Much like CES, Mobile World Congress, which begins Monday in Barcelona,can be a kingmaker. It’s the kind of event that can generate enough buzz that everyone around the world knows about a phone, a tablet, or even an accessory.
My expectation is that, much like last year, tablets will play a secondary role to smartphones, which dominate the MWC show floor. It’s not that tablets won’t be there, but the sheer volume of handsets can be so overwhelming as to drown out tablet news.
This said, expect to see tablets from the likes of Sony, Samsung, ASUS, and if rumors are to be believed, Hyundai. It’s not likely that we’ll see anything new in the tablet space from RIM, Google, or Microsoft.
That’s not to say Microsoft won’t have a lot at stake. Last year at MWC, Microsoft made a big public debut of Windows 8. This year, it’s critically important for Microsoft that Windows 8 devices have a good showing, but beyond demoing Surface RT and Surface Pro, the company has very little other control over the outcome.
So what does success (or failure) look like for Windows 8 at MWC? It’s hard to say because people will judge the new Windows phones not by the OS but by the look, feel, and unique features of the phones and tablets themselves. Microsoft needs at least one Windows 8 phone to generate buzz because it 1) looks amazing and/or 2) has some kind of outrageously unique specification.
The same goes for Windows tablets. Microsoft desperately needs for at least one Win8 slate to make not just a good but a great impression on the hordes of attendees.
Meanwhile, back in San Francisco…
What’s really interesting about the tablet space is that, right now, business usage is way ahead of the curve, pushing the envelope at a much faster rate than everyday consumers are.
This past week, the participants of TabTimes’ own Tablet Strategy West event in the San Francisco Bay Area illustrated this point over and over again.
Whereas consumers exhibit fairly standard uses of tablets—on the couch, email, reading, playing games—business users’ needs are much more demanding in a way that is putting considerable evolutionary force upon both tablet manufacturers and the tablet ecosystem.
As an example, the conference’s very first session—a keynote by Lenovo’s Tom Butler—made a compelling argument for why hybrid tablets with detachable keyboards are an ideal solution for businesses. It’s a reasonable argument given the desire for a tablet but the need for a full-fledged laptop experience.
Butler also made the point that Windows tablets have a specific advantage over the iPad in certain vertical sectors such as education and healthcare, thanks to the multi-user sign in that allows more than one person to share and use a device at the same time.
Another example of the pressure businesses are putting on the tablet sector came when software developer Sococo took the stage at Tablet Strategy West to announce the upcoming release of its product Team Space for iOS devices.
Available previously on Windows and MacOS, Team Space is a collaboration tool that allows for screen sharing as well as video and voice connections. Businesses with remote users in multiple locations can deploy it to facilitate teamwork and development across all locations.
It’s hard to imagine people using a tool like Team Space now in a non-work environment. But notions of real-time group collaboration or the sharing of data may become increasingly relevant over time in the consumer space.
(As an example, my company Wikia is founded entirely upon the notion that consumers can and will collaborate to build out massive wikis of content and information around leisure time activities.)
Finally, in a rousing, free-wheeling session at the end of the Tablet Strategy West event, a panel of analysts including TabTimes columnist Ben Bajarin and uber-blogger Robert Scoble talked through the transition from Windows 8 to Windows 9 and how Android fragmentation is scaring off enterprise adoption, amongst other topics.
On top of all this, tablet security is another driving force that businesses are defining in a way that will affect both consumers and business users alike.
This Week’s Winner: Tablet game developers
One of the few exceptions to the above point is gaming, which will continue to drive the performance side of the tablet equation forward.
Towards the end of this past week, a report by Juniper Research predicted that tablet gamers will spend more than $3 billion on in-app purchases by 2016. That’s a lot of dough, and it’s more than 10x the amount spent in 2012. It’s also a lot of opportunity for developers.
This Week’s Loser: Ubuntu
I respect Linux, but the news regarding Ubuntu’s tablet interface, which will is now available for download and use on Android devices, struck me as too late in the game to have any meaningful impact on the market. It’s hard to imagine businesses ever using it, and the same goes for the consumer space.
On the horizon: iPad Mini 2
Rumors are leaking everywhere that Apple is close to shipping a second generation version of its iPad Mini, with photos emerging of an iPad Mini case with a slightly thicker form-factor.
This is a possible indicator that Apple may be going with a 2048 x 1536 Retina Display on the iPad Mini 2, as has been previously rumored. Reports have also indicated that Apple plans to launch this version of its tablet, along with a fifth-generation iPad sometime in March. Time will tell.