What do tablet users want? Apple famously didn’t ask (the company doesn’t believe in focus groups), but delivered what it believed users needed with the iPad and the results have been staggeringly good.
NEW YORK - As competitors scrambled to release iPad alternatives, we’ve seen a number of different sizes and technologies emerge.
But the market is still rapidly evolving, said panelists at the Tabletbiz conference here. Despite the iPad’s dominant market share, there is still plenty of opportunity for established players like Microsoft.
“We hear from a lot of enterprises that they are very comfortable with Microsoft,” said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin. “Microsoft will gain traction, but it has to evolve the product line.”
Bajarin credits Microsoft’s Surface tablet for an innovative design and expects it will appeal to businesses looking to leverage their investment in Microsoft software, but he thinks the company’s pitch that the Surface is kind of a combination tablet and PC limits its appeal.
“A lot of people just want a tablet and as you see with Apple there is a lot of pure tablet innovation going on.”
Kyp Walls, Director of Product Management at Panasonic, said convertibles (notebooks that also offer a tablet-like touchscreen) have sold better than the company’s tablets. Panasonic specializes in ruggedized portable computers and plans to release its first Windows 8 tablet in January.
Neil Hand VP of personal computing products at Dell, aimed to distinguish the best use case for new Windows RT tablets, like Dell’s own Latitude 10 and the even newer Windows 8 tablets that run the full range of Windows software. (Windows RT includes a version of Microsoft Office, but otherwise does not run legacy Windows software, rather new apps designed for RT).
“I’ve started using Windows RT as my productivity device,” said Hand. He mentioned advantages such as Office and the device’s long battery life that run as much as 20 hours between charges.
That said, Hand is quick to add:
“Full Windows 8 tablets are clearly the comfort zone for most IT customers today.”
Hand wasn’t ready to make any announcements, but he talked up the benefits of the 7-inch form factor for some applications and perhaps Dell is planning something there.
“The 10-inch screen size gives you that full desktop experience,” said Hand. “In certain vertical markets like healthcare we have a huge business. If you’re a nurse, you don’t want to be carrying this around all day,” he added, holding up the 10-inch screen Dell Latitude.
“An iPad mini size device makes a big difference because it’s easier to hold and carry around; it fits in a smock. I think we’ll see a lot of innovation there.”
Steve Jobs did not invent the tablet
The panelists also reminded the audience that Apple’s Steve Jobs did not invent the tablet, there were Windows PC and other tablet models available for years before the iPad.
One of the features of those earlier models that Jobs was quick to dispense with was the pen or stylus for input. But Panasonic’s Walls said the pen gives users a lot more flexibility and options.
“We include a stylus with a digitizer so customers can do things like signature capture, note-taking and markup annotation,” he said. “It can be done with a finger, but it’s a lot more challenging.”
Walls recalled that Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates declared a decade ago that 1992 would be the year of the pen. But he thinks interest in the stylus has advanced along with the technology to make it more appealing.
Using a pen on a 7-inch tablet is a bit small, it’s more like using a memo pad,” he said. A 10- or certainly a 12 inch tablet is closer to that full page writing experience.”
British-born Hand said tablets have proven to be “bloody brilliant” for impromptu presentations in the hallway or informal gatherings. “It’s easy for me to just show you what I’m thinking and use a pen to draw something up in ways I wouldn’t use a notebook for,” he said.
“That’s the real opportunity, to discover news ways for how we use these devices, how we do things.”