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Post PC Era

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Perhaps a lot of skeptics saw this coming but I for one did not anticipate that HP would capitulate so soon in the tablet space. Perhaps my affection for the elegantly designed WebOS clouded my judgment. Clearly HP’s management team and board believes they don’t have what it takes to compete in this space and decided to cut their losses. I am big believer in experimenting and failing fast but that has to be balanced with the knowledge that in certain businesses it makes strategic sense to persist and wade through the troughs. In my opinion, the potential size of the tablet-market is one such business. It takes time and patience to build an ecosystem. It doesn’t happen overnight. WebOS had the potential to blossom into an appealing app development platform for developers. It needed the right kind of nurturing and perseverance from its custodians. As Dieter Bohn put it, WebOS was the little OS that could have. Alas, HP couldn’t provide WebOS what it needed.

On a related note, here is a Steve Jobs quote from an article in today’s Chronicle where Steve is talking about what the other tablet manufacturers are doing. He nails it. Consumers, especially the mass-market that is interested in tablets doesn’t care a hoot about cpu speed or any other raw hardware characteristics that manufacturers routinely harp about in their campaigns. Their positioning couldn’t be more wrong.

“A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC,” Jobs was quoted as saying at the unveiling of the iPad 2 in March. “The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

“And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.”

So if seamless and intuitive experiences are what its all about then vertically integrated manufacturers like Apple stand a better chance of getting it right. Of course there is an element of Steve talking up his own book but nonetheless there is truth to that. However, that’s not the whole story. If that was the case you would expect HP to have had more success with its TouchPads. As HP acknowledged in their announcement one of the reasons HP backed out of this market was their inability to grow the app ecosystem around WebOS. Another persistent problem that HP (and before that Palm) had was their uninspiring and frankly  sometimes poorly designed hardware. Yes, the battle fronts are mostly on the software side these days but you have to complement the software with at least reasonably spiffy if not inspired hardware.

So broadly speaking those that wish to compete in the tablet space need to think about the challenges

  • Intuitive user interfaces and seamless integration of hardware and software that results in great user experiences. Trickiest to get this one right. Requires a wide range of skills and ability to fuse insights from multiple disciplines.
  • Robust application ecosystem that can attract large swaths of developers. This is an increasingly difficult task as there are only so many platforms that individual developers can give their attention to. They are going to prioritize platforms that provide the biggest market exposure and those that support them with the best tools.
  • Large IP arsenal to defend yourself in the all-out IP wars that are only going to get even more nasty as the stakes go up.
  • Ability to leverage investment in adjacent sectors (mobiles, netbooks, laptops) to gain an edge in the tablet space.

At this point, Apple is best positioned on almost all these fronts followed by the Android vendors. Microsoft/Nokia and RIM have been thrown a lifeline with HP’s exit. Hope they make the best use of this opportunity because as a consumer I like robust competition. Monopolies and duopolies are not in the best interest of consumers and will inhibit innovation and choice.







Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 19, 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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