The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

Summary: I have spoken off the record to quite a few staffers at the carrier stores, and a distinctive picture of how tablets are affecting carrier business is beginning to emerge.

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I hang out at wireless carrier stores a lot; they likely think I am a lurker of some sort up to no good. I like to keep up with what the carriers have going on in the smartphone space, and lately turned my attention to the tablet offerings they have. I have spoken off the record to quite a few staffers at carrier stores, and a distinctive picture of how tablets are affecting carrier business is beginning to emerge.

Tablets are the red-headed stepchildren of the carrier world as they don't generate new customers for the most part. Staffers made that clear -- a customer has to come in with a specific tablet in mind or there is little chance of selling them one before leaving the store. It often comes down to the sales rep convincing the customer to buy the particular tablet they came in to see, or losing the sale altogether. The reps find this much more difficult than the smartphone business, where they have a decent shot at convincing the customer to look at a different model should the one they came in to see not appeal to them in the store.

Tablets don't present an opportunity to upsell prospective buyers, which is a big part of the wireless carriers business. Sales reps admitted they get recognition when they sell a smartphone customer additional services like big data plans or more voice minutes. Tablets in the U. S. don't do voice nor texting so the opportunity for selling additional services is much smaller. Customers either take a tablet home with the basic data plan or most likely don't take it home at all.

Most carriers are offering Wi-Fi-only tablet models in addition to the 3G-enabled models, and these are a dicey sales proposition for the staffers. If you can buy an Android tablet in Best Buy with Wi-Fi, what's the benefit to buying it at the carrier? There isn't a good response to that question to give prospective buyers, other than because you're here in the store right now.

New customers don't seem to be going into the carrier's retail stores for a tablet. I was told across the board that tablet sales are being made to existing phone customers almost without exception. The tablet offerings are not bringing in new customers to the carrier, a big goal of them all. This may have to do with the lack of big promotions in pricing for the tablets, according to one sales rep. Or it may just be that customers have it in mind that you go to the carrier store when you need a phone, which doesn't occur to them for a tablet.

One of the most interesting things that cropped up with this behind-the-scenes lurking experiment of mine was how much more likely customers were to buy carrier-branded netbooks than tablets. Customers are still coming to the carrier retail stores specifically looking for a 3G-enabled "laptop", and they are selling them. Sales aren't brisk by any means, but customers were considering netbook purchases at almost every trip I made to the carriers for this research. The bigger variety in netbooks a carrier had available, the more likely they were to close a sale according to reps. Everyone I spoke to found the netbooks so much easier to sell that they'd much rather try to sell them than tablets.

This is not scientific research by any means, and as all conversations with carrier representatives were off-the-record not the official position of the carriers. What I witnessed first-hand and the many conversations I had with store personnel painted a consistent picture of the shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones in the carrier stores. These observations are independent of tablet make and model and pricing.

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Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Networking, Smartphones, Wi-Fi

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43 comments
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  • An instant on netbook under 2 pounds -- is that too much to ask?

    I still have the sinking feeling that the OEM's still don't get it.<br>The IPad is popular because it's instant on, and lightweight enough to carry easily -- and -- has a long battery life, and doesn't annoy & frustrate the user with poor responsiveness, and buggyness.<br><br>A device that gives consumers the ability to stay connected, has a long enough battery life not to worry the user at the end of the day, and doesn't piss off & frustrate the user with 8 hour personal troubleshooting and maintenance issues, and an over 1 minute wait to check email, etc... Is that also too much to ask?<br><br>I don't think the _main_ reason for the popularity of the IPad tablet is because of the form factor, but rather for the reasons above.
    voltrarian
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @voltrarian
      And why does anyone have to be "commected" for 8 hours? The iPad is a portable media device and nothing else and the people that think they have to be using it constantly are obviously not focused on much of anything else. Got a career? Planning to get ahead? How much time are you going to spend on entertainment? Got a family? Does being on an iPad all the time meet the needs of the family? Etc, etc, etc....ad nauseum.
      Romas27
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @Romas27 The ability to be connected for eight hours actually translates into being able to turn it on and use it at a moments notice without having to worry about whether or not you've charged it. This is the primary reason I got my netbook. I can leave the power supply at home and use the thing for writing and photo editing at lunch AND at my after work hobby session for two or three days straight without a recharge.

        I haven't used the iPad, but I understand it delivers similar performance. What we need is a netbook with the performance, reliability and weight...

        Or, right, that's my netbook, an Eee PC. Running an old tried and true OS (doesn't matter which one, there are many), it hasn't given me any problems yet. And it's light enough.
        grassdogstudio
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @grassdogstudio
        Why I switched from my ASUS UL to my ASUS tablet....
        chuckle :)

        Has all the netbook stuff, lighter and I can slide easily into whatever type bag I have.

        Check one out... glad I did.

        :D
        rhonin
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @voltrarian

      I've got first gen iPad and let me tell you while iPad's battery is good relatively but it aint that much better!
      xaverine
  • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

    The fact that iPads have cut into netbook sales has led some analysts to project the eventual demise of netbooks and their replacement in the market by tablets.

    At the same time we see snarky arguments in these pages between people who throw tomatoes at iPads because they are not "real computers," i.e. they don't do Office, and those who say the other folks "don't get it" and that tablets aren't supposed to be computers; they are consumer electronics appliances.

