Until recently the only tabs that were habit forming were the ones that came in boxes of twenty. Now several technology companies are betting that their sleek new tablet devices will be just as addictive. Based on the experience of Apple, which sold a million iPads in the first 30 days and is predicted to sell over 21 million more in 2011, the signs appear to be good. The epithet ‘iPad-killer’ has already entered the tech-jargon just as ‘iPhone-killer’ was adopted 3 years ago, as Samsung, Dell, Blackberry and many others launch competing products.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab – predicted to be the device that gives the iPad the best competition is due to launch on 1st November in the UK, presumably with the expectation that it will find itself under the Christmas trees of thousands of (wealthy) digitally savvy early adopters. The Blackberry Playbook (interestingly avoiding the tab/tablet/slate/pad nomenclature) launches just after Christmas, perhaps signalling its focus on the corporate market and more business-orientated users (playbook being US-business speak for strategy).
But, as Geoffrey Moore pointed out in the early 1990’s, getting the early adopters is relatively easy – ensuring that these devices go mainstream is the real challenge. And we’ve been here before. There have been many attempts to produce a portable, multi-functioned device both for business and leisure users. The Palm Pilot created the category of Personal Digital Assistant – but was little more than an electronic diary, Apple itself failed with the Newton, Microsoft launched and then retired a version of Windows for tablet computers and over the last couple of years mobile networks heavily promoted netbooks as the connected device for mobile data and applications. Even smart phones, in the early majority segment now, thanks to the iPhone, took over 10 years to get there!
So what prevented many of these devices ever really becoming mainstream and can the ‘tab’ overcome them? In some cases they were inhibited by the technology itself, but often, and more difficult to overcome, it is the behavioural issues that stunt the uptake of new technologies.
Even in our digital, always-on world much of what we do is still quite segmented. Computers both at home and in the workplace are still mainly for ‘sit-forward’ activities; things that need to be done and need focus. It could be shopping, communicating with friends, homework or research. For ‘sit-back’ relaxation activities we are still more likely to open a book, turn on the TV or plug in an iPod.
Bridging this gap, crossing the chasm between expensive toy and essential tool, between technical capability and personal requirement, is the challenge faced by all of the tablet players. Getting it right requires the perfect combination of price, content, technology, service, utility and marketing. Whether anyone, even Apple, can master this, will determine if the tab becomes habit forming and changes us, or whether it falls by the wayside like so many other techno-addictions.