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Why the best time to buy a tablet for business is changing

by Ben Bajarin

April 28 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.


There is an interesting shift happening in the hardware release cycle of the computing industry. When the PC was the only game in town bi-annual release schedules were the norm.

But now, with the increased growth in smartphone and tablets, it looks as though the industry may be shifting to a much more seasonal release schedule. In consumer markets seasonal purchasing has always been the norm. In enterprise markets the bi-annual release schedules allowed flexibility to purchase new hardware to meet demands throughout the calendar year.  

The entire industry appears to be shifting away from that bi-annual schedule and to a more consumer friendly seasonal emphasis. You can see evidence of this by the slowing growth of both smartphones and tablets on a quarter-over-quarter basis, according to some of the latest device shipment data.

Although the leaders in the tablet and smartphone categories, Samsung and Apple, recently reported strong sales and growth, growth was off 11-19% respectively over the previous year’s growth trend. 

The holiday season will be a device bonanza

This does not necessarily mean that the tablet category is slowing. Rather, that the buying cycles for tablets are shifting to be more seasonal at large. This was always the case for smartphones at large, but it appears the end of the year is now also the hot cycle for tablets and traditional PCs.  

What this means is that we are lining up to have a very loaded holiday quarter with new smartphones, tablets, and PCs competing for consumer dollars. This by itself brings with it ramifications for consumers and enterprises alike.  

For the consumer market the challenge for OEMs will be to cut above the noise in what is going to be an extremely competitive holiday season. Retail placement, promotions, and online / offline marketing are going to be keys to success.  

Enterprise buyers face a challenge

For the enterprise buyers I see this as both good and challenging. The challenge is that anticipating hardware design cycles is going to get a bit more tricky.  

Corporate buyers are slowly losing the focus of many OEMs as their interest shifts to consumer markets. This new seasonal schedule coupled with increased support for BYOD programs, makes anticipating which devices, and which platforms consumers will want to use within a corporate environment a challenge.  

In this highly competitive consumer market where every company wants to create "the next big thing" it may cause complications for enterprises not ready for "the next big thing." 

As enterprises evolve their BYOD programs, they are encouraged to have a strong list of recommended or supported devices that employees can buy.  

But not all PCs, tablets, and smartphones are created equal and many may simply not be sufficient in a work environment. The problem is consumers may not know this and enterprises can act as a helpful filter in helping consumers make these holiday shopping decisions if they are indeed also going to be work related.  

One of the ways this seasonal shift can help enterprises continuing to purchase hardware in bulk for employees will be the post holiday deals.  

Many OEMs offer discount deals to volume enterprise buyers, but I suspect the post-holiday glut will yield even higher discounts in the future. As buying cycles shift to the end of the year for consumers, OEMs will be willing to do anything and everything to still sell normal volumes during the first half of the year, which is typically when enterprises like to spend on hardware anyway.  

Managing seasonal shifts and a new role for IT

This shift can have positive economic implications for enterprises who manage it wisely.  

This increased competitive landscape, as well as many tablet, hybrid, convertible, and traditional PC maker’s drive to lower costs of their hardware means that IT departments will not just need to increase support of these device, but also education services.

Buyers, who intend to purchase and use devices for work related tasks need to understand the trade-offs with certain hardware so they can make educated decisions about what they plan to purchase.   

Enterprise IT departments will do well to boost their educational resources about which devices are best for which tasks.  

I see a day coming soon where IT departments are valuable not just for their support services, but also for the education and buying tips they can offer employees. Internal wikis and social media could play an important role with that as well. 

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.
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