One of my internet tablet-toting buddies posted an editorial on why Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) have not yet taken off. His points have been made before, here and there, but he ties the ends up nicely and I will not argue with the reasoning. I do, however, want to take it a bit further and offer my own perspective.
My inner geek cannot understand why devices like Nokia internet tablets (one of the better prospects in this area) have not been more popular. These little babies do it all. What is not available out of the box is eagerly supplied by a dedicated-if-loose collection of coders who regularly buzz around maemo.org. Thanks to this creative bunch the feature set of the tablets has been significantly expanded, including such niceties as LAN support and even alternative web browsers. The potential of the tablets is their selling point.
But the everyday user side of me disputes that conclusion. The average consumer doesn’t buy anything for its potential– they purchase something for what it can immediately do once the power is applied. This is where the broad applicability of internet tablets and related devices has been, ironically, their marketing downfall.
As anyone close to my age can readily recall, personal computers took a couple of decades to attain their current ubiquitous status. Early PCs were touted as spreadsheet workhorses and recipé managers but at the time the typical consumer had no real need or interest. In order for an electronic recipé dispenser to be useful, for example, it needed to be cheap and ready on demand. PCs were originally neither, and it made no sense to park one of the beasts on the kitchen cabinet anyway. And when the usual uses were questioned, frustrated PC salesmen would respond that the miracle machines could, well, “do just about anything”.
Note: consumers are allergic to nebulous use cases.
Over time truly compelling applications were developed, the main one being the mother of all applications, the World Wide Web. Open online communities, virtual auctions and file sharing were quickly added to that previous short list of uses. The Web sprang upon us faster and stronger than any previous advent in history, transforming modern culture in amazingly short time.
In 1985, professionals were fortunate to gain access to a PC at work. By 2005 practically everyone (at least here in the US) had one of their own.
In short, it was specific applicability that sold people on these machines– once retail cost had reached an acceptably low threshold. People would pay $500 USD or so for a recipé manager because it also ran the 2 or 3 other specific applications (whatever those are, and they are legion) that were near and dear to their hearts.
MID/tablet manufacturers seem to have forgotten that important lesson. They present these awkwardly-sized devices as the latest miracle machines, Swiss army knives of the modern computing world. That does not set well with people who wonder what they will do with something larger than a smart phone but smaller than a netbook. They need those specific use cases.
The solution is absurdly simple in statement: improve the out-of-box experience. Focus on a handful of key uses and make sure those are immediately available and apparent to new users. Activities that are either advantageous on this form factor or highly impractical on others.
For this to work, key technologies must also be supported, such as follows (this list is not necessarily all-inclusive):
- USB connectivity
- Touchscreen supporting full web page viewing
Some would challenge that short list by insisting a cellular radio be included but I argue that adding one takes these devices out of a pure MID/tablet mode and into a hybrid classification.
The features above are crucial for the out-of-the-box uses I assert are necessary, as follows:
- Electronic picture frame
- Automotive GPS
- Instant messenger
- Voice over IP
- Gaming device (emulators would be major selling points)
- Universal remote control
- Decent audio/video playback (added to list thanks to Rahul)
Prepackage a MID/tablet with the toys and tools listed, make sure they’re easily accessed, keep the cost below $300 USD, advertise/evangelicize effectively, and you will see a significant ramp-up in consumer adoption. Guaranteed. People are buying these devices, typically separately, anyway. They’re looking for a reason to pay attention to this malingering market and fulfilling that set of bullets does the trick.
Now, I realize that making a wishlist and implementing its goals are often worlds apart, but any manufacturer interested in this space is missing opportunities if they are not using it as a guideline. Some would argue that Nokia in particular kept their internet tablets from success due to treating the product line as an expendable experiment– and they would be correct. However, the fact remains that development on the product line continues and Nokia (and others) would do well to heed the collective voice of the consumer… who have made very clear that they want to know what the devices do, not what they CAN do. 😉