The next tablet up, the Motorola Xoom, appears to have been torpedoed by someone inside of Motorola who overpriced the product and copied the wrong Apple Super Bowl Ad. (The ad they should have copied was 1984, the best in Super Bowls history. The ad they did copy was Lemmings, one of the worst).
There hasnt been much buzz around the RIM tablet and the HP/Palm offering isnt exactly setting the world on fire. This leaves Steve Jobs (wherever he is), with something clearly to smile about. Only Dell and Microsoft could give him any trouble at all.
Because the Dell/Windows Tablet announced this week at their mega-product launch is targeted not at Apples strengths (consumer applications and entertainment) but at its business weaknesses, this could be an interesting challenger. Lets explore this in the context of Dells recent launch.
Business Tablet MarketThe business tablet market largely exists in a small number of verticals and mostly forms-based segments. It is a paper eliminator and has many of the core attributes that the eBook market does in terms of being very focused on doing forms well, just as eBooks are very focused on books.
The segments that like this product tend to be healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, and government. But forms are a common problem in most big businesses and you could expect the product to move in more limited numbers in other segments like pharmaceuticals and even, with the right hardened product, in military and farming.
While they clearly wouldnt have the mass market potential of a consumer-based offering, a product that better met the needs of these businesses could limit the iPads growth in business. It could provide a beachhead from which to take the fight back to Apple once the Windows 8 platform which is expected to be vastly more competitive to the iPad becomes available in late 2012 or 2013.
The Windows Dell CombinationAs Dell demonstrated with their business-focused PCs this week, Dell gets what businesses want and is ahead of the curve with regard to the Consumerization of IT. For instance on their portable workstation products they not only provided lighted keyboards, which are common on gaming PCs for low light work (engineers often find themselves working at night in low light in some areas), but also multi-touch screens so that the creations can be more easily manipulated.
On their Latitude business notebooks they have moved to heavy metal finishes with eye-pleasing lines, the lighted keyboard options again, and put a lot of work into improving wireless performance to address the needs of users while improving on the manageability, reliability, and value of the products to keep IT happy.
On the desktop, rather than doing a business me-too all-in-one, Dell did a modular offering. This provides the space savings the user wants with the configuration flexibility and ease of upgrade/service that IT needs. Granted this last isnt as visually appealing but desktop computers, unlike laptops, remain mostly in ITs decision space and this product showcases that.
It is believed that Apple, who doesnt really speak to business, will increasingly have trouble understanding the needs of business buyers, particularly in vertical markets they are not expert in. That provides an opportunity to sell effectively against a company that entered this year appearing unbeatable and seems to be blessed by competitors who, in their efforts to create iPad-like products, are serially failing.
Apple, because they own this initiative much like they did the iPod, will always win that game. The only way to beat them is to flank them with a product they have to chase. A Windows Tablet, if it can be done right, therefore has more potential, at least for business buyers.
Wrapping Up: Beating AppleIn the 1990s a series of companies, including Apple, tried to beat Microsoft by being a better Microsoft. Companies from Oracle to Netscape all largely failed, some so badly they no longer exist.
Apple won by looking at Sony and realizing that Sony was a great idea poorly executed. Rather than focusing on Microsoft, Apple became what Sony could have been. The way to beat Apple is not to be a better Apple but to find something that favors the unique advantages you have.
Dell is no Apple. Dells strengths lie in their connections to businesses and their ability to partner with Microsoft. If they are to be successful that is their path and while this doesnt assure success, the path Dell is on certainly looks better than some others we have seen of late.
One final thought: I just cant get over the Motorola mistake, after 30 years of contrasting the two Apple Super Bowl ads, they picked the wrong one to emulate. I continue to wonder if some of the people working at Apples competitors also are getting secret payments from Apple. Folks just cant be this stupid, can they?