Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion demonstrated at the Gartner Symposium/IT xpo 2010 in Orlando, Fla., that there is more than one way to slice the tablet market.
Both companies highlighted their tablets, both aimed at the enterprise market, and both tablets are as different from the Apple iPad as they are from each other. Could this mean a fragmentation of the tablet market or, rather, is it simply a market that is too broad for one device to satisfy?
HP is the first out of the gate with an enterprise tablet. The Slate 500 went on sale just after midnight on October 22 on the HP Website. Chris Preimesberger, who examined the device, describes it as being narrower and lighter than the iPad. More significantly, the device runs Windows 7 Professional.
According to HP’s press materials, this tablet is designed as a business machine rather than as a consumer electronics item. This means that it comes with Microsoft Office 2010, as well as a stylus for entering handwritten notes and writing e-mails. The Slate 500 includes a docking station with additional USB ports and a video port, and it sports two cameras–one facing to the front and one to the rear for video conferencing and taking photos. The four-finger multi-touch screen means that you aren’t dependant on the stylus to use the Slate.
What’s less well-known is that tablet computers aren’t new at HP. I used the first one well over a decade ago. In those days, the device was more like a laptop with a detachable screen with the keyboard on the bottom. Enclosed in the screen section were a battery, the hard disk, the WiFi radio, and a socket for holding the electronic stylus. You needed to use the stylus or a USB mouse and keyboard to use the computer. Over the years, HP has updated its line of tablet computers, and the Slate 500 is a logical evolution of that product line.
RIM’s tablet, meanwhile, might be aimed at the enterprise, but it has little in common with the HP Slate. The RIM device is designed to be used in conjunction with a BlackBerry smart phone. Like the HP, the PlayBook has support for WiFi and Bluetooth. Also like the HP, it does not have a 3G or 4G radio. The PlayBook is made to sync with BlackBerry devices, and it’s designed to tether to them for access to high-speed wireless Internet.
RIM claims the PlayBook is also not competing with the Apple iPad for consumer dollars. While about half of all BlackBerrys are sold to consumers, it’s hard to imagine a large number of consumers wanting their tablet tethered to their phone.
When Fragmenting a Big Market Is a Good Thing
For business users, though, it makes more sense. The PlayBook is even smaller and lighter than is the HP model, and it runs QNX as its operating system. RIM hasn’t let anyone get their hands on an example, so we don’t know whether it’s easy to use or not. But, given the competition, it’s hard to believe that the basic operation of the PlayBook won’t be influenced by the iPad.
Also unclear is the effect of the Samsung Galaxy S tablets, which should arrive in a few days. These devices seem to be intended to take on the iPad rather than go the enterprise-tablet route. This should be no surprise given the success of Android devices in their battle for market share over Apple’s iOS devices. Exactly how Android will be implemented on these devices remains unclear. But I think it’s a good bet that if you’ve been using an Android 2.2 phone, you’ll feel comfortable.
With all of this new competition, where are the enterprise tablets headed? In the case of HP, it’s pretty clear. The company has been selling into a specific set of vertical industries for years, and it’s safe to assume that these markets will continue to be served by the Slate 500. The healthcare and insurance industries have used tablets for a long time, for example.
HP’s challenge is to move beyond these vertical markets it already has, and to gain share across the broad enterprise market. With a familiar operating system in Windows 7–as well as with familiar applications–this should be possible, although it remains to be seen whether the Slate 500 will garner the coolness factor necessary to attract those executives for whom form means more than function.
The role of the PlayBook is a little less clear. RIM seems to also be aiming at the healthcare industry, where it would compete with HP. However, it would seem that a more logical market would be senior executives who want something light to carry around, and who also want to appear professional (meaning no iPads) and who have BlackBerry phones. Considering RIM’s considerable depth in the enterprise, this isn’t that much of a stretch.
These new tables probably do contribute some to the fragmentation of the tablet marketplace, which has been a concern of some market analysts. But it’s also the case that this is potentially a very big market. Similar fragmentation in the smart phone market has only made it grow faster and brought innovation at a higher rate than would otherwise have been the case. The same thing could very well happen with tablets.