This is the season for looking forward to make predictions for the next year. So here are mine for the mobile market in 2012:
As we end 2011 we have at least four tablet platforms – Apple iOS, Android (in various guises and including Android-based semi-proprietary platforms such as the Amazon Kindle Fire), the fading RIM Playbook, and Windows 7, plus the nascent webOS. That is too many for the market.
- Apple will solidify its domination of the high end of the market. It will release a smaller, 7” iPad III early in 2012 at a lower price to compete with the high-end Android devices, sparking some growth in its hardware market, but this will be incremental. Apple will also expand its presence in the mobile business market with a steady increase in the number of business apps in the App store. It will also introduce an updated version of Apple TV on the iPad, probably with business as well as entertainment programming. The after-market of media and apps from the Apple App and iTunes stores will continue unabated, giving Apple a major cash-cow.
- Android devices will grab the lion's share of the rest of the market, with various devices battling for specific niches. The under-$250 tablets from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo will drive a general post-holiday price war that will make them even more attractive. In aggregate they will have a much larger sales volume than the iPad, but those sales will be less valuable individually both in initial profits – many Android devices will be sold below cost – and sales of media and apps. However, the most efficient and best vertically integrated companies will find plenty of profit here, and Android tablets will steadily increase their presence in offices.
- Windows 7 tablets, which at this point means the HP Slate II, have the potential to develop a market in businesses that want tablets to do more than just be publishing platforms and that do not want their business information on tablets monitored by Apple or Google. HP will push the Slate II in its accounts as a companion to HP PCs and laptops on desks with some success. Late in the year Microsoft will bring out Windows 8 and other vendors such as Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba, will tool up to enter this market. However Windows 8 will come out too late to have a major impact until 2013.
- RIM and webOS face make-or-break years in 2012. With the Playbook a failure, RIM has no tablet, and its hold on the business e-mail market is fading. To recoup its marketshare and momentum it needs a real portable OS. Its best bet here is webOS, which HP has kindly made available for free. The other option, of course, is to sell itself for what it can get. My prediction: HP will buy RIM to leverage its presence as e-mail service provider in many businesses and bring out a RIM tablet based on webOS to compete with Apple and Android for the lower-end business market.
- Business software and cloud services will continue to migrate to tablets. The trickle of business service front-ends for mostly iPads will grow into a flood, making both iPads and Android tablets serious business tools that will supplement but for the most part not replace Windows desktops and laptops. And the e-publishing trend that has seen magazines, newspapers, and especially books migrate off paper will extend into the office as business publications move to electronic publishing in large numbers and begin to discontinue their paper versions.
- The business mobile market in general will expand gradually through 2012 as increasing numbers of businesses find that tablets do solve business problems. By year's end tablets will no longer be unusual in businesses and in 2013 they will become standard tools, replacing paper and in many cases laptops in executive briefcases.
Overall the cloud/mobile combination will become increasingly powerful in the office. By next year at this time, the combination will be a normal part of business.
Action Item: Businesses need to start taking tablets seriously as a replacement for traditional paper documents and communications. Smart phones are not enough for former business documents such as white papers and business publications such as magazines and presentation slide books and for consuming SaaS, particularly as business becomes increasingly mobile. This means businesses need to start moving beyond supporting individual employee-owned tablets and create a standard mobile/tablet platform and image, just as they have for laptops and desktop computers during 2012.