For me it was interesting -- and sad -- to see the RIM Playbook slide in market because I was one of the folks that argued that a product like it could be very successful about five years ago. Back then, Palm was toying with a similar idea called the Folio which wedded the then Palm Treo with a dedicated notebook like computer. In both cases the successful product would be the best accessory for a Blackberry, in the case of a Playbook, and a Palm Treo in the case of a Folio. The unsuccessful approach would be to position either against a standalone offering like an iPad or Notebook computer. To work, they had to be seen as something uniquely beneficial to someone who already had a Blackberry or Treo but, unfortunately, both products were positioned badly and the Playbook has initially failed and the Folio never even made it to market.
The most recent attempt to create a device in this class was the Motorola Atrix and it didn’t do very well either. In all cases, when you come up with something very different in the market there is a huge marketing requirement because you have to introduce the new gadget and convince folks they want to use it. If that gadget looks like, but is very different from, products already in market like iPads and notebook computers, that requirement goes up exponentially. What I’m saying is that while each vendor did create an interesting product that could have been successful eventually, none of them funded their creation to success.
So let’s talk about this class of product and why, particularly with the prices falling on the Playbook, you might eventually want one.
Cost and Usability Benefits
At the core of these concepts are both financial and user interface benefits. What no one marketed well is that they provide the benefits of a 3G or 4G laptop in terms of connectivity without the cost of an additional data plan. These things are a smartphone accessory and function as part of the phone which should allow them to live under your existing smartphone data plan, saving you something like $20 to $60 a month, depending on your plan, while providing more capability than the smartphone alone would have by virtue of the larger screen and larger keyboard.
The usage model is not one where you replace your laptop but one where you are using your phone, find the screen or keyboard inadequate, pull out the accessory and continue to work without losing state. You see with a notebook or typical tablet if you find yourself in the same situation you’d have to find where you were before proceeding because these products aren’t linked to your smartphone. While they may not be as capable initially as a laptop or full tablet they are far faster on the draw and for someone who lives on their smartphone they might be the preferable choice.
This means that these products appeal to a unique user, one where time is of the essence and who likely lives on email and the web but isn’t a power notebook user as they are unlikely to carry both devices. By the way, this does suggest that an app that fully syncs state in email, web, and maybe one or two other productivity apps could be very valuable to this class of customer as well and provide a way to get to this benefit from a more traditional tablet or laptop.
Wrapping Up and Going Forward
Now as with advanced ARM processors this year from companies like NVIDIA and Qualcomm the capabilities of products in this class, and tablets in general, will likely become more pronounced. The end result is that eventually I expect more products to try to address this heavy integration between a smartphone and something with a larger screen.
In the end, I still think that a blending of the devices in inevitable because a more seamless experience between them appears compelling. However, as the problems with this class showcase, it won’t be just about who comes up with the best solution, but who is willing to do the required marketing to convince us we want something different.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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