With HP cutting its losses on the Touchpad and PC markets, the “post-PC” era begins with Apple firmly in the lead. The evidence is overwhelming: HP’s exit leaves Apple as the only major consumer PC maker with increasing profitability. Yet even with its leg up on the competition, Apple is shifting away from PCs. Over 70% of its previous quarter’s revenue was wrapped up in iPhones and iPads; it’s fair to expect that percentage to only increase in the future.
However, I disagree that the failures of HP, RIM and other companies in the tablet sphere make a long run Apple victory inevitable. In actuality, the post-PC era is divisible into two eras. The first is a transitional, “tablet as entertainment” era that we’re in now in which Apple clearly dominates. Yet there’s a final, longer term “tablet as PC” era of the future where I doubt a single company will control the market.
Even with the high sales and growing breadth of the iPad, tablets remain a tertiary device. Desktops and notebooks are for heavy computing, powerful smartphones for on the go, and tablets tend to be caught a bit in the middle. They are still used almost entirely as entertainment and consumption devices, the natural evolution of the iPod for present day digital media.
Apple’s late to the party tablet competitors – most notably HP, RIM, and Samsung – have made the mistake of chasing this digital entertainment market head on. Entertainment with a slick UI is Apple’s forte, with its strong iTunes vertical integration and huge ecosystem of iOS developers and apps. Put another way, HP et al mistakingly thought they were entering another smartphone market where several healthy, major competitors (iPhone and Android) can thrive. Instead, with the current tablet entertainment era, they’ve been chasing the iPod market all along. The company that leads first – in this case Apple – dominates its competitors.
While tablets still haven’t advanced to the point where they represent a true PC replacement, for the most part, we’re close. Processors will get faster, parts will get cheaper, and options, from form factors to screen resolutions, will proliferate. At some point in the near future, for the exception of a select power users, almost everyone’s focus will be on mostly smartphones and tablet devices.
At that point, the tablet market should open up significantly: HTML5 web apps will grow as a more commanding force, making reliance on a single platform less important. Business and enterprise users will expect to leverage tablet devices in more ways than a single, mostly consumer-facing company (e.g. Apple) can provide. Large entertainment and shopping portals will deliver targeted, custom experiences that they won’t trust Apple to deliver. Users and businesses will want many more options, and it’s my hope that companies other than Apple will be there to provide it.
That latter future is what Apple’s competitors have to focus on. It’s time to cut losses on the lesser iPad clones of today, and focus creativity and ingenuity on the true post-PC tablet era of tomorrow.