This Week in Tablets: Kids add mass to tablet market expansion

September 15, 2012

What a difference a year makes. Well, kind of.

In September of 2011, Apple was absolutely dominant in the tablet market. Hewlett Packard CEO Leo Apotheker had just cancelled HP’s entire tablet line-up as well as its utilization of the WebOS operating system.

RIM was still clinging to the notion that the BlackBerry PlayBook was a viable tablet option for business people, despite the fact that you couldn’t check your email on it without a BlackBerry Phone. And the first real wave of Android tablets was hitting store shelves.

Although rumors were floating around, Amazon had yet to announce the Kindle Fire, which to date has been the only tablet that has garnered significant enough traction to qualify as a real threat to Apple’s iPad.

Also at this time, it was becoming clear that the rapid rise in popularity of tablets and BYOD culture had caught Microsoft totally off-guard, with no real tablet solution to speak of. 

Twelve months later in 2012, HP is attempting a comeback. Microsoft is finally on the verge of releasing its own tablet as well as the touch-friendly Windows 8 OS. The BlackBerry PlayBook is all but gone, and Android tablets are finally beginning to show up in consumer’s hands.

The biggest thing that’s changed, however, is that consumers and businesses are now fully aware of the potential of tablet computing, and a broader range of humans are now buying tablets at a variety of price points. The end result is going to be a blockbuster holiday season for tablet sales, the likes of which we've never seen.

Are children’s tablets the next big market opportunity?

The iPad has universal appeal, but when I think about Amazon’s tablets—Kindle Fire HD reviews starting trickling out this week—I can’t shake the notion that these devices will almost exclusively be purchased for adults and older tablet users.

Kids and young adults just don’t read books—digital, paper, e-ink, or otherwise—the way adults do. And most kids don’t own Kindle e-readers, so they’re not going to want the Kindle Fire.

What kids want is to get their hands on their parents’ iPads. This probably explains why we’re seeing a glut of child-oriented tablets being announced for sale this holiday season.

Earlier this week, Toys ‘R’ Us announced its $149 Tabeo 7-inch tablet, which sports Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), front and rear cameras, 4GB of memory, and Wi-Fi. The Tabeo will come pre-loaded with over 50 apps, and will allow kids to access over 6,000 free educational apps, games, and books via its app store.

There are several more kids’ tablets coming, including LeapFrog’s LeapPad 2, and VTech’s InnoTab 2. Both are affordable, surprisingly powerful devices aimed at 3- to 9-year olds.

Then there’s Nintendo’s Wii U, which has a tablet named the WiiPad as its primary controller. I’m probably a little biased because I’ve covered the video game industry for such a long time, but it’s hard for me to see anyone but Nintendo win dominating the kids’ space around tablet computing this holiday season. And, just like Amazon, the Wii U has built-in e-commerce store options for games, videos, and more.

(For a great list of the five best kids’ tablets, click to TabTimes’ 5 affordable Android tablets for your children, which was published earlier in the week.)

This week’s winner: Microsoft—and its employees

With Amazon’s and Apple’s announcements out of the way, Microsoft pretty much has the road to itself building up to the late October launch of Windows 8 and the Surface tablet. Yes, Apple will dominate mindshare for most of the next week with the iPhone launch, but it’s hard to imagine anything pulling focus away from Win8 after that.

Knowing this, Microsoft is beginning to trickle out details around its products, such as the news earlier this week that the Windows 8 app store is now open, and that Office for Windows RT tablets would be full-featured, free, and available between November and January.

Late in the week, news broke that Microsoft would be giving all 94,000 of its full-time employees a new Windows 8 PC, a new Win8 Surface tablet, and a new Windows Phone 8 for use at work and at home.

This week’s loser: HP

Despite being surprisingly candid about the challenges it faces around relaunching its tablet line after the closure of the business unit one year ago, it’s going to be an uphill battle for HP around tablets and smartphones.

Not only does the PC maker lack credibility because of Apotheker’s fold job, but it now has to play catch-up with its rivals and compete against its OS partner Microsoft.

Even though the Envy X2 has generated some decent buzz, I don’t see this working out well for CEO Meg Whitman and the company’s tablet team.

Final thought: Amazon Wendell?

One final thought for the weekend: If you haven’t seen Conan O’Brien’s spoof on Amazon with his own Amazon Wendell announcement, you must watch it now. Hilarious. 

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