There were several stories today on TechCrunch about upcoming tablets as well as several…shall we say curious…statements from Microsoft executives at their Worldwide Partner Conference in the nation’s capital. I find much of the conversation and posturing from vendors and pundits interesting and incredulous at the same time. Sometimes I’m not even sure if they know what the game is that they’re playing.
From a media perspective it seems to come down to whether you’re an Apple fan or someone who wants to see Apple knocked down a few pegs. I mean one of the dumber comments I’ve seen was by Inc.’s Renee Oricchio who when comparing a proposed Droid tablet to the iPad asked:
“Who’s more business oriented? Do you really see the UPS man having you sign for a package on his iPad? Hmmm… But, I bet you can see doing it on an Android pad. I can. I can see the UPS man using a mashup app between Google maps and his delivery route data, even Google calendars.”
Is there inherently anything different about an Android-based tablet that could possibly make this statement true? Did I miss where you can’t access Google Maps or Calendars on the iPad or where those services couldn’t be built into an app or via a HTML5-based site. I didn’t think her other points made any sense either.
Anyway, not that anyone’s asking me, but I’d suggest that tablet vendors follow this advice:
- If it’s not shipping within the next 6 months, shut up. Earlier this week there was an “announcement” of sorts from HP about a flexible tablet based on the WebOS from the recently acquired Palm. Personally I think that WebOS is a great platform and that it provides HP a chance to really own the corporate tablet market. But as someone who owns a Palm Pré, just focus on taking the OS to the next level and get out a new phone and the Slate before you start talking about something that won’t ship for 5 years. Another example of getting too far ahead of yourself was the Microsoft Courier. When it was first introduced it seemed a dream device, and perhaps most notably a very-non Microsoft-like. It seemed like a sure fire hit…except that Microsoft killed it a few months ago and we’ll never know. But of course none of that stopped Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer from telling the world that he’s hardcore about tablet computers at WPC 2010. Ship something…please.
- Do not focus on specs. It’s a race to the bottom, not the top. This is the classic mistake that many tech companies make, often borne out of a lack of any real differentiation. It’s also the easiest thing to get “beat” on by the next product the competitor releases. Besides, so many companies use the same components and it’s difficult (if not impossible) for customer to really understand what impact the difference in specs really has on the performance and quality of the product they bought (didn’t we learn this about processor clock speed?). Author Steven Sinek’s latest book “Start with Why” premise is that best, most profitable companies with the most loyal customer base are those that don’t focus on what they do (focusing on product specs) but have a very clear vision, understanding of “why” they created their company and the products they make flow from that vision.
- Keep usability front and center. This is the flip side of the spec issue. It’s amazing to me that companies learn the lessons of why different mobile devices have succeeded and others have failed. The success of the first Palm Pilot was its simplicity. There were 4 buttons on the device, built around a customized operating system and the apps worked well. On the other hand, there’s Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS. Microsoft proffered this shrunken version of the Windows desktop operating system that was ill-suited to the medium, putting the importance of extending the Windows franchise ahead of the needs of the customer. Well it worked so well that Microsoft finally had to shed the Windows moniker for the launch of Windows Phone7 this fall.
Yet usability is what’s been behind the success of the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad. Neither of the first two products were first in the market, but they redefined the category and thrust Apple into the American consciousness as never before. The iPad is often ridiculed as a giant iPhone or a device for your Mom, but the execution is excellent and it’s the elegance of the interface, designed for the medium has been the key to the success of the device and Apple’s ability to define the segment – so much so that everyone else on the planet is rushing to join the party.
- The characterization of the iPad as a consumption device is a false argument. I’m not sure that I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this repeated. Nor do I necessarily believe that it’s true (at least compared to other similar devices) or whether or not it matters. There’s no debating that many of the apps that were featured in the launch were consumption based, but considering apps like Documents to Go by DataViz, Evernote, OmniGraffle, WordPress, twitter apps, I just don’t believe it’s true. And that’s not considering the fact that we’re looking at a product that’s only been in the market for just over 3 months so the best apps are still in the future. And it’s clear that iMovie for the iPad (just released for iPhone4) is in the very near future. And if you look at this video, I’d like you to tell me that you can’t create on the iPad with a straight face.
- One last thing…if your tablet requires a stylus, you’re doing it wrong. Bill Buxton from Microsoft Research recently declared at WPC “A device without a stylus is like chinese food without chopsticks”, meaning that their new tablet concepts are going to use a stylus…something not considered on the oft-praised, but not to be released Courier. When will they learn.