles. One of the major reasons is the sheer buoyancy of the notebook market. Notebook sales are being kept buoyant by aggressive pricing from most of the main vendors, creating a buyers market.

This situation is compounded further as most vendors have been discounting their prices even further than before, in order to clear stocks before they introduce Centrino models. While these are clearly factors that won’t persist forever, they are currently causing a fair upset in the vendors plans for the form factor.

Another problem is the lack of vertical applications for the tablet. Around 70% of tablet PCs are slate form factor, compared to convertible. This suggests that most buyers are not after a convertible notebook that they will occasionally use with a stylus, but rather that those that are buying want to use a stylus-touchscreen input all the time.

These users are the ones who tablet was designed for—workers in fields like healthcare, or banking, who are customer facing and tend to be mobile within a certain location. So far there are still limitations, mainly weight and battery life that mean that tablet is not quite ready for wider adoption, but new models are being released, and once Centrino tablets start to penetrate the market, the hardware issues should become less of a hindrance.

The other part of the tablet equation is the software. Microsoft has come under fire from several quarters over Windows XP Tablet Edition, with analyst company Canalys laying the blame for tablets slow uptake firmly at Microsoft’s door.

According to Canalys, Microsoft should have been much more aggressive in promoting the form factor. At launch Windows XP Tablet was not entirely convincing, but as a first version, it was a good indicator of what is possible—besides, tablet will be driven by vertical applications rather than pure desktop functionality. While Canalys seems to be taking a rather simplistic approach in solely blaming Microsoft, tablet is definitely lacking a champion.

The form factor seems to have launched with a bang, and then nothing. As a tool for corporate vertical markets, tablet does not need to be promoted in the same way as a consumer product, but at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be anyone really driving the marketing for tablet. Without anyone focusing on getting ISVs to develop vertical applications for tablet, the form factor is never going to make ground—software and hardware vendors both need to invest more in promoting the tablet, if they are ever going to make it a successful product.

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