Sony is no copycat. Its Tablet S, revealed at IFA today, shows true innovation in hardware design. It’s slightly smaller than the iPad, but it feels completely different to hold, with its folded-magazine “wraparound” design. It has high-tech features that set it apart from the iPad and other Android Honeycomb tablets, including DLNA support, an IR blaster, and what Sony calls “quick view/quick touch,” which makes the screen and Web browser extremely responsive and fast-loading.
A bigger step for Sony is what comes on the device. The Tablet S comes preloaded with access to Sony Entertainment Network, including a six-month free subscription to its Music Unlimited service, plus two free PlayStation 1 games—finally, leveraging assets from across different business units, a huge step for Sony. Sony has also negotiated deals for an exclusive window to several new Android tablet apps, including Crackle and Foursquare, which will be preloaded on the device. These are all important product innovations, which combined with Sony’s brand should put Sony’s product ahead of many Android competitors in consumers’ minds.
We are publishing a new Forrester report today on the European tablet market. With the recent launch (and huge marketing push) of the Acer Iconia Tab and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in multiple European countries, one might think that things were looking up for Android tablets in Europe — but that’s not the case. In our report, we found that:
Europe is, and will be, a huge market for tablets. We are projecting that EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) will account for 14.5 million, or 30%, of worldwide consumer tablet sales in 2011. Three times as many Europeans as have tablets today say they are interested in buying one in the future.
Outside the UK, Apple could be vulnerable to competition. Apple has 52 Apple Stores in Europe, and 30 of them are in the UK. (For reference, there are 238 Apple Stores in the US.) Apple’s brand and channel presence is not uniformly strong in Europe; Mac ownership, for example, is lower in every EU-7 country than it is in the US.
But no competitor has met Apple’s challenge. Despite Apple’s potential vulnerability, we estimate that Apple still has 70% market share for tablet sell-through to consumers in Europe. (Sell-through is different from shipments; our interviews with European retailers confirmed that non-iPad tablet inventory is sitting in the channel — i.e., manufacturers are shipping more tablets than consumers are buying. So if you read reports that Apple has a lower market share, look at whether the report is measuring shipments or sell-through.) What’s more, non-iPad tablet competition is quite fragmented — OEMs, operators, and niche players form a crowded marketplace but one notably devoid of shoppers. iPad competitors’ prices are too high, and no competitor has matched Apple on content or channel strategy.