MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Operators looking to launch a successful tablet device must learn vital lessons from the smartphone world, according to Ovum.
The most popular smartphone platforms are all supported by strong developer communities and this trend seems likely to transfer to the tablet market. Operators with plans to launch a tablet must therefore assess the strength of each platform’s developer ecosystem as a priority.
Ovum’s 2010 survey of 217 mobile application developers shows that mobile developers are clustered around two groups of platforms: iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android on one side and Windows Phone on the other. Moreover, most developers are willing or able to support three platforms – indicating that similar tactics may well hold true for tablets.
This clearly favours the two tablet platforms that already appear to be assured of significant market share: iPhone OS and Android. Both already have a strong presence in the smartphone space, enabling many developers to transfer much of their existing code base with relatively little pain. For developers that are not already writing applications for these platforms, the availability of tablets may provide some extra incentive to switch.
Ovum analyst Tim Renowden said: “The iPad is naturally benefiting from the strength of the iPhone platform and it is already becoming clear that it has a strong application ecosystem springing up around it. Many iPhone developers have already decided to produce iPad-specific versions of their apps – in many cases sold as a “premium” or “HD” version of the app with a higher price.
“The iPad should therefore be the first tablet to support for most developers and operators: it has a large and energetic developer community, a proven application store model, and most importantly has shot to an early market lead in the category. It represents a minimal deployment risk for operators and developers alike.”
The strong recent growth in Android’s smartphone market share, the growing appeal of Android devices comparable to competitors, and the likely emergence of Android-based tablets early in the second half of 2010 indicate that Android will probably form the second choice for tablet application developers (given the lack of BlackBerry and Windows Phone tablets).
The big question remaining for operators is whether it is worthwhile investing time and resources into differentiated tablet products, and to what degree it is worth customizing these devices.
“For operators with experience creating their own customized handsets, the temptation will be strong”, said Renowden. “However, most contemporary operator-branded handsets are focused on low-end customers, or delivering experiences on mid-range handsets that attempt to imitate high-end handsets.”
“In contrast, there is no low end for tablets; successful tablet devices entering the market will be supported by an existing developer ecosystem and a range of third-party applications, often managed by a vendor or platform owner.”
The option of providing basic data connectivity for whichever tablets customers bring to the