Why customizable tablets could be a game changer

by Ben Bajarin

February 2 2014

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.


What if Lenovo brought Motorola's custom build smartphone business to tablets? 

Motorola currently offers customers the ability to customize their Moto X with any combinations of colors chosen by the buyer.  It has been rumored that Motorola was looking into also offering different screen size options as a part of the customization and the company has said a customizable tablet might one day be on the drawing board. 

This reminds me of how Dell first struck it big in the PC business; its value proposition was offering buyers a wide range of customizable options for their PCs. 

In essence they were mass producing custom built PCs. Which made me wonder if something similar would be possible in the tablet market.

Right now enterprise accounts are implementing whatever specs are available to them fro OEMs.  Many enterprises are still working to figure out how best to implement tablets in their enterprise for their employees to use as tools for their job.

As many commercial customers hone in on their precise needs for tablets in their workplace, I can see a scenario where they would want more specific customization.

Lenovo could leverage what Motorola already done in custom building smartphones and expand into tablets.

(Making tablets more productive and the best uses for small and larger-sized tablets will be among the key issues discussed at the upcoming Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6, 2014)

Customize and save money

What kind of customizations could be useful to enterprises? Ultimately the answer is price. Say for example an enterprise needs tablets to simply replace printed training manuals, sales presentations, etc.

They don't need an expensive tablet with a powerful CPU in this case, but they may want to choose the ports, screen resolution, screen size, OS, and ultimately configure the solution to be within their budget.

The same thing would apply should an enterprise need to give 500 of their more mobile employees devices that are more capable as notebook replacements.

These may require more specific specifications tailored to the mobile workers needs. Rather than accept the screen size, CPU, OS, etc., from an OEM they can customize the device to meet the exact needs of their workforce.

While Motorola was mostly going after consumers with their customizable Moto X offering, ultimately this custom built tablet business would be more suited for enterprise buyers.

While I could see this also working for consumers the challenge in doing custom built tablets for a consumer audience would be scaling the process.

For Lenovo, managing the scale of a custom built business would be more manageable by focusing on enterprise accounts.

They have a dedicated sales team and the factories building the tablets would be able to manage the process by knowing exactly how many to build.

Meanwhile, carriers in the US have been  looking to offer more tablet subsidization. Perhaps they could subsidize a custom built tablet program that allows businesses to more fully customize the right tablet solution for them.

Verizon's Enterprise Solutions group made moves in this direction back in 2012 with its so-called "Blank Slate" program designed to let enterprises customize an Android-based tablet with apps and features specific to their industry such as point-of-sale payments and inventory management. 

What do we want to use tablets for?

Ultimately the tablet market is not yet mature. People mistakenly think it is but most enterprises and consumers are still in the early stages of figuring out what they want with a tablet and how they will use it on a day to day basis.

As this market matures it opens up more opportunity for different competitive offerings. While it is only speculation at this point, a custom built tablet solution could be a unique and different offering in the market place.

(You liked this column? For more Tablet market news, trends and insights, sign up for the free TabTimes Business/Productivity Update newsletter)

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.
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