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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Rise of Tablets brings Human Factors Design into Sharp Focus

Microsoft’s recent announcement regarding their intention to compete with iPads and other Android based devices signals a fast acceptance of tablets becoming popular with individual and business users alike. Microsoft is not new to this market having made their first tablet/slate PC related announcements almost ten years ago when Bill Gates was still at the helm. However, over that time period, Microsoft was not able to convince PC OEMs to develop these new form factors (Fujitsu and Toshiba being the exception). Major US OEMs like HP only made a half hearted attempt to develop these new devices. The reason – Microsoft tried to push the same Windows OS on to different form factors thereby offering no additional incentive to buyers to adopt tablets. Most technology pundits have focused on the fact that Microsoft is late to market with these devices and that their stranglehold on the computing market is at risk because they risk losing consumers and ISVs to alternative operating systems such as iOS and Android. This is true and well discussed so I won’t rehash that topic in this post.

What Microsoft failed to recognize was that the tablet user experience is fundamentally different than a traditional PC. It’s not just about consuming media on a different device but rather how a user interacts with different types of software. When user interaction shifts to a different paradigm – in this case Touch /Multi-touch, the entire user experience changes. That demands a complete re-thinking of user interface design so as to make the interaction efficient and productive. I believe this to be THE key impact of tablets on personal computing. The reason iPads and Androids are succeeding is because the applications running on these devices have been written from the ground up to take this issue into consideration. I believe the growth of touch devices will challenge the long held beliefs of usability but more importantly will force ISVs to think radically about informationinput paradigms that have existed for centuries. Consider a simple task of entering data into a spreadsheet cell. Currently, the norm is to pop up a full keyboard for entering data which takes away screen real estate; this is not optimal particularly on a small device. Similarly, commonly used applications that involve form filling also fail to adequately address input and interaction issues today. For ISVs, their next generation of products will have to find a competitive edge in ease of use which I believe will take on more importance among individuals when buying products and software solutions.

Abhijeet Rane
Techaisle

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Small Business - I Want My Netbook!

We at Techaisle just completed a large 10 country survey of SMBs. I will showcase interesting data from that study from time to time. One of the key things the data reveals is that small businesses are very likely to drive Netbook sales in the coming months. There are two things that the data reveals

1. SBs in emerging markets are particularly interested in acquiring netbooks

2. SBs with > 20 employees show higher purchase intent than smaller SBs

The last point is particularly interesting because while the Netbook was conceived as a low cost consumer device, it is being rapidly adopted by businesses. This has several implications

- There is significant latent demand for a low cost ultra-mobile device in business markets

- The lines between "consumer" and "business" devices in the mobile computing world are clearly blurred. Thank the Blackberrys and the iPhones for that. Any distinction now is typically propagated by device manufacturers to avoid potential cannibalization of existing products

- Computing is no longer defined solely by "Intel/AMD + Microsoft + Google". While these players remain dominant, there is a lot of entropy in this eco-system now. nVidia is spreading its wings with the Tegra chips for mobile devices and GPU based processing (already available in the MacBook Air).

While a lot of applications on these new devices will likely be purely consumer oriented, there is no doubt that the creativity of software developers will lead to interesting applications for the business world as well. For example, Tegra chips deliver 1080P HD video - a boon for consumer devices but no doubt business users could use it for HD videoconferencing and other applications.

For small businesses it will invariably mean more choices for computing on the go. Ultimately though the decision to use one device over another depends upon the applications available once the initial excitement and hype of a new user experience has waned. So while these devices will be battlegrounds, the defining battles will largely be between software companies.

More information about the survey can be found here

Abhijeet Rane

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Will Netbooks Get Squeezed Out?

Qualcomm and Freescale today amnounced plans to launch "Smartbooks" - a family of internet connected devices. The name is an obvious attempt to distance themselves from the Netbook category. So what are smartbooks? The primary function is to connect to the internet. The cost Qualcomm claims will be lower than Netbooks. The battery life will be longer. They will run a Linux based OS as opposed to Windows XP or Windows 7.

But is there really a market for all these devices? or are vendors segmenting the market so finely that each segment is a mere sliver? Let us consider the full spectrum of mobile devices today from smartphones to notebooks.

mobile computingAs shown in the chart, the space in the lower left quadrant copmprising of smartphones, smartbooks and netbooks is a key competitive battleground with potentially Netbooks getting squeezed. while both smartphones and netbooks exposed a latent need for lighweight mobile computing devices, how that space consolidates is too early to tell.

One things is clear though - the traditional business computing space is not likely to be cannibalized by these devices for two reasons

1. These devices will likely be used in addition to traditional notebooks. Further these devices (netbooks excepted) will not be running Windows which is a major problem for business adoption

2. The impending release of ULVs or ultra low voltage processors will lead to lighter business PCs running industry standard OSs (Windows)

Fighting for a slice or a sliver?

Whether or not these devices will succeed depends largely on the appetite for consumers and businesses to adopt multiple devices. Given the overlap in functionality buyers will be hard pressed to make choices about which device suits them the best. Currently smartphones and netbooks have the greatest momentum. At techaisle we believe that smartphones will win. The scenario where a smartphone such as an iPhone or an Android based phone get paired with a large screen and a keyboard is an intriguing one and could well destroy the opportunity for other types of devices. Even if that doesn't happen, the market appears poised to fragment as more devices appear. While that may increase the size of the pie, vendors could be left fighting for slivers rather than slices.

Abhijeet Rane

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The Long Tail of iPhone Apps

The folks over at gigaom have written a nice analysis of the iPhone market. you can read that here. It would appear that the success metric for any platform these days is the length of the "app tail" and Apple is growing its tale much like the mythical Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Legend has it that the evil king Ravana set his tail on fire. He exacted his revenge by growing his tail winding it through the city of Lanka and burning it to the ground. In a sense, that is exactly what Apple is doing (minus the revenge bit). Apple took an approach that worked for it in the music buisiness and replicated it for the iPone. Why have they succeeded when others have (in relative terms) failed?

Think Different!

That tag line from the late 80s early 90s is very much alive in Cupertino. That drove their willingness to break the stranglehold of phone companies who for years took the walled garden approach to mobile applications. That undeniably marxist approach ultimately limited the market. The rationale was - everyone's doing it. Thats the point. That strategy ignored what consumers wanted. No different from the music business

Wow Everybody!

The use of technologies such as multi-touch and accelerometers made it compelling enough for at least one phone company to take notice. To their credit, AT&T smartly tore down their own walled garden (in a sense) and made the deal with Apple, gaining exclusivity in return. They got a device no one had seen before. Consumers got excited by the new capabilities, developers found a new creative outlet. An eco-system was born.

Stabilize the Universe

The creation of the iPhone was akin to the big bang. From it spun out a billion planets (apps) but the real work begins now. For life to be sustained, the universe needs to be stabilized. Microsoft knows a lot about this incidentally having very ably stabilized the desktop and server app universe over the past 3 decades. The mobile world is not forgiving enough to give Apple that kind of time, but stabilize it they must for this is the most profitable period of market exapnsion for them. As long as they keep coming out with good devices they will remain the center of the mobile app world.

Repeat until failure

At some point Apple will falter on one of its strategies. Its going to happen. Until then they will keep repeating this formula making just enough changes to fit the opportunity at hand.
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