This Week in Tablets: 5 Things we learned about tablets at Mobile World Congress 2013

by George Jones

March 2 2013

George is a founding editor of TabTimes and currently works for Wikia.com as Director of Programming


Also inside: Did CEO Tim Cook’s shareholder speech contain some code words indicating what Apple’s next product might be?

Last year, I remember being disappointed by the level of tablet news coming out of Mobile World Congress. A number of tablets were announced, but none of them felt special or distinct enough to generate real enthusiasm. And remember Microsoft’s Windows 8 preview? Right, neither do I.

This year? Different story. Lots of tablets, lots of news, and numerous winners and losers.

Through it all, five key trends rose to the top.

5. It is impossible to hate ARM.

ARM’s product—a CPU architecture that other companies license from it—is ubiquitous in mobile devices. Yet at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company occupied a simple, relatively small booth.

ARM is capable of generating major waves, however. CEO Warren East did just such a thing this week when he told a reporter that Microsoft doesn’t “operate on the ‘wow’ end of the spectrum.”

It’s a true statement that sounds more salacious than it is. East went on to say that this was the case because of the mainstream nature of Microsoft’s products, and the large audience that buys its products.

All this said, East did reveal ARM’s one weak spot, which is that the company currently has no available 64-bit architecture CPU for mobile devices. It’s working on one—the ARMv8—but this processor won’t be available until late 2014 or sometime in 2015.

64-bit architecture processors are important because they allow operating systems and applications to address greater amounts of memory, allowing for faster performance, particularly in multi-tasking environments.

If you assume that I’m wrong about multi-tasking being unnecessary for tablets (no huge reach), and that multi-tasking will become more prevalent in the next 12-18 months, ARM’s lack of 64-bit support could be a weak spot that Intel and/or AMD could exploit.

This said, right now, ARM and its licensees has the market cornered. And one of the company's new chip designs--code-named Big.Little--demonstrated that we still have a lot of upside in terms of power efficiency and battery-life.

4. No new Windows 8 RT tablet announcements

How can it be that aside from Acer hinting at a possible RT tablet in the near future, no other OEM or tablet manufacturer has officially announced a tablet based on the tablet-friendly version of Windows 8?

If it were going to happen, it would have happened at Mobile World Congress, right?

The answer seems too simple to be true, but it just might be. PC makers are the only companies making Windows tablets, and they have no desire to use ARM chips to build “lite” versions of Windows systems.

3. Small tablets rising to the top

Samsung announce its 8-inch Galaxy Note. HP announced its 7-inch Slate 7 Android Jelly Bean tablet. Asus announced its 7-inch hybrid smartphone/tablet Fonepad.

The second wave 7- and 8-inch tablet revolution continues unabated. Display Search’s Monthly TFT LCD Shipment Database states that tablet PC panel shipments have shifted dramatically towards smaller screen sizes.

And, not surprisingly, the same report mentioned above explains that Apple expects to sell more iPad Minis over the next year, thanks to this increasing consumer demand. DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh is predicting that Apple will now sell 55 million iPad Minis and 33 million iPads in 2013 vs. his original prediction of 40 million iPad Minis and 60 million iPads.

If true, that’s a monumental shift. It could mean that small is back in terms of mobile devices.

2. Business and productivity wave is just catching on

One of the more surprising trends at Mobile World Congress was the focus on the Enterprise. SAP had a major presence in announcing its Mobile Documents solution. Security was a big focus. Even mobile advertising vendors could be found everywhere.

All things considered, this would have been the perfect environment for BlackBerry to unveil its much-rumored new tablets. But the company either isn’t ready to reveal these plans yet, or doesn’t have them baked enough.

1. Android dominance is just beginning

The iPad remains a dominant force, but it’s becoming very clear that Android is quickly rising to the top of the market share ranks thanks to its heavy support by tablet manufacturers.

Lenovo announced three new Android devices of its own, and there was widespread support for the platform by tablet makers around the globe, including emerging markets like China.

Price appears to be a key differentiator, but it’s not the only one. Millions of consumers are buying Android phones every month, and from here it’s a relatively simple hop to an Android tablet.

All of the above led Gartner analyst Phil Redman to note that he sees a lot of crossover between the iPad and Android in the next few years.

It’s something Apple should be worried about, to be sure.

This week’s loser: Apple

Calling a company with over $130 billion in the bank a loser is a little bit of an oxymoron. But increasingly, Apple’s five-year turkey shoot is starting to feel like it’s ending.

Early in the week, Apple CEO Tim Cook offered a fairly flaccid, non-newsworthy defense of the company’s strategy as well as shareholder demands that it do something with its $137 billion stockpile of cash in order to prevent the stock price from continuing a surprising freefall.

(Worth noting: CNBC posted that each of the last times Cook has spoken, Apple’s stock has dropped.)

And then as a kicker at the end of the week, a U.S. federal judge decided to reduce the penalty Apple was awarded in its patent case against Samsung by almost half. Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the jury incorrectly calculated the damages.

$450 million is only half of a percent of what Apple has in the bank right now. But I just can’t shake the feeling that the worm is turning. Apple is more vulnerable than it’s been in a long time.

I’ll also say this: I’d much rather the company I invest in play it smart with my $$$ vs. investing it in dumb product ideas.

Also: The key phrase in Cook’s speech was that the company is focused on the long term. “This has always been a secret of Apple,” Cook said.

The way I see it, this means something big—and probably different—is coming. Could be a subtle confirmation of the iWatch, or even an Apple TV. Or it could be something totally different, like headphones or who knows what else.

This week’s winner: Samsung

The Korean electronics manufacturer appears to only be gaining momentum. The award reduction is a win. But the company’s presence at Mobile World Congress was the real outstanding news at the show.

As TabTimes’ International Editor Doug Drinkwater points out, the company was one of the big winners at this year’s Mobile World Congress—literally. Samsung was named the top device maker at the show.

The company’s success transcends the consumer space. Samsung also made waves for continuing to iterate on its Enterprise-oriented mobile device and security initiatives.

A new enhancement called Knox is being designed in partnership with SAP with an end goal of allowing device users to separate their personal and corporate data, as well as improving boot-level security and app-level controls.

Lawsuit or not, Samsung is aggressively challenging Apple, and in the process is putting the squeeze on other smartphone and tablet manufacturers.

George is a founding editor of TabTimes and currently works for Wikia.com as Director of Programming

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