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Lenovo India's Agarwal: No significant traction here for enterprise tablets

by Kavitha Nair

April 18 2012

Rahul Agarwal is Executive Director of Commercial Business at Lenovo India
Rahul Agarwal is Executive Director of Commercial Business at Lenovo India

Enterprise adoption of tablets and even BYOD has been slow in India, but Lenovo sees potential growth in the education and consumer segments.

Lenovo entered the fledging tablet PC market in India towards the end of last year with the introduction of the IdeaPad K1 for consumers, the ThinkPad Tablet for business customers, and the IdeaPad A1 for SMB.

In an effort to better understand the enterprise prospects for tablets in India, as well as the market conditions for an international manufacturer like Lenovo, TabTimes spoke with Rahul Agarwal, Lenovo India's Executive Director of Commercial Business.

How are Lenovo's recently launched tablets panning out?

The commercial segment for us comprises corporate, education and government, and the perspective differs when you move from one segment to another.  Tablets are at the very beginning in the enterprise segment. You have some C-suite executives who use the tablet, but when I speak to some of these executives as to how they manage three devices i.e. laptop, smartphone and a tablet, I have yet to get a clear answer. I don’t think there is anyone who actually said that they would be dependent solely on a tablet.

There is also the demand for tablets for executives in the field. These executives do not enter office every day, but information from them is required on a daily basis nevertheless. These executives do not have notebooks at their disposal, as it does not make economic sense. So organizations are looking at low end tablets in the range of $200 to $300 as a solution.

But though inquiries have been made, companies are yet to bite into this.

In the premium tablet space, Apple rules the roost, followed by Samsung. Where does your tablet stand?

There is always a first mover advantage in technology, which is what has happened until now. Until we launched our product, there was no B2B product in the tablet market. So people had no choice but to opt for tablets from the retail market.

Apple of course, with its brand and the whole aura around it, was the first choice. We hope to change that trend by offering a genuine B2B tablet.

Has there been any traction in the education sector?

There is a possibility that there could be a mild explosion in this segment. We are talking to at least two of our top customers for a project which would be a trial order of one thousand tablets in a particular school. 

And there are two other projects: One is an MBA college where tablets will be given to teachers and students and the other is a distance education institute. This particular institute has over 100,000 students and is spread all over the country. They have a distant education wing and now, as part of their curriculum, aim to make tablets compulsory for their student so that they can access content.  

Won't the price of these tablets be a barrier?

Many institutes make it mandatory for their students to get a laptop, the price for which could be close to $500. This does act as an entry barrier. If you bundle this with the fees, it will be high. So the institute may welcome a lower cost device, which does pretty much the same job but can bring down the fees.

The right price point is between USD $200 to $300, and today you do not have a good tablet [in this range]. You have many tablets, but most of them are unknown. But if a vendor like Lenovo could come up with something like an assurance of after-sales service, I think this market could really explode.

BSNL recently launched three tablets with the lowest model priced at Rs 3,250 ($63) and being touted as the rival to Aakash. How do you see your product competing at this price point?

We are not in the mass market, for sure. We have the consumer division, which will have products and compete in that price range.

Ours is a premium product in every way. We may have a variant, which could be more economical as the market develops. But with the market being what it is today, we wanted to bring the best top-end product. So let's see how the product/market respond and then we may bring about a mid-level product.

Do you find similar excitement in the government sector?

Right now, I don’t think we have seen many tenders or actually hardly any tender on tablets. Government continues to be primarily a desktop market. They have not even moved to notebooks in a significant way. And I think it will be some time before they move to tablets.

Has the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend caught on in India? If yes will it spur the use of tablets in the enterprise space?

Not yet actually. BYOD concept is one of those things that is fashionable to talk about, but a lot of CIOs and CEOs are uncomfortable doing that. I have seen some MNCs who want to be ahead of any trend that is taking shape in the world, and accordingly talk about it, but I don’t know of any organizations that have done it.

Despite the concern regarding whether or not tablets will become mainstream in the enterprise in India, there still seems to be a strong focus…

The main thing as a market leader is, we want to be ready for any trend. I don’t want to be caught napping.

There have been enough examples in the history of the evolution of products where some orgs have been caught napping and then suddenly the trend happens. We have partially taken care of that by being the first vendor to launch a B2B tablet. We have spent millions of dollars in designing this product despite knowing that the uptake of this product will be low.

Now we have to just see what trend will materialize. Do people want a B2B tablet or a B2C tablet?

What initiatives have you put in place to ensure traction?

We have done quite a few promotions like demonstrations, where we have a program called T50, wherein all my top 50 customers have seen this demo. We have given them the seed unit wherein we just leave the tablets with our customers for few months to play around and get comfortable with the product.

But I have not seen a huge amount of traction in the enterprise space. The consumer segment on the other hand is altogether a different story.

Would you consider cross promotions with the consumer segment then?

My first charter is to sell the product, which has been designed for businesses. But if a customer expresses a desire to purchase one hundred of those good looking tablets from our consumer side and asks for a deal, we would look at it.

But we would not do cross promotion as it is against our business principles.

Kavitha Nair is a financial-technology reporter who lives in London, England

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