When the first iPad was launched in 2010, many saw it as a bridge between small-screen smartphones and big, chunky laptops. But it leapfrogged to be a companion on the move. Though the apps in it allowed you to do much more than just watch videos and browse, it ended up being a content consumption device. Many also missed the tactile feel that they used to get while using a physical keyboard.
However, since then the accessory ecosystem has proliferated like never before. Besides Apple, Dell and HP too have introduced accessories that go well with their respective tablets. According to Vineet Durani, Director, Windows Business, Microsoft Corporation India, in addition to touch and keyboard, two other user interfaces - voice and digital inking - together will make for a great utility device.
Indrajit Belgundi, Director and General Manager (end-user computing), Dell India, says the effort now is to deliver a seamless computing experience with added accessories and services for tablets. "For instance, the Dell Cast is a device that allows users to convert their tablet into a full-fledged desktop by projecting the tablet view on to a larger screen and simultaneously allowing mouse and keyboard connectivity," he says.
Among the many things that lead one to buy a particular mobile device, the most important one is the usage needs. Do you want just a media consumption device or do you plan to use it as a content creation device too? The answer often lay somewhere in the middle and this apparently led to the birth of two-in-one tablets and hybrids. The increasing adoption of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in workplaces has spurred this trend.
While the detachable keyboards with tablets were novel, the additional cost seems to have impeded its widespread use. Another big reason why tablets initially failed to click as a productivity gadget was the lack of office apps. Though there were apps like Quick Office, Documents To Go and so on, most users were used to MS Office suit.
Now with Microsoft making Office apps free for iOS devices, Apple users are able to create documents, not just view them. "With over a billion MS Office customers worldwide and over 40 million downloads on iPad, it is clear that Office applications are what people want to use to get things done," John Case, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft, had said.
HYBRIDS AND CONVERTIBLES
Microsoft meanwhile is betting big on its Windows-based 2-in-1 tablets. Names of about 10 such tablets are being discussed; some have hit the market while some have been announced. Tablets from vendors such as Notion Ink, Sakri, Datamini and iBall are aggressively priced between Rs 20,000 and Rs 22,000. All of them will have 10.1-inch display, Intel processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage and Windows 8.1 Basic as OS. A better configuration would definitely jack up the price too.
According to Ketan Patel, Director, Computing Category, Printing and Personal Systems Group, Hewlett-Packard India, the sudden influx in this category is due to the fact that "a convertible notebook enables the user to work on specific applications that require the productivity of a notebook and the flexibility to work on the go". Even though the current trend is hybrids and convertibles, it would be too early to say that if it is the future. The size of display will play a key role. With five and six-inch displays becoming standard in smartphones, the seven-inch tablets have lost their appeal.
Rumours are that Apple may discontinue the iPad Mini because iPhone 6 Plus, with its 5.5-inch display, is in huge demand. "The hero products for most stores today are the 8-inch tablets. When tablets are being used for longer hours, why should the screen size be limited to seven to eight inches?" asks Sandeep Aurora, Director, Marketing, Intel South Asia. This could be a reason why Apple is reported to have been working on a 12-inch iPad Pro. Samsung has already launched its 12.2-inch Galaxy Tab Pro.
SALES PICKING UP
While the idea of productivity would vary from user to user, for many a tablet is the first screen to access the Internet. Students use tablets to read and browse. In a typical household, a tablet is used by both adults and kids.
Perhaps this is a reason Lenovo Indias 8-inch Yoga Tablet 2 comes with a read mode and a stand mode. "The 13-inch Yoga tablet comes with a projector. All this not just makes the tablet an entertainment device but also brings productivity to these devices," says Rohit Midha, Director, Tablet Business Unit, Lenovo India.
In a bid to make tablets a content creation device, original equipment makers are now adding more apps to enhance tablet utility. For instance, HP has some good printing services and print-based apps in its tablets. Another challenge in the growth of tablets has been its limited capacity of storage, processor and RAM compared to a desktop. While many companies are working towards an internal storage of 128GB, some of them have equipped the tablets with USB ports that can be used to plug into external storage devices. Processors too have grown with the latest iPad Air 2 and Google Nexus 9 running on 64-bit architecture chipset. Same with RAM too.
But in the last few years, the average selling price point of a tablet in India has seen a drastic dip. "In the first three years since 2010, tablets came in the range of $50 to $700. Majority of the retail end users were buying tablets that cost $50 to $100. A majority of these tablets sold had return rates close to 30 per cent to 40 per cent and subsequently got shunned out," says Kumar of IDC.
He says the market share of tablets might shrink if PCs become more affordable. "It is always a decision a consumer will make. So is anyone buying a Rs 60,000 tablet? Some people are. So everyone knows that there are enough people buying enough devices. You just need to give them choice," says Aurora of Intel.