I suspect that lots of non-Apple tablets will be sold in 2011—many millions, in fact. I suspect some will match iPad's 10-inch screen, and of those, some might match or beat iPad's price.
Most will have non-glare screens, most or all will have video, some will promise to brush your teeth and clean the leaves out of your gutters, and all will contend that they're just as good or better than the iPad.
But they won't be.
Maybe in a year or two or three, after some monumentally expensive and incredibly innovative development efforts, Google or RIM or HP or Microsoft will come out with a tablet that outpaces Apple on performance, design, elegance, blissful experience, price, and buzz factor.
Of course, we don't currently have any tangible reasons to expect that to happen, but unbridled faith and optimism is one of the things that separates humans from the crustaceans so let's not rule out those possibilities.
But if I were a CIO and I had to walk into next week's board meeting and present my strategic plan for 2011, I wouldn't stake a lot of credibility on the possibility that one of those companies (only one of which currently even has a tablet!) will out-innovate, out-design, and out-buzz Apple.
And if I were that CIO, I'd base my argument on these 10 points:
1) Apple's App Store currently offers more than 40,000 iPad-specific applications.
2) Apple's App Store currently features a total of more than 300,000 apps, most of which work on the iPad. And all those competitors, as the eminent business-technology strategist MC Hammer has said, "Can't touch that."
3) Apple's very own China Syndrome: Three months ago, Apple reported that its new, state-of-the-art stores in Shangai and Beijing generated first-day sales that "exceeded all previous store openings. Our four China stores are our four highest-traffic stores in the world and are among our highest-performing."
4) For business customers, Apple has opened "briefing rooms" in five of its stores around the globe: London, Minneapolis, Paris, Shanghai, and Philadelphia, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. And while this effort won't exactly bowl you over, the websites for each of those locations offers business customers the opportunity to meet with representatives of Apple's new "Business Team" (click here and then click on the link next to the "Briefing Room" icon).
As humble a beginning as this might be, for the traditionally corporate account-averse folks at Apple, it's a huge tangible step at recognizing that the company has a phenomenally big opportunity to complement its consumer business without distorting it.
5) And just how big might that enterprise opportunity be? Well, here's some context on that from Steve Jobs himself (for a more-extensive analysis of this and other related comments from Jobs, please see Global CIO: Apple Storms The Enterprise As iPad And iPhone Surge):
"But we're already seeing tremendous interest in iPad from education, and much to my surprise, from business," said Jobs in Apple's mid-October earnings call.
"We haven't pushed it real hard in business, and it's being grabbed out of our hands. And I talk to people everyday in all kinds of businesses that are using iPads, all the way from boards of directors that are shipping iPads around instead of board books, down to nurses and doctors in hospitals and other large and small businesses," he said.
"So the more time that passes, the more I am convinced that we've got a tiger by the tail here. And this is a new model of computing which we've already got tens of millions of people trained on with the iPhone. And that lends itself to lots of different aspects of life both personal, educational and business.
"So, I see it as very general purpose, and I see it as really big. And the timing, one could argue about the timing endlessly, but I don't think one could argue that it's going to happen anymore."
6) For business applications, do you still think the iPad's an outlier, a fringe device, a toy for fancy-pants executives with nothing better to do than bother IT with their demands for the latest frilly toys? Sorry to burst your out-of-touch bubble, but the iPad's rapidly becoming a mainstream business device: in that same earnings call, Apple said that 65% of the Fortune 100 were already "deploying or piloting" the iPad. Among big corporate users cited by Apple were Procter & Gamble, Loews, Hyatt, NBC Universal and Novartis.
7) Apple is cranking up its wildly successful retail-store operations across the globe, which will extend the Apple phenomenon in general and give rise to more of the business oriented Briefing Rooms outlined above in #4. Said Apple in its earnings call: "In total, we expect to open 40 to 50 stores in our fiscal 2011, with over 50% of them outside the United States.
"We will also begin replacing several stores in the United States to get them right-sized for Apple's current product line and to meet our service goals." Somehow, I don't get the idea that any of those "right-sizings" will result in smaller stores—and did you catch the emphasis on "meeting our service goals"? That's Apple's way of saying it will keep its customer-experience scores high in spite of the company's staggering growth, while also beefing up different kinds of service for business customers as well.
8) Apple's extending its sales force to help meet the surging demand from businesses, said COO Tim Cook on that earnings call: "And I don't know about you, but I've never seen an adoption like this in my life in enterprise. Enterprise is historically much slower moving on adoption. . . . And so the early data points look great. And as a matter of fact, we have built and are building additional capacity internally in the sales organizations to call on businesses."
9) Apple is carefully broadening distribution channels for the iPad, complementing its consumer and SMB expansions via the Wal-Mart and Target chains as well as Verizon and AT&T stores, with a business-oriented plan via AT&T's sales force that includes pre-paid plans, Cook said.
"We're also enabling in training our carrier partners to do the same. You probably saw an announcement last week with AT&T, and that's a direct result of customers wanting to buy the iPad on a postpaid type plan. And so we're putting a lot of energy in those." (You can find more detail on that AT&T deal here.)
10) Jobs has not taken Apple to the business market; rather, the business market has come to Apple. Call it the consumerization effect or whatever you want, but the plain and simple fact is that, as Jobs so aptly put it, Apple has "a tiger by the tail here." And in snagging that tiger, Apple didn't have to start up some skunkworks or acquire some arm's-length stranger or develop a loss-leader product that snatches market share while simultaneously tanking margins. Instead, it won the business market by doing what Jobs holds most dear:
"Our potential competitors are having a tough time coming close to iPad's pricing, even with their far smaller, far less expensive screens," he said during the earnings call. "The iPad incorporates everything we have learned about building high-value products from iPhones, iPods and Macs.
"We create our own A4 chip, our own software, our own battery chemistry, our own enclosure, our own everything. And this results in an incredible product at a great price. The proof of this will be in the pricing of our competitor's products which will likely offer less for more.
"These are among the reasons we think the current crop of seven-inch tablets are going to be DOA: dead on arrival. Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small, and they'll increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the seven-inch bandwagon with an orphan product. Sounds like lots of fun ahead."
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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