Tablet Computers: Frivolous Consumer Toy or Serious Business PC?

As the impending wide release of Apple’s iPad draws near, tech and marketing pundit (and guest blogger) Patrick Kearns weighs in on product positioning in the burgeoning tablet computer market.

By Patrick Kearns

Last month saw renewed interest in tablet systems, with major announcements from both Apple and Hewlett-Packard (HP).  Both tablet systems, the Apple iPad and HP EliteBook 2740p Tablet PC, are interesting for their contrasting view of this brave new market segment.

The Apple view is that tablets are a consumer product.  The Apple iPad is architecturally a member of the iPhone family and runs all iPhone applications.  Targeted at individual consumers with a $499 starting price and 1 ½ lbs, weight, the iPad design is clearly a personal device.
The Apple goal for iPad is the expansion of the Apple iPhone ecosystem, and iTunes store downloads, for entertainment media anytime and anywhere.

The HP view is that tablets are an extension of the business notebook PC.  Its Elitebook 2740p Tablet PC includes all the bells and whistles of existing HP notebook PCs, including a bulky corporate product name.  Targeted mostly at mobile professionals with a $1599 starting price and 3.8 lbs weight, the HP Elitebook 2740p Tablet PC is focused on being a full business PC.  The HP goal is to make field data entry easier, replacing paper forms with e-forms.  Think sales people filling out business forms and nurses entering medical data.  Think data entry that ties in nicely with HP databases, servers and cloud services.

The real question for both vendors is will their developer communities create applications for the new tablet devices?  Without applications, both devices are just expensive paperweights of the latest technology.

Apple has successfully created a large enthusiastic developer community for the iPhone.  Will iPhone developers add support for the iiPad’s larger screen size? If not, iPhone apps running on the iPad will look pixilated and cheap.  Consumers do not like cheap when it comes to experiences.

The developer community for PC business applications is also large and well established.  Will HP be able to convince business application developers to support the new Windows touchscreen interface?  Business hates to pay for unnecessary system features.

In the end users buy systems to run applications.   Users now await compelling apps from developers.   Both Apple and HP await the verdict of the marketplace.

Patrick can be reached through his consulting company – Beachwalker Research.

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