A quick survey of the current tablet offerings in the U.S. reveals a market very different from that for competing hardware. Unlike in either the smartphone or notebook market, the majority of the different tablets currently sold are actually from companies you may have never even heard of. In the notebook market, manufacturers such as MSI and Asus may seem relatively obscure. Out of the current smartphone crowd, a Palm might stand out as unique. While searching for tablets, by contrast, you might come across Viliv, Entourage, or Clarion. So why the difference?
While consumers may see large overlap in the functionality of notebooks, smartphones, and tablets, each is a distinct industry. One of the major differences tablet manufacturing has from notebooks and smartphones is the level of barriers to entrythat exist. Barriers to entryare exactly what they sound like, they are the major hurdles companies have to get over to enter an industry, and they vary significantly between industries. Take the internet, anyone with a PC and a power outlet can start a website, there are almost no barriers to entry, as a result there are millions of website vying for your attention. So what does this have to do with tablets? Despite their similarity in functionality, tablets actually lack several of the barriers to entry present in the notebook and smartphone industries. In the notebook industry, that barrier is software; as a notebook manufacturer you can expect to pay through the nose to put Windows on your products and to arrange deals to package all of the software consumers expect. In the smartphone industry, that barrier is the infrastructure; you can’t sell a phone without a network, and you can’t expect to sit down and cut a deal with AT&T unless you’re already pretty big. In the tablet industry the software is open-source and the network is wi-fi. If you can design the hardware, program the software, slap in wi-fi functionality and contract someone to build it, you can be a tablet manufacturer. This is why we see so many smaller companies getting in on the tablet game.
But isn’t the tablet industry dominated by Apple?
Yes it is, for now, and that’s part of what’s great for all of the smaller companies getting in on the mix. Right now even the major technology companies are only biting at Apple’s heels, and smaller players have the opportunity to outshine the likes of Dell, Nokia, and Toshiba. On my company’s Tablet Computer comparison tablets from companies including Archos, Vilv and Entourage have reached weighted average rankings higher than some of those from Nokia and Toshiba. When a tablet does arise as a serious contender to the iPad, there’s no reason that it wouldn’t be a smaller company’s product.
What does this mean for techies?
It means that the higher quality tablets by smaller firms are worth keeping an eye on, most will likely fade off quietly into tech oblivion, but some may stick around, and one or two may be the foot in the door their manufacturers have been looking for.
Christopher Michaels is an intern at FindTheBest.com, a comparison site designed to help consumers find the best of everything from tablets to talent agencies.