    This suggests that what Apple found was an unserved market: people who were buying netbooks because even though they weren't ideal, they were the closest thing to what they wanted. Which turns out to have been a non-computer consumer electronics appliance that does the "fun" stuff that computers can do, but without having to put on a propeller beanie to keep it running.

    What you see in the stores is that there is a second group of netbook buyers who are not open to tablets; they really do want an ultra-portable Windows/Office engine. If true, we should see the "cannibalization" of netbooks by tablets level out at some point, leaving a still-sizable netbook market. Also if true, Google is driving into the ditch with Chromebooks: they are neither ultra-portable Windows/Office engines, or super-portable "fun".
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @Robert Hahn
      I agree. There may be room for many different markets, though. I like my netbook, but I want an ereader too. I think that segment will continue to be strong (and it's very similar to the tablet).
      Schoolboy Bob
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @Schoolboy Bob
        And that's why I like and use a Nook Color in addition to my (older) HP TX2500 tablet computer and tethered smartphone.
        Matalist
      • Asus Transformer - ideal netbook replacement

        @Schoolboy Bob , I think most current netbook users would like to use a tablet variant such as the Transformer. It would serve all their needs and more. The only barrier to entry vs the netbook is the Transformer price and also current unpolished Honeycomb OS.
        logic103
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @logic103
        Will agree....
        Picked mine up and is doing almost all I ask....
        I'm using it in place of my UL atm and it can accomplish 90%+ of what I would do on my UL.
        Nice :D
        rhonin
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @Robert Hahn The problem, not just with Apple or Android tabs is that they are WAY too expensive for toys. OK, they aren't supposed to be PC's. I get that, and accept it. But why would I pay $600 for a "toy" or entertainment device, when I CAN buy a decent laptop for that price and have both? I don't see the value in tablets currently.
      timspublic1@...
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @timspublic1@... <br><br>Because enterprise buyers aren't using iPads as toys, they are a powerful tool when connected to the right backend.<br><br>How many sales will it take for the "only useful for consumption" brigade to see the future of computing.<br><br>25 million iPads and counting.
        bannedagain
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @Robert Hahn " they really do want an ultra-portable Windows/Office engine. "

      1. Bring back the MID and UMPC!!!
      2. I agree with everything you said, except some of us want an ultraportable Linux/OpenOffice engine. :-)
      jgm@...
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @jgm@...

        Android feels very similar, but if you really want to be a purest, people have loaded Ubuntu on Android tablets.

        Just remember, just because you can doesn't mean you should (LOL)
        sbf95070
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @Robert Hahn
      I basically agree with you, but wanted to add my recent experience. I just bought an Acer Android tablet and as a business user, I'm trying the experiment to see it really will let me leave my notebook behind.

      So far, I love the lighter weight and (almost) instant on.

      While I wouldn't want to create 100 page, heavily formatted doc's on the pad, the $25 office suites and soft keyboard are perfectly adequate for updating a doc or creating a quick report that isn't an email.

      I have both corporate (MS Exchange) and personal mail showing up on it.

      So far, I am thinking that these new Honeycomb tablets may just be the tipping point to move me from a notebook/netbook to a tablet.

      And to the Apple crowd, the biggest problem with the iPad in this space is Steve Jobs insistance on simplicity at the cost of flexibility and security. The iPads are great consumer units, but they just don't meet the needs of the corporation to secure intellectual property.
      sbf95070
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @sbf95070
        Finding the same after trying an iPad for a while.
        Now have an ASUS Transformer and finding it is much more flexible, allowing me to do a broad range of work activities - much more so than the iPad.
        :)
        rhonin
      • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

        @sbf95070
        I see a lot of merit in what you're saying and what others have added to the mix. I'd really be happy with the form factor of the iPad running a real Linux. This would provide security and real apps. It should have the touchscreen keyboard but also accept a small blue tooth or USB keyboard for real content creation when you're in a suitable location.
        jdschmutz
  • Data Plan Prices

    Until the carriers allow consumers to pool data plans across multiple devices, the appeal of 3G/4G capable tablets are going to remain a niche item.

    I HAVE to carry a data plan on my smartphone these days (required by the carrier). Forking out a separate fee for the tablet makes one of them feel rather obsolete - and expensive.
    ptrader
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @ptrader
      This is a good point as I use boost with my Evo and have unlimited data so why would I want a new plan with a contract for what I already pay. i prefer buying no contract units or off contract units as the 2 factors of the required contract and a seperate data plan with such high prices for such little data make it a no. I do have a samsung Tab and an xoom I bought from ebay new in the box no contract. The Tab is a Tmobile rooted and unlocked now which I bought for $175 shipped and my xoom is a verizon 3G/Lte upgradable unit I got new in the box shipped for right at $325 no contract on ebay. I have alway bought from no box stores or carriers as it's much cheaper no contract and same item. i then use my evo which is rooted and turn it on as a wifi hotspot so no need for a contract of data extra plan. i have the $50 a month with shrinkage and now pay $40 and in 6 months it drops to $35 for unlimited talk text data and I have the option of 4G by the day if I want it.
      Fletchguy
    • RE: The shaky coexistence of tablets and smartphones at the carriers

      @ptrader
      Absolutely agree!.
      As a result, both of my tablets are wifi.
      I would trade in my "unlimited" ATT plan for a 6-8 gig all device plan with the ability to add on or a plan where I can buy in 1-2 gig chunks as I need them.
      Either would be a vast improvement and likely draw in more carrier level buyers.
      :|
      rhonin