Tablet commandments for PC makers

User interface, device specs and access to content, can path way for tablet makers to stand out against competition, note industry watchers.

The Apple iPad is expected to help rejuvenate the tablet industry, with other PC makers also looking to cash in with their own slate products. But, what will it take to emerge leaders in a market that is gradually getting crowded with players eager for a slice of the pie?

According to research firm In-Stat, the global table market is projected to move some 50 million units in 2014, with Apple's upcoming slate expected to inject an additional US$4.1 billion into the semiconductor industry.

PC manufacturers such as AsusTek, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Computer and Micro-Star International (MSI) also announced plans or revealed prototypes at last month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in a bid to assume first-mover position in the nascent market segment.

However, what will it take for these players to succeed in this space? ZDNet Asia spoke to industry watchers and players who highlight key factors that should go into designing and producing tablets to stand out against the competition.

Identify target audience
According to Lilian Tay, principal analyst of client computing markets in Gartner's technology and service provider research group, the key consideration is the target market.

"As the slate or tablet [market] is still evolving, there are many sub-market usages that manufacturers can consider," Tay said in an e-mail interview. She added that while design specifications such as battery life or user interface are key factors, manufacturers can better cater their designs if they know which user segments the device will have more demand in.

In the education market, for example, manufacturers would have to offer devices that are more rugged to cope with the faster wear and tear due to increased usage, she explained.

"[Manufacturers] need to demonstrate how the device can fit into the lifestyles of people who already own a smartphone and a notebook," Tay said.

Determine form factor
Phil McKinney, HP's vice president and CTO of personal systems group, noted in a recent video interview his company looks to address issues on form and function. "[What's] the right size, what's the right form factor, and what are the capabilities [this tablet should have]," he explained.

McKinney added that HP had been exploring the possibility of producing a tablet PC for the past five years and actually "built physical hardware"--about 60 units--which were distributed to consumers to gather feedback.

Based on results from this exercise, he characterized this evolving product segment, in terms of size, as: "North of what a smartphone is, and smaller than a netbook and notebook."

Content is king
If there is one thing Apple's App Store and Amazon's Kindle e-reader demonstrated, Gartner's Tay noted, it is that manufacturers with access to the most content will generate demand for their devices.

AsusTek Computer is one such manufacturer that is exploring ways to "link or enrich content" with any potential tablet device it plans to introduce.

"How to develop or cooperate with content providers will be important when considering the software and hardware that will be embedded in a tablet device," said Jessie Lee, global public relations lead from AsusTek's marketing planning division.

McKinney concurred, noting that consumers are not simply looking for a dedicated device such as the Kindle or Sony's Reader, but one that capable of providing "immersive kind of experiences".

"[Users tell us] 'I want to browse. I want to be able to watch my movies. I want to be able listen to my music. I want to be able to read magazines and do books.' So these devices [should not only have] reading capabilities, but also give you that rich media," he said.

User interface gaining importance
In an earlier interview with ZDNet Asia, Dell's Asia-Pacific general manager for consumer business Ian Chapman-Banks, said the "physical keyboard experience", which is absent in touchscreen mobile computing devices such as the iPad, remains a key element for users.

This, and other user interface (UI) elements such as a capacitive touchscreen that iPad and Fusion Garage's JooJoo device feature, are key considerations prospective tablet makers will have to consider, noted Tay.

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