BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made news this week with his claim that tablets will be dead in five years. “Tablets themselves are not a good business model,” he claimed in an interview.
As Techcrunch wittily responded: “BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins Says Tablets “Not A Good Business Model,” Evidently Forgetting About iPad.” As I recently blogged, Apple’s iPad is the growth engine of its entire business so far in 2013, growing 65% year over year. Meanwhile, shipments of Android tablets have found their footing, particularly for Samsung, ASUS, and Amazon, growing in shipments so far this year.
So tablets certainly represent a thriving business model today. More importantly, the tablet will grow into a must-have computing device for much of the world by 2017.
The penetration of tablets into the consciousness of information workers, IT professionals, business people, and consumers only continues to grow. Much as with smartphones, tablets are increasingly taken for granted as a device one will have in one’s life.
Take, for example, information workers: We surveyed 9,766 global information workers about their preferences for which operating system they would like to use on their (next) work tablet. We also gave them an out: “I don’t plan to use a tablet for work.”
In the original ‘Jurassic Park’ movie (which will be 20 years old this June), the young girl Lex Murphy (played by Ariana Richards) asks Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) what happened to the dinosaurs. Dr. Grant replies with the thesis from his academic works (as quoted here):
Many scientists believe the dinosaurs never really died out 65 million years ago. These scientists believe dinosaurs live on today -- as birds. The dinosaurs were too large and their food supply is too small, so the dinosaurs became a likely example of natural selection -- in short, they were forced to adapt or perish.
The personal computer already experienced a large tectonic shift, evolving from velociraptor to sparrow in just a few years. Back in 2007, end user computing looked very different from today: It was a simpler world of form factors, operating systems, and ecosystems. Even so, in 2007 we predicted:
By 2012, the industry won't include just two form factors, laptops and desktops, but five or more form factors that are universally viewed as differentiated products.
We were correct, and computing “biodiversity” bloomed: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, eReaders, phablets, or adding in form factors that peaked and fell quickly (like netbooks). In fact, we are living in an era of unprecedented experimentation – a flowering of myriad computing form factors attempting to carve out their own evolutionary pathways. The descendants of the velociraptor include a wide array of connected devices, each blazing its own trail.
In recent research, I have laid out some similarities and differences between tablets and laptops. But the tablet market is growing ever more fragmented, yielding subtleties that aren’t always captured with a simple “PC vs. tablet” dichotomy. As Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals try to determine the composition of their hardware portfolios, the product offerings themselves are more protean. Just describing the “tablet” space is much harder than it used to be. Today, we’re looking at multiple OSes (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, forked Android), form factors (eReader, tablet, hybrid, convertible, touchscreen laptop), and screen sizes (from 5” phabletsand to giant 27” furniture tablets) – not to mention a variety of brands, price points, and applications. If, as rumored, Microsoft were to enter the 7” to 8” space – competing with Google Nexus, Apple iPad Mini, and Kindle Fire HD – we would see even more permutations. Enterprise-specific – some vertically specific – devices are proliferating alongside increased BYO choices for workers.
Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.
Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.
We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.
Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.
Today the European Commission fined Microsoft €561 million ($732 million) for failing to live up to a previous legal agreement. As the New York Times reported it, “the penalty Wednesday stemmed from an antitrust settlement in 2009 that called on Microsoft to give Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers, instead of pushing them to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.” The original agreement stipulated that Microsoft would provide PC users a Browser Choice Screen (BCS) that would easily allow them to choose from a multitude of browsers.
Without commenting on the legalities involved (I’m not a lawyer), I think there are at least two interesting dimensions to this case. First, the transgression itself could have been avoided. Microsoft admitted this itself in a statement issued on July 17, 2012: “Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7.” The company’s statement went on to say that “while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1.” Subsequently, today Microsoft took responsibility for the error. Clearly some execution issues around SP1 created a needless violation.
“Hello, I’m J. P. Gownder, and I serve Infrastructure and Operations professionals!” That’s my new greeting to Forrester’s clients. (I borrowed – aka “stole” – this opening line from my excellent colleague, Laura Ramos, who recently rejoined the Forrester analyst ranks herself).
