The slate effect

The slate effect

When the iPod was released in 2001 it managed, through intelligent marketing and product design, to capture the imagination of consumers, and the broader market. It wasn’t the only mp3 player on the market – and still isn’t, but it enjoys the lion’s share of consumer purchases.

The iPhone, first released in 2007, brought smart phones to the consumer. While RIM, Nokia, HTC and Samsung have attractive smart phones in their own right, it is Apple that had people lining up before store openings for the launch of the recent iPhone 4 – Apple had people lining up for a phone.

Now, with the iPad, Apple is already on track to repeat this success a third time – this time taking on the netbook or lower-powered notebook market with a gadget that is sleek, sexy and works really well.

Launched just a few months ago on May 28, iPads are an increasingly common sight at airports, train stations, and lounge rooms across the country. Thanks to the Android platform and, of course, Microsoft, there are a host of rival ‘slate’ devices on the way or out already.

But the iPad is also doing something that no one else perhaps expected – its gaining traction in business. While netbooks have always had questionable applications for businesses, and minimal traction in corporates as a result, the iPad is finding a place in vertical applications from automotive (replacing car manuals with iPads) to retail POS, entertainment to mobile workforces.

Much like how the iPhone’s popularity essentially forced organisations to find it a place in the IT infrastructure, the iPad is a device that people want to take to work – the question is, is it a threat to the business of more traditional notebook vendors?

After all, it’s easy to demonstrate the increased value of a fully-featured notebook over a netbook – by definition a cheap and underpowered notebook, but the iPad – and other slate devices are just different enough to not be a ‘mini-notebook,’ but ultimately they’re competing for the same dollars.

Would you choose a Holden over a Lotus?

On the face of it, notebook vendors are not too concerned with the potential threat posed by the iPad.

“I think of the iPad as a sports car that you take on the weekend, and the notebook as the all-rounder family car,” Fujitsu PC Asia-Pacific Product Manager, Hansen Yap, said.

“I think it’s an additional market. There’s enough space for both, and it’s a good thing that Apple is helping us to educate customers that there is a really cool usage model with slate form factors.”

For individuals or organisations with large disposable incomes or large IT budgets, this might well be case, but at the same time, the cheapest model of iPad is currently $629. For the basic 3G model, which is what mobile workers or IT department would be looking at, it’s $799.

You would have to expect that at that price, students at schools trialling the iPad won't also be getting regular notebooks. It's just as unlikely that a corporate is going to be interested in two sets of mobile rollouts and refreshes.

Then there was the report in July that found eight in 10 business professionals in the US rely on their smartphone as the primary business communication platform, and would rather give up coffee than surrender the smart phone.

The survey also indicated that 34 per cent of respondents use on the smart phone more than a PC for business computing and that seven per cent leave the laptop at home and rely purely on the smart phone when travelling.

The iPad is certainly a more attractive device for business computing than the relatively tiny smartphone. And, even as they tout the benefits of traditional notebooks, vendors are in reality not dismissing the slate market as one for the future.

Fujitsu PC, which does offer tablet computers – notebooks, but with touchable screens, said it was also exploring slates.

“We don’t have to rush to market, as we are not the first, but we are thinking about what the applications are and how customers will be using those devices – that’s important” Yap said.

Other vendors have in production (or have already released) their own take on the slate market, in an attempt to capitalise on the opportunities Apple is finding out there.

Toshiba, for instance, has the libretto W100. A dual-screen notebook, the device doesn’t feature a keyboard, relying entirely on touch inputs. It can be used as a notebook, with a virtual keyboard appearing on the bottom screen, or it can be used in ‘book’ form – an attempt to enhance the content consumption abilities that slate devices are best at.

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