The consumer tablet market is booming but channel players should focus more on the business tablet space, according to Express Online Motion Computing and IronKey business manager, Stuart Charlton.
He previously held the same role at Simms International and has a passion for the mobility industry.
His advice comes at a time when tablets are dominating IT news, discusions and company planning.
A myriad of vendors, including Acer and Samsung, have come out with their own tablets mainly aimed at the consumer market to ride the tablet wave. But as competition intensifies vendors are finding the tablet market a tough one to play in.
Last month HP discontinued its TouchPad only a week after it was launched in Australia. RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook received tepid reviews. Apple is suing Samsung over patent infringements by its Galaxy Tab 10.1 product.
Consumer tablets are also typically sold directly – Apple style – or go through telcos. This means the channel is missing out on revenue opportunities as they are overlooked in this sort of distribution model.
“Telco distribution is not a concern for distributors and certainly not a concern for vendors but it should be of great concern to the channel,” Charlton said. “When you sell a consumer-based device there is no recurring revenue or customer engagement so everybody logs onto their online app store and buy apps directly.
“The channel is eliminated in importance; there is a single point of fulfilment and it’s in a retail package box so from there the engagement is gone.”
This also applies to consumer tablets being used in enterprise environments.
“Channel has no customer value offering or very little value offering when they fulfil business requirements with consumer-based products,” Charlton said.
So where does the channel fit into the tablet market? According to Charlton, there’s still plenty of money to be made for resellers working with business-centric tablets. These are tablets that come in multiple form factors from convertibles tablet PCs to rugged devices that typically run a full Windows operating system.
While they traditionally belonged in the enterprise space, popular with specific verticals, they have piqued the interest of SMBs which opens up more market opportunities, Charlton said.
Resellers are particularly good for deployment of Windows-based devices to companies with a targeted mobile workforce, he said.
“The resellers that offer managed services either on a large enterprise scale or on a SMB scale with break-fix deployment, assent management and all those things still exist,” Charlton said. “Remember 90 per cent of the business community still sit on the Windows platform so it’s just about being able to put forward devices that are right for the client.”
Consumer tablets are increasingly being brought into the business arena; their ‘sexiness’ is undoubtedly tempting to many workers. But they serve more “low-scale personal productivity tools” and are impractical for some business scenarios such as for field workers, according to Charlton.
“The biggest opportunity for profitable sales in the channel is to focus on enterprises transiting from a pen and paper environment to being computerised in the field,” he said.
In other words, resellers should target industries which employ people for field services, consultation on construction sites, depo work, and so on. At the end of the day, consumer-type products like the iPad are just not suitable for all business environments.
Made-for-business tablets, such as the Panasonic ToughBook tablet range, still require channel expertise to deploy, customise with bespoke applications and, for field workers, installed into work vehicles.
“The channel should focus on business customers and appreciate that all of them has thought of or is thinking about mobility,” Charlton said. “Then the channel has to ask ‘what is my traditional customer? Is it somebody walking off the street buying a product or is it somebody that lets me take a strategy on making their workforce fully automated?”