For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must "get it"

For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must "get it"

Summary: Tablet makers are racing to get products to market, but they are missing a key point to get consumers to buy them. Consumers simply must "get it" when exposed to a given tablet.


Tablets are everywhere these days, in TV ads, big box retail stores and certainly all over the web. Where they aren't is even more significant: in lots of consumer's hands. Tablet makers are racing to get products to market, but they are missing a key factor to get consumers to buy them. Consumers must look at a given tablet and "get it"; they must be able to see in just a short time how that product will fit in their lives. OEMs are failing at getting that message across, with the exception of Apple with the iPad.

I have been using and testing tablets of all kinds for years, and a big part of that testing is gauging consumer reaction to a given product. The mainstream consumer market is the target for tablets, and understanding how they react to them is vital for determining how well a given device might do in the market.

One of the first things I do with a tablet, whether it is an iPad, Android tablet and currently the BlackBerry PlayBook, is hand it to regular folks with no explanation. The purpose is to see how quickly, and how excitedly, they jump into using the tablet in hand. Their reaction to a product is valuable, because even though hands-on impression is extremely important for this type of product, the marketing that most companies use for such devices is terrible. The first hands-on exposure to a tablet usually is the all-important first impression upon which he/she will base all thoughts about not only this product but often for all other tablets that come along. Watching what they do with the tablet is a good indicator of how consumers will react to it when it comes time to buy or not.

Invariably, the reaction people have to the iPad is very different from that with other tablets. Apple has designed the iPad and its interface to be totally without intimidation. The iPad in use follows through with the marketing message that Apple gives: you just do things with it. No computing metaphors, no talk of all the different email services it can access. You will never hear the word "tablet" in an iPad ad. You just do things with it, and consumers "get it". Every time I've handed an iPad to someone they start touching icons and swiping the screen, and in seconds they are doing things with it, and totally ignoring everything around them.

Doing the same thing with the Motorola XOOM, Android's flagship tablet, couldn't be more different. The person I hand the XOOM to invariably stares at it for a while, trying to figure out how to turn it on. Once its running, I see more staring as they try to figure out not only what to do with it, but also how to do it. Google went with a desktop computer interface for Honeycomb, and that is a huge mistake. Computer desktops intimidate most people and that carries over to the Honeycomb tablet.

Once the individual gets past the visible intimidation to the Android tablet, they usually ask me what they can do with it. They don't get it. They don't visualize all the neat things they can do with this tablet, and that's a big failure. Almost without exception they play with the tablet for a few minutes and hand it back to me. The first impression failed to excite them in any way, and thus failed to make them see what they might do with a tablet of their own. They are not going to buy one.

The marketing of these tablets isn't helping things. Remember the XOOM TV ads that showed the user morphing into a cyborg with the XOOM in hand? What message did that send to the prospective buyer of the XOOM? Not one that made it clear how the XOOM could be of use to the average buyer. In fact it sent an intimidating message to the viewer. Not only did the consumer not get it, the ad maker didn't either.

I see folks have the same reaction to the BlackBerry PlayBook as they do to the Android tablets. They are less intimidated by the hardware, which is a plus for RIM, but they just stare at the screen for a while as they try to determine what to do with the PlayBook. There is no immediate "doing things" as is the common reaction to the iPad. It's not just a lack of apps on the PlayBook either, it's a complete lack of vision that the product invokes in the user. No joy of experimenting with the device, no excitement of discovery of what this new type of gadget can do. Often there is that same question I hear a lot: "what can I do with it?"

Tablet makers must make sure that, like the iPad, their product has a simple hardware design. They must put an interface on it that is totally intuitive and inviting to be touched, and most importantly invites the user to do things. No intimidation is allowed, just the invitation for exploration with the tablet. Make that the focus of all marketing for the tablet. Not whiz-bang features, not sophisticated functionality; get the message out that you can just do things with this tablet. That's all mainstream consumers want to hear.

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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Excellent Analysis

    That was exactly the question my wife asked me the other day, "What do you do with a tablet?"

    • Buy her an iPad...


      In three weeks she will ask, "Why did I ever use that computer thing..."
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @Bruizer "to do productive things" will be your answer. :-)
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @Bruizer That's funny I have yet to hear anyone say that, if they have to type. If they just look - then MAYBE.
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'


        Why does a computing device always need to be productive? In a work environment, yes productivity is key, but in the consumer space?... well not so much.
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh<br>Not so much "productive" as useful.<br>My iPad - I like it for the games and some other things it can do - I hate it for the limited web experience and the push for apps vs bookmarks.<br><br>I want to play games, surf the web, do email, writes notes, produce learning/work documents, etc....<br><br>So far, no tablet can do all this.<br>There are notebooks that can. but not as convenient as you should be able to do on a tablet.<br><br><img border="0" src="" alt="sad">
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        Hi @rhonin,

        Alex from RIM here. PlayBook supports the full web, including Flash. That?s definitely important since half of the top 17,000 websites are Flash-based (according to data from Alexa, Quantcast and the Fortune 500). Support for HTML5, CSS and JavaScript round out the full web experience.

