Microsoft and Google are shifting strategies to challenge the iPad's Market Dominance from Features to Platforms
On May 3 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple's Streak Continues as they Buck the Trend of Declining Tablet Shipments with Growth & Leadership." One part of the IDC report we didn't report on was IDC's decision to promote Google's Chrome OS tablets. IDC's actual byline was "Player 3 has joined the game, Chrome OS Detachable tablets Paint a Brighter Future while the Tablet Market struggles."
Why IDC decided to play marketer for Google's Chrome OS in a report about tablets that actually shipped in Q1 2018 was both odd and completely inappropriate to dominate their report. I suppose that IDC wants to see a potential challenger to the iPad's dominance as it makes their reports oh so boring if you're not an Apple fan.
Could Google actually try to innovate in this space instead of focusing on beating the iPad solely based on slashing prices? That strategy didn't do much for Amazon's cheap tablets that declined this quarter by a whopping 49.5%. Amazon's junky tablets have been reduced to being cheap stocking stuffers at Christmas along with socks and underwear.
A recent patent that was granted to Google earlier this month suggests that they're at least thinking of adding a feature that Apple had worked on back in 2006: Touch controls for the backside of a future tablet.
Apple's concept noted above provides a broad concept with simple large touch zones assigned to different functions. One side of the backside is for touch controls that could scroll a webpage or document while the other side could be for simple functions like adding game controls.
In Google's granted patent FIG. 3C illustrated below we're able to see a conceptual illustration of an example keyboard on the backside of a tablet.
While it may be great in theory, I'm not quite sure a keyboard on the backside of a tablet will fly with the masses. I think it simply demands far too much finger accuracy; it's just too complicated an idea for the backside of a tablet.
On April 26 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Newly Revealed Phone APIs in Windows 10 suggests Microsoft may be returning to the Smartphone Market." In Microsoft's patent application they showed that a folding smartphone or tablet could have backside controls as noted above.
Microsoft's thinking is simple. Different gestures will pull up different applications. In a folding tablet or phone scenario, Microsoft provides additional gestures that could switch the tablet from work mode with applications to entertainment mode for playing video content or mobile TV.
At the end of the day, Google's vision for backside controls is far too complicated. Microsoft's vision is interesting but we'd have to see it in practice before understanding if there are any real practical benefits. Microsoft's concept trounces that from Google.
Apple's vision on the other hand is the only realistic one, at least on paper. The backside controls are designed to provide large touch zones for controlling scrolling and gaming actions.
If users have to be too accurate and have to overly think of where to place their fingers on the backside of a tablet to initiate an action, it's never going to be a popular feature. Though for now, no one has figured out how to bring this feature to market that's long overdue.
While IDC is excited to see Google tablets with Chrome entering the market, you have to wonder why. IDC got all excited about Microsoft's Surface tablet for years believing they would overtake the iPad. Of course that never happened.
Now IDC is pounding the table for Google's tablet with Chrome OS. Google's tablet with Android died a painful though quiet death so why will it be any different for Chrome based tablets?
Google's Chrome tablets are unlikely to magically rebound to become a market winner just like their backside touch control patent that will never see the light of day.
If anything is to challenge Apple's iPad dominance in the market it could be the upcoming Windows + Snapdragon (AMD) entering the market with HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus and others promoting this next generation always-on 2-in-1 detachable device.
If successful, IDC is likely to reinvent their analytics on tablets so that the focus will shift from physical tablet totals per company to the total of tablets sold under a given OS. That is an easier way to dislodge Apple from its leadership role that drives anti-Apple people crazy quarter in and quarter out, year in and year out.
For now, the iPad remains the undisputed king of tablets in the world and they have the most realistic backside touch control patent to date. Whether Apple ever brings this concept to market is another matter, but it remains a possible future feature weapon Apple could add to their arsenal against their already frustrated competitors.
One thing is for sure, Qualcomm working with Microsoft to take on the iPad Pro with ARM processors for the back to school season may for the first time challenge Apple. That's likely to push Apple to double down on innovation and introduce something very interesting this fall (or earlier) for the iPad Pro.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't see Apple taking this challenge from Qualcomm lightly which could be great news for iPad lovers looking for new added value. The Qualcomm Windows platform hits the streets before Apple's WWDC conference in June. If we're lucky, Apple may choose to comment on this development and provide us with some hints as to what's coming. Well, we can only hope.
If anything, the new Qualcomm-Windows platform coming to market shortly may shake up a segment of the market that has been in decline for years – and it could be beneficial for everyone to have an all-out war begin on this front between rivals that absolutely hate each other.
Mildly put, interesting times are ahead on the tablet front to be sure. On the more aggressive side, screw the peaceniks and let the war begin!
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