The tablet war has been waging for the past two years or so now and things still haven’t changed much. Apple remains number one as far as tablet sales go. Two iPad models have come out and at last count, they account for roughly 80 percent of all tablets sold around the world. In the meantime, the rest of the manufacturers have spent tons of money on research and marketing to try and topple the iPad from its throne. How could one product dominate so much? With the kind of human talent in each of these companies, couldn’t they conjure up something more successful? Here’s my rant or my to-do list for tablet manufacturers.
Price your tablet sensibly
Be well aware of the market - more people continue to buy or at least, want to buy iPads more than any other tablet. If you have a product that can’t compete, for whatever reason, you have to price it aggressively. With the iPad 2 selling for just under Rs. 30,000, a sub-Rs. 25,000 price tag is more sensible for a competitor, unless of course, it’s much better than the iPad by quite a bit.
Plenty of colours for an innovative case
Focus on the feel and aesthetics
This might not be the most important part, but lighter isn’t always better. Most people use tablets while travelling, while sitting on a chair or lying in bed. There’re few people holding iPads in their hands while travelling in a crowded train trying to send an e-mail. It’s fine for a tablet to be a tad heavy but make it feel right. iPads have always had a smooth yet solid feel to them. They may not withstand a drop, but they feel like expensive, exotic products. Loose panels, flimsy bezels, plastics in tablets have to go - bring in some metal!
The problem with tablets these days is that they are all based on Android and the only difference between many competing devices is hardware - specifically, the screen quality, the processor and a few other aspects. Why can’t manufacturers at least make an effort to be unique? A half-baked Android theme doesn’t count. The product needs to have an identity - being just a tablet manufacturer who's made an Android tablet isn’t going to cut it. Being known as a brand that makes tablets that are almost identical to five other brands isn’t going to make you popular either.
Try to build an ecosystem around your device
People buy tablets and people like to install a whole bunch of apps on them. Make your own app store, filter out poor quality apps, bring in app development houses to make customized apps for your tablet. Offer users a great experience with the product. Don’t wait on Google for the next big Android update to bring in features. Let the next big Android update arrive, but add more to it yourselves. Samsung might be headed the right way with the hiring of the CyanogenMod (the most popular Android mod) lead developer, Steve Kondik.
Offer better performance, by optimising
Don’t try and sell your tablet by just plugging in more memory and fast processors with more cores on them. Better resource management can go a long way too. Get developers to develop apps specially tweaked for your tablet.
Stop trying to make a computer replacement
The tablet isn’t going to replace your desktop computer, so stop trying to make that your selling point. The iPad is primarily a media consumption device, not a desktop replacement. Adding keyboards and docking stations on your tablet isn't going to make it a better tablet. You're basically making your tablet a laptop. Additionally, why would customers want to replace their desktops with tablets? If your aim isn’t to beat the iPad but to beat a notebook, by all means, go ahead. Apps on tablets aren’t designed to replace extensive productivity suites on the desktop PC.
Smoothest multitouch yet
Bug test your products thoroughly
Don’t release untested tablets with bug ridden software. Once launched, do whatever it takes to get rid of all these bugs. Most customers lose their patience in a couple of weeks when things don’t function as they are supposed to - promises and assurances aren’t met.
Make one product, make it better
Manufacturers come up with drastically different products under different series names every few months. This keeps diluting the product. Manufacturers need to have more finesse and focus a little less on marketing and fooling the customer. Overcomplicating things by offering a large variety of options to the customer and newly branded models every 6 months doesn’t help.
Build your own platform
Developing a brand new operating system from scratch is not easy and it’s probably the riskiest thing to do. HP couldn’t leverage WebOS, which they bought from Palm. A few months on, we saw the fall of their TouchPad tablets. A new platform however, means that it can be tailor made for your devices, instead of provisions being made for hundreds of prospective products across manufacturers in the future. It’s a long process but you could end up making a very efficient platform - more than the ones available today. Most importantly, you have complete control over the kind of experience you want your customer to have. A lot of the experience comes from the software side of things and not the hardware. If things go as planned, you have the freedom to make the changes you need to. Of course, you could go off on a completely different tangent and make a tablet that supports a bunch of operating systems such as Windows, Android, MeeGo, etc.
Of all the products that have been launched over the years, Amazon’s Kindle Fire might have the best shot of getting close to the Apple iPad. Amazon has the necessary platform to sell apps, books and all kinds of media - the ecosystem we’ve been looking for and a very sweet price. Whether or not it eats a part of the Apple pie is to be seen.