I recently had to go to a BestBuy store for a camera repair and had to wait about 45 minutes. While I was waiting there was a long counter nearby loaded with at least twenty different models of tablet computers. It reminded me of the early days of PC sales when there were dozens of models from different manufacturers. I quick search on Google shows the following manufacturers: Samsung, LeapFrog, Sony, Toshiba, Lenovo, HTC, Fujitsu, HP, Acer, Archos, BeBook, Panasonic, Asus, ViewSonic, Blackberry, Hannspree, Creative Ziio, Dell, Motorola, ZTE, Advent Vega, OlivePad, Fusion, Entourage Edge, Viiv and of course, Apple. How long do you think some of these companies will stay in the tablet market? What are the features that distinguish one of these machines from the others?
I spent a few minutes walking down the display and picking up each of the Tablet computers. It took me about 2 seconds to put down almost every one of them. Some of them were heavy enough to qualify as laptops. Others just felt clunky and unusable.
Years ago, when computers first started coming out to the consumer market, there was a similar plethora of models and manufacturers. It seemed like anyone with an electronics company was making boxes and selling them with monitors and keyboards. The problem was that most of the companies had absolutely no support for their products. Do you remember Altair? IMSAI? Southwest Tech? SOL? TRS? Atari? Commodore? Texas Instruments? Heath? Morrow? Do you remember CP/M and the Z80? I remember almost every one of these individually and actually owned almost every one of them at some time or another. With a couple of exceptions, I worked on almost every one of the early PC computers, including Xerox, which I forgot to list. Oh, and you might also remember Apple and IBM. Later on, the market got really crowded when the Far East entered the market with the so-called clones.
What is the same about the market for tablet computers and the early days of the PC? Back in the early days of the PC, there was a lot of press about how the machines were not "real" computers and how they would never catch on in the "real world of business." Some of these early companies were huge, IBM, Texas Instruments, Radio Shack, these were not fly-by-night competitors. But the TI 99-4A is a good example of what was going on. The TI had a fast 16-bit processor but it lacked easy expansion capabilities and had a proprietary software. After waging a price battle with Commodore, they sold out their inventory and went out of the business. Where is TI today? It is still the third largest manufacturer of semiconductors in the world. See Wikipedia:Texas Instruments. It is definitely not in the PC market.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short post about HP and the tablet market. If you remember, HP went out of the business of selling tablets in a sudden move and indicated that it was getting out of the PC market altogether. In February, PCWorld ran an article entitled, HP Launches First Run at the Tablet Market. See PCWorld Business Center. An HP executive was quoted as saying, "The market for connected devices is, conservatively, $160 billion. And we're in the early stages of a growing market."
Now just a few months later, here is a quote from the ZDNet, "After less than two months on sale, HP has pulled the plug on the
TouchPad tablet and is so desperate to get rid of them that it is having
a firesale, selling the 16GB TouchPad for $99 and the 32GB model for $149. But not only has HP killed the TouchPad, it has also single-handedly destroyed the entire non-iPad tablet market." Does this remind you (it does me) of Texas Instruments? Even the $100 price is significant.
In the tablet market, which didn't exist just a short time ago, Apple is sitting out there selling millions upon millions of iPads. Just as Apple and IBM dominated the PC market for years, Apple has done it again in dominating the tablet market. Will all those manufacturers of tablet computers be in the tablet business in a year? Not on your life. Companies like Sony, Toshiba, and HTC aren't going anywhere, but history does repeat itself. If you are tempted to buy tablet computer, just use it until it breaks and then get on with your life. Unless you happen to purchase an Apple iPad or can guess which of the others will survive, you have boxed yourself into a corner, just as if you had purchased a Commodore 64.