It has been a long time since 1968, this is when the tablet made its unofficial screen debut in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, depicted as a futuristic, science-fiction-esque device that seemed as likely as flying hover boards or a time travelling Delorean. Tablet computing actually has roots as far back 1888 due to its links to pen computing which is a forefather of the associated operating system that tablets now employ. 1888 was the year that the first patent for electronic tablets was registered, the idea has been around for a long time, it was the implementation that proved to be the stumbling block. Fast forward to 2001 and the tones of science-fiction connected with such a device have now become reality. It was on this year that Bill Gates demonstrated the first public prototype of a tablet PC with the bold statement that “the Tablet is a PC that is virtually without limits — and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.”.
Mr Gates was right in his assertion but the time gauge he estimated was slightly out. The tablet in question ran an operating system Windows XP Tablet PC Edition but like many tablets that followed was destined for the wilderness due to unresolved problems such as the existing devices being too heavy to hold with one hand for any period of time, software and application issues also contributed to the tablet taking a backseat to Desktop Pc’s.
That was until a certain gentleman by the name of Steve Jobs stepped on to a stage on the 27th January 2010.
The dawn of the iPad
Apple had been toying around with the idea of tablets as far back as 1979 when they introduced the Apple Graphics Tablet to accompany the Apple II; it wasn’t until the unveiling of the iPad on that historic day in 2010 that tablets really took off, and how. To say the fictional doors of the tablet world were blown from their hinges would not be an understatement; Apple had steadily been introducing the world to new and innovative products culminating in the introduction of iPods in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. Many thought (including Jobs himself) that due to the tablets history that the ipad was destined to fail, in fact seven years previous to that fateful day Steve Jobs stood with apples latest invention in his hand, he had told Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal. “It turns out people want keyboards . . . We look at the tablet and we think it is going to fail,”
What transpired was that Apple were preparing for war with the android market by creating a unique set of products that were streets ahead of the competition and created a prestigious brand category that they were to enjoy for some time to come. Jobs recognised that Google had adopted an ‘android everywhere’ approach much like Microsoft had in the 1980’s, indeed Apple executives worried that Jobs was falling into the same pitfalls he had back then by insisting the Apple system was rigid, the opposite of which that was a strength in the android platforms armoury. In fact Jobs made Apple even more rigid ensuring them originality and uniqueness that would prove to be a masterstroke, it is part of folklore in Silicon Valley how Jobs had Apple products designed with special screws so that a typical screwdriver wouldn’t open the device like they could with the android.
This may seem like a small detail but this fact resonated around silicon valley and it seemed like a major risk at the time but the masterstroke that it turned out to be concentrated on the fact that more people may own android phones than IPhones but the very same people who owned IPhones would also own IPads, IPod touches and a plethora of other Apple products that all ran the same software. Apple had already stolen a march on the android community with the cornering of the music industry and the successful integration of its app store, android on the other hand were in the infantile stages in terms of their app store, a fact Jobs and Apple played upon. It was a bold, ambitious, and gutsy gamble, that could have went very wrong but ultimately paid off in a very handsome manner.
The iPad sold 300,000 units on its first day of sale, by the end of 2010 that figure had risen to 15 million units sold; the proof was in the pudding so to speak. By October 2013 the iPad has sold over 170 million units, an unequivocal success but the story doesn’t end here, in fact it is only just the beginning.
The rise of the competition
It would be fair to say that the android market has always been Apple’s main antagonists and none more so than Samsung, the South Korean multi-national has been making steady inroads to Apple’s domination of the smartphone market and they are now determined that their tablet sales will follow suit. Global tablet sales grew 37 percent to 47.6 million units in the third quarter of this year. But the big story is that Apple grew only .6 percent, year over year, while Samsung more than doubled its Q3 unit sales from 4.3 million in 2012 to 9.7 million in 2013, for a 123% growth rate.
This makes for alarming reading for Apple but all may not be lost yet, Apple have had to pivot to suit the opposition by releasing multiple tablet devices at cheaper prices, a strategy up until now employed only by the android community. Samsung executive Shin Jong-kyun addressed a group of analysts earlier this week with the rather bold statement that their tablet business was expanding rapidly, and they expected to become the largest supplier of tablet devices in the world. Lofty expectations by Samsung but speaking as someone who has witnessed a change in attitude towards the Apple/android market and the fact that Samsung actually supply Apple with chipsets then it is perhaps one that is not too far from the truth.
Apple’s star has been waning; of that there is no doubt, there are now more competitors than ever before, androids strategy of saturating the marketplace with cheaper alternatives to Apple’s traditionally more expensive devices is all contributing towards a shift in the marketplace. One would be foolish to assume that this is the end of the story though, Apple historically have trumped the opposition with better ideas and creative ways of implementing ideas that most would have thought have reached their zenith.
Only time will tell if they can do so again, one thing is for sure, Apple, like in the 80’s with Microsoft and more recently with Google have a war on their hands. In order to keep hold of their lofty elevation they may require their already devoted fans allied with new, inspirational creations to enable them to gain some more followers. Only then will they know will they be able to hold onto their vantage point and who knows? We may even get a hover board and a time travelling Delorean out of it…..