How to beat the iPad - A Primer

By Rob Enderle April 12, 2011

How to beat the iPad – A Primer

Strangely enough the question of how to beat the iPad is one I’m increasingly being asked this week. This is since none of the competing vendors, despite a questionable Gartner report suggesting Google will own nearly 50% if the tablet market in 2015, have had much in the way of significant sales yet. By the way, it is interesting that this forecast doesn’t show the Chrome OS, Google’s favored tablet OS, or Windows 8 at all and it is hard to believe that neither will be material. But enough on silly numbers there is a way to beat any product and I think we should step away from iPad envy to talk about how you’d do it. Ironically several of these examples come from Steve Jobs (who has a new book coming out). 

Let’s explore some of the strategies.

Go After the Edges

Any general product is vulnerable in targeted markets to targeted products. For instance, the military market typically requires a product that meets military specifications, the medical market has its own set of specifications they prefer, and business markets require unique services and pricing, individually each of these markets is smaller than the general market the iPad is going after but collectively they could easily make up the majority if you went after enough of them. 

You can even target individual user’s needs, for instance some users likely want more panoramic screens and better speakers for movies; others want outdoor viewable screens because they like to read more or just be outside more (the iPad, and everything with a glossy screen is just pathetic outside); most of those that have kids probably want something that is more robust; and I’ll bet there are a lot of folks that would prefer something just a bit smaller for a purse or pocket.   

But the key is to better target a specific use case and come up with a product that better meets the unique needs of a particular customer than a general product like the iPad does.

Develop a Line of Products

Apple showcased this with the iPod, which was vulnerable to a line attack.   The funny thing was, only Apple came out with a full line of products ranging from the Shuffle to the iPod Touch and Classic and thus kept the customers that they might have otherwise lost.   Apple hit a variety of price points and even introduced colors in some lines addressing the reality that one size does not fit all and allowing for some differentiation between users. Had someone else done this successfully first, Apple likely would be looking at far less market share. The iPad is where the iPod was in a one-size-fits-all world and that makes it vulnerable to a line attack particularly if there are choices in finishes and configurations so the buyer can feel the result is uniquely theirs.  

The Ford Model T, which was the iPad of its day, was eventually eclipsed by a choice of cars from a variety of manufacturers.   Apple likely will eventually have a line, if someone can get there first with a strong line of products, Apple should be vulnerable.   Point is “strong line” a weak line of products will just incur more costs when they don’t sell.

Get Where Apple is Going First

The iPod led to the iPhone which led to the iPad and the iPad won’t be the end of this evolution. Apple appears to be planning to take the iOS to laptops and the result will be a powerful line of products ranging from the iPod touch to the iMac and MacBook which may be much more daunting to fight.   So get there first.   The next iteration of the iPad does look to be a more expensive notebook-like product with a touch screen.    If they put iOS on a notebook will they really leave touch out?  

The attach rate on wireless keyboards to the iPad is estimated to be above 30% initially and may be as high as 70% over the life of the product suggesting at least the possibility that a very thin laptop-like product with a touchscreen and 10 hours of battery life would be the natural next step for the iPad.   But whatever that next step is, get there first and provide an incentive for people to graduate up from their iPads before Apple does it first.  

Create a Unique Bundle that Leverages another Success

Vizio showcased this idea at CES when they demonstrated a Smartphone app for their coming Android-based Smartphone that turned the phone into a great remote control.   Vizio is fast becoming the volume leader in the US for flat screen TVs and if they can connect their phone to the success of those TVs they could leapfrog nicely towards to the top of the Android-based phone class.    Panasonic is currently using the iPad for their latest receivers as a super remote control but they could have used the receiver to help sell their own tablets.  

How about a partnership with Ford or Porsche? Hyundai actually bundles an iPad with their high end cars and puts the car manual on the device.   Why not cut a deal for a co-branded product with a major car manufacturer?   There have been Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Hummer notebooks that have sold very well and this could work especially well for the less expensive tablet class.    Hell, I might even buy a Viper tablet even though I don’t own a Viper because it would just be cool.  

Co-Branding

This takes us to co-branding. You can work with schools, military organizations, large clubs, and celebrities to create unique products.   Many of the celebrities will allow their name to be used for a price and/or a large donation to their favorite charity like Project Red or Susan B. Komen. Can you imagine how many Oprah tablets or Lady Gaga tablets might sell if they were cool and actively endorsed by the related celebrity? 

Apple doesn’t share brands and Steve Jobs killed all the Apple charitable efforts early last decade and never reinstated them.   This provides an opportunity to do things that Apple may be unwilling to do and gain share, and in some cases do a lot of good, by doing it.  

Wrapping Up: Don’t Just Copy Apple

One of the biggest issues I have with most of the Android based products is they seem like cheap copies of the iPad and many of them are more expensive and incomplete (leading me to wonder if the folks making them are on Apple’s payroll or simply idiots).   That is the Yugo approach to taking market share and while most of these products are better than the Yugo was they aren’t selling well.   The way to beat the iPad is to go where it isn’t, to contest when it moves to take out one of your existing products (like a PC), and to partner to move on Apple’s weaknesses.  

I know what doesn’t work and that is trying to be a better iPad than the iPad because no large vendor, with the possible exception of Sony (TVs, Xbox), is dumb enough to let a competitor catch them from behind.   Even between Apple and Microsoft, Apple had no chance to catch Windows with the Mac, they are catching it with the iPad though and that is by being where Microsoft isn’t.   To beat the iPad the competing vendor has to flank Apple and go where they aren’t. 


Erik Linask is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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