After eight years in a variety of roles at Forrester, I’ve joined the Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) team as a Vice President and Principal Analyst. I’ll be collaborating with analyst colleagues (please see below) on I&O’s forthcoming Workforce Enablement Playbook. I&O pros face the constant challenge of empowering their companies’ workers with devices and services to make them successful in their jobs… as well as navigating the growing challenge of employees who choose to bring their own technology to work instead.
More specifically, I’ll be researching at least five issues pertinent to I&O pros:
I was at an industry conference recently, standing in the booth of a large PC maker while being indoctrinated with the latest word: "You can manage it with existing tools!" - a marketing director beamed, as he waved a new Windows 8 tablet under my nose. He seemed so happy I thought for a second he might grab my hand and drag me skipping through the tradeshow floor followed by a troupe of merry singing penguins, like a sort of demented convention center edition of Mary Poppins.
Minutes after the Wall Street Journal reported that HP plans to spin off its PC business, I'm already getting press inquiries. There's still a lot we don't know, and I hope we'll learn more on the earnings call tonight. Based on what we know now, here's my take on what product strategists at HP are thinking:
HP's PC product strategy is squeezed by two macro-trends: The commodification of the PC market, led by Asian manufacturers like Asus, and the transition to a post-PC era, led by Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer). HP is the biggest PC manufacturer in the world, but its position will rapidly decline if it can't adjust its product strategy to combat both trends.
It makes sense that HP shareholders don’t want its low-margin PC business dragging down its high-margin enterprise services business. As for HP’s chances as a standalone PC manufacturer, it’s tough to be a PC maker in a post-PC world. HP’s competition is Apple on the high end, which has justified higher margins based on non-hardware offerings: service (Genius Bar, Apple Store reps), channel (Apple Store), and software (iTunes/App Store). On the other end, all of HP’s competitors, other than Dell, are based in Asia and have very different manufacturing and labor economics. HP has been caught up in a race to the bottom as the PC market has commodified. Now it needs either to become comfortable with commodification or to build out the elements of an ecosystem to enable true competition with Apple.
A reporter just asked me what I thought HP's earnings meant in the context of the post-PC era and I thought I'd share my response:
HP’s drop in PC shipments is not unique in the industry—Acer and other companies have also reported a drop in their recent quarters. And let me say this loud and clear: Tablet cannibalization is only a minor contributor to soft PC sales. The bigger factor is the Windows release cycle—so many consumers bought new PCs when Windows 7 came out, and without a new version of Windows this year, there isn’t the same catalyst to buy. Forrester’s data shows that 34% of US online consumers report having bought a PC in the past 12 months, and an additional 25% bought one 12-24 months ago. Tablet owners are actually more likely than US online consumers in general to have recently bought a PC: 44% in the past 12 months and 28% in the 12 months before that.
Today Apple announced the new version of its iLife software, the new version of its Mac OS ("Lion"), and two new MacBook Air products. (I recommend PC Mag for great live blogging coverage.) I'm seeing five takeaways for product strategists of devices and content:
Software rules. It’s notable that Apple started off its conference talking about software, not hardware. It’s what you can do with the device that matters. Also, software is now officially known as “apps.” Software doesn’t come in boxes anymore, which make initiatives like HP’s new Download Store look outdated already.
Synchronization drives affinity across devices. Apple is smart to launch the App Store for Macs with apps that sync with iPads and iPhones. In doing so, Apple is trying to maximize the value consumers get from buying more than one Apple device. Companies that are trying to figure out how to compete with Apple on tablets should use their strengths in other product categories to drive their tablet strategies forward. RIM is already planning to do this, by creating the PlayBook as a Bluetooth-tethered device to a BlackBerry. Companies like Toshiba, Lenovo, and Sony should do this as well, bundling tablets with PCs (and TVs and game consoles, in Sony’s case) and have content sync across devices.
The next wave of PC design will be inspired by mobile devices. This isn’t just about apps, it’s also about the experience of using the device. Including a solid state storage drive (SSD) in new Macs give the devices the nearly instant-on, long battery life that consumers have come to expect from mobile devices but struggle to get in a PC.