        As I mentioned to @Jhughesy, the PlayBook also comes loaded with notebook-type productivity out-of-the-box including document viewing and editing, as well as remote PC and secure VPN access using its built-in Wi-Fi connection, allowing you to access enterprise data and applications. When it comes to email, BlackBerry smartphone users receive wireless and secure access to their BlackBerry PIM applications like email, calendar, contacts and even BBM via BlackBerry Bridge, and we native email apps are on the way (see a demo here:

        On the gaming front, we?re working with companies like Unity, Ideaworks, Gameloft and EA, and just announced that Angry Birds is coming to PlayBook!

        Alex, RIM Social Media Team
    • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

      What a boring wife... mine is like when can I get my iPad 2?!
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @Hasam1991 exciting wife <> wanting iPad 2
      • So your wife wants an iPad 2, and that's exciting?

        Sounds like a boring marriage. I can see why she prefers the iPad over other things. ;)
        Bill Pharaoh
      • Kendrick Understands, Jobs Understands... Computer Geeks Don't

        Kendrick has written a good analysis and observation. He has hit the nail on the head. I have observed the same reaction to various devices.
        I personally chose the iPad over the Xoom when they sat side-by-side in the showroom. But I have found how quickly I infuriated forum geeks who came right out and said I was crazy for even suggesting such a thing. The fact they were not able to subjectively evaluate what I shared shows the whole "get it" is over their head.

        Not only does the public get it... so does Kendrick.
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @Hasam1991 Maybe she can't wait to get an iPad 2 because she has a boring husband. :)
    • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

      @Takalok It's basically a laptop for people who don't really need a laptop, but still need to do more than listen to music and answer phone calls. My mind immediately goes to all those people who can barely turn their computers on who made me "fix" their computers all the time. Those are the people who will probably get the best use out of tablets.
      • You Are So Right

        You are so right @Takalok. I use my laptop for so many different tasks, including reading news stories and finding music. A tablet will probably never become a need for me. I have no interest in having one. Tablets are mainly for peoples who want to communicate with other people, read materials or listen to music. Tablets are not for me.
      • Exactly

        @nickswift498... And this is the crowd that this is a hit with.

        I am someone who will always need a laptop/desktop around, but I also see the value of sitting in my living room with a lightweight device to read/surf/ and generally do those tasks that I don't need a 6 to 8lb laptop sitting on my lap piping all kinds of heat into my lap.
    • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

      @Takalok :

      Make a tablet that can do everything my laptop can do --- then I'll "get it". Otherwise, many of the tablet offerings are merely entertainment-only devices that are only worth half their suggested retail prices.

      I will buy a tablet only then the specs indicate that it will capably replace my laptop. Isn't that how laptops got so popular --- once they were able to do everything desktops could do --- the average user understood the importance of the laptop device. Tablets aren't there yet, but those using Windows 7 is a better step in the right direction.

      Right now, the Acer Iconia has the form factor (dual touchscreens) that today's tablets should have used initially. Today, many of the popular tablets indicate that consumers really don't need many of these "high performance" desktops & laptops like they think do. The average consumer needs a basic computing device that can access the Internet, read & write basic documents, and play music & videos.
      • Consumers Must GET IT and really NEED IT

        I think you are right. A Tablet needs to be more than a consumption device! Put the dreaded stylus on it and make it a productive device. And yes I know writing recognition was always a problem for early PDAs (i.e. PalmPilot).
      • You don't 'get it'

        By no means does a tablet have to replace a laptop for everything. My iPad replaces my laptop for about 50 to 60% of my computing needs. Those needs make-up about 90% of my time spent when not using the computer for work related activities. It is those leisurely tasks, such as checking email and facebook, scanning web sites, looking up a contact/address; seeing what's playing at the local theater, and various other social media activities that make the iPad function far more efficiently and easily than my laptop (especially if the laptop's turned-off and has to go through the tedious process of turning-on).

        My tablet has not replaced my laptop for everything, but for the things I mentioned, it has taken away the desire to go backwards and use the laptop (with it's ancient 1990 form factor) for those activities.
      • RE: For tablets to succeed mainstream: Consumers simply must 'get it'

        @davesimpsonjr: Actually, Graffiti on the Palm was a *very* effective, very easy to learn entry method. Palm blew it when they unnecessarily switched to Graffiti 2. It was much more cumbersome and much less accurate than the original Graffiti. The Treo keyboards were good, but just not as fast as Graffiti.

        What shown for me with it was that when I would demo or teach someone the handwriting recognition, I would frequently get the "No, no... let me figure it out" response from end users. They found it engaging, or as James puts it, they "got it."

        In fact that was true of the Palm devices, in general, through the Tungsten series. You could put it in the hands of their target audience (in this case, business users) and let them go at it. It was intuitive and they could figure it out easily. I usually had to make them give mine back.

        Palm lost that vision and lost the market. Microsoft never understood the vision and they spent a decade trying to pitch Win CE/Win Mobile on a mostly uninterested market.

        Apple found that vision and established a market. There is certainly room for other players, but they need to take the time to understand their users and not expect their users to have to learn to understand them.
    • Take 2 tablets and call me in the morning ...

      This article is like a doctor saying that patients "don't get it".
      The wrong party is being handed the "responsibility" for success.