Keep taking the tablets 2!

With today’s UK launch of Apple’s iPad2, I couldn’t resist updating my blog of just one year ago. I’ve colored new text in blue.

The idea of a Tablet PC emerged in 2001 when Microsoft used the term to describe a flat mobile computer, which the user interacted with through a touchscreen or stylus. Microsoft’s Window XP operating system was offered in a Tablet PC edition to support manufacturers in providing these new devices. They had the advantage of mobility and simplicity of interface. Bill Gates is reported to have said, in 2003, that “If you go out five years from now, and look at portable computers, virtually all of those will have this tablet capability.” By this stage, Microsoft had reportedly spent $400 million to build a tablet PC for Windows XP.

However, in spite of key manufacturer support, they were slow to take off – particularly in consumer markets. Hewlett-Packard developed a number of devices over an extended period. Including, the HP TouchSmart series of tablet PCs and the HP Slate. Clearly, both Microsoft and HP had confidence in a market emerging for these Tablet PC devices. However, they proved relatively expensive to produce and perhaps understandably sold to specialist customers, such as in logistics and medical environments. By the end of 2009, competition centred on just one operating system, Windows 7 and a few manufacturers (including Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic and Toshiba). Customers tended to be in specialised areas and limited in number.

Perhaps not a particularly attractive market for new entrants?

In April 2010, Apple computers launched their iPad starting from $499. Described as, “A large, high-resolution LED-backlit IPS display … An incredibly responsive Multi-Touch screen … Scroll through a page just by flicking your finger up or down on the screen … pinch to zoom in or out on a photo.” (www.apple.com/uk/ipad).

The Apple iPad was supplied with a number of popular applications, including: web browser (Safari), mail, photos, music (iPod and iTunes), videos (YouTube), books (iBooks) and the App Store. Like many computer devices, the iPad is both a product and a service. This light and thin product capabilities centred on the large multi-touch screen, long battery life, powerful processor and wireless and 3G technologies for connectivity.

A winning formula? The service element of the offering draws on two unique features which competitors found difficult to replicate: firstly, iTunes the proprietary music and video platform operated by Apple, the service that originated with the iPod range and was extended to include the iPhone and iPad devices, subsequently dominating the online music sales. By March 2010, Apple had sold 10 billion iTunes. Ensuring the iPad had access to iTunes provided instant content.

Secondly, the App Store provided access to over 150,000 applications written by a rapidly growing independent community of programmers and service providers. These applications were originally designed for the iPhone. However, even before the launch of the iPad in March 2010 Apple were providing support to these developers with SDK 3.2 beta, iPad simulator and developer community programme.

It might be interesting to reflect on the portable music market dominated by the Sony Walkman before the launch of the Apple iPod and the mobile smartphone market dominated by Nokia before the launch of the Apple iPhone. Clearly, Microsoft and the large laptop manufacturers dominated the mobile computing market at the beginning of 2010. But then … enter the iPad.

I think Apple might just be onto something. For the original iPad Apple sold 300,000 on the first day and started to impact of the sales for devices. Some are predicting sales of 500,00 for the first day of iPad2 sales in the UK.

Prof Nigel Lockett FRSA

Professor of Enterprise, Leeds Enterprise Centre, University of Leeds
President of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship
www.nigellockett.com