Hari Shankar
Jan 19, 2012

Opinion: A storm in the tablet cup

Hari Shankar, Asia-Pacific director at Performics, enthuses about tablets and mulls over where they're headed.

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Hari Shankar

G-Slate, Aakash, Arc, Transformer, Thrive, Nook, Iconia, Xoom, Playbook, Galaxy Tab and Flyer – are these the names of forgotten blockbusters or yet-to-be-launched challengers in the automotive segment?

If these aren't ringing a bell, I could keep rattling off names, but I'll just stop here and say that the proliferation of tablet PCs is anything but close to softening in the near future. In fact, tablet brands are mounting wave after wave of fresh offensives to an overwhelming tempo as we speak, fighting tooth and nail to get major share in the emerging ‘micro’ notebook blitzkrieg.

Is this really a revolution in the making, or yet another passing chapter in the gizmo-arena? Let us take a look.

What do the fortune-tellers say?

A recent report by NPD DisplaySearch pegged the tablet PC category as one of growing importance, with 72.7 million units shipped in 2011, accounting for more than a quarter of total mobile PC shipments last year. This report, which was released as recently as the opening week of 2012, pegged the growth rate at a massive 256 per cent year-on-year, making the 12 per cent year-on-year growth rate of notebook PCs pale in comparison.

Closer to the home-turf, a mid-2011 report released by IDC claimed that Asia-Pacific markets (except Japan) are set for a massive growth spurt pegged at 21 million units by 2015, up from 2 million units shipped in 2010—that's a CAGR of 54 per cent; and a multiplication factor of 10. Most of these volumes are slated to originate from China, and the market is also poised to loom over the current market leader, North America.

Various reports also point toward peaking interest in tablet devices across mature economies such as South Korea, Australia and Taiwan, while the adoption and comfort levels across other Southeast Asian economies (Indonesia, Malaysia, etc) are slower with the psyche still skewed toward more conservative strains of familiar laptop-type experience.

And methinks that the rapid uptake (and sway) of the tablet breed is evident just by looking around  cafés, airports or just about any public space. Personally, I can’t hide my amusement when the officials ask, “Sir..do you have a notebook or an iPad in your cabin baggage?”

The penchant for tablets

Say, why do these so-called tablet PCs have the potential of creating obsessive behavior like we initially saw with the usage of Blackberry type devices?

The last time I made a dash for the airport, it had completely slipped my mind that I was not in possession of the boarding pass that I carefully printed. When I presented myself at the counter, the burly ‘gate keeper’ demanded that I show it to him. Dismayed, I nevertheless whisked out my ‘boarding pass’ in the form of my Asus Transformer 101 tablet. 

In yet another of my absent-minded sojourns to a car-rental company, it had skipped my over-worked mind that I did not carry a receipt, which I needed to get a car. Out comes the receipt from the faithful tablet pulled straight out of my personal mail account via a public Wi-fi access, and in minutes I was driving comfortably to my favourite holiday destination.

In short, there are a plethora of ‘holes’ in my personal (and professional) life that the tablet is efficiently plugging, right from being able to have ‘entertainment-on-the-go’ or being able to access my files using a ‘Cloud service’ to being able access virtually any information irrespective of my physical location (including the time and place I can lay my hands on the upgraded version of the current tablet, or arguing with the salesman about lower rates advertised for the latest gizmo I want to purchase).

Tablet mutations in the offing

Mutations are just an eventuality, once a product has tugged on the imagination of the market. And even as the tablet proliferation is gaining critical mass, mutations have already started to appear in the market to occupy any ‘nooks & crannies’ of opportunity that can be found quickly.

Among many, Samsung, having launched the Galaxy Note to bridge the slim chasm between smartphone and tablet PCs, is worthy of mention. Too big to be a smartphone and too small to be a tablet for my taste, the device seems to have created a niche segment of the market, with encouraging reviews from many leading gizmo-evaluation authorities.

Then there are so-called 'Ultrabooks,' referring to ultraportable laptops that are less than an inch thick and have fast boot-up time, extended battery life and built-in security, according to Intel, which is the primary advocate for the device category. Rival AMD is also targeting the ultraportable device space that will debut next year. Not to mention the e-reader segment which is harboring tall ambitions to morph into ‘entry-level’ tablets, with Kindle Fire being one of the recent favorites.

Before I conclude, a home-grown ‘tablet-for-the-masses’ from India deserves a mention. Christened Aakash, it is India's first low-cost tablet that is receiving overwhelming attention and demand from both corporate and individual buyers. Reportedly more than 1 million units were booked online just two weeks after it was made available, prompting UK-based vendor Datawind to establish three more factories in India to cater to demand.

So is this a revolution in the making?

To me, when a device has two (or three) great attributes—being light and comfortable enough to be carried around, providing an enjoyable engagement & interaction experience to achieve whatever the ends may be, and comes with a price tag that is not too hard on the wallet—then the device definitely has the potential to create the next wave in the market.

A year ago, I couldn't quite see the point of a tablet PC. I have long since changed my mind.

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