Thursday, 24 October 2013

There will be no iPad killer

    This week brought the news that Nokia have launched their long-rumoured tablet running Windows RT. Despite their woes of the last few years when it came to understanding what their consumers wanted, when Nokia get their act together they are still capable of making some of the best hardware there is. It's by all accounts  a decent effort, and the word is if you want an RT tablet it's the one to get.
    The trouble is, it wasn't long while reading about the new Nokia that I read the dreaded phrase "iPad killer". And it looks as if Nokia and Microsoft themselves believe that description because they've priced it in iPad territory, at just under 500 quid with a keyboard.
    I can't remember when I first heard a device described as an iPad killer. Probably not long after the iPad came out. Just for fun I tried to remember a few of the devices once described as iPad killers. Here they are, just a few of many.

  • HP WebPad
  • Motorola Xoom
  • BlackBerry PlayBook
  • Toshiba Thrive
  • Sony S1
  • Microsoft Surface RT
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab (the original one)
    All of these were launched with a fanfare and priced against the Apple product, yet with the possible exception of the Samsung flopped and sank without trace. The BlackBerry and the HP were both particularly nice devices, yet they both ended up being sold at fire-sale prices. The HP famously flopped so badly that HP dumped WebOS overnight and pulled out of the tablet business. Evidently being an iPad killer is a tough business.
    Here's the thing. Despite what the fanbois will tell you, the iPad isn't anything special. All it's got is the Apple logo and all those apps, otherwise its hardware is not too different to its competitors. But the consumers don't care about the niceties of different processors or display technologies (beyond Apple's rather meaningless "retina" marketing fluff), they just know they don't want the tablet equivalent of a Betamax video. So if they're asked to pay iPad money for something that isn't an iPad they'll know a risky deal when they see one and walk away. Meanwhile each successive marketing team makes the mistake of believing their own hype and yet another device heads towards the dustbin.
    So sadly the Nokia tablet will fail. It will do so on price alone, without that consideration the Microsoft Metro interface is a joy to use and Nokia hardware is beautiful. If they forgot the iPad and sold it for half the price it would be an unexpected success, as it is it'll be yet another tombstone in the iPad killer Boot Hill. You'd think a company and an OS vendor desperate for market share at all costs would think about that.
    The title of this piece is "There will be on iPad killer". That's not to say that the iPad will never lose its place as the tablet to own, more that as Apple lose the ability to give it meaningful differentiation its position will inevitably be eroded by ever cheaper and more numerous competition. If I were marketing a tablet I'd rather my device beat that competition than took a pop at the iPad. Let the fanbois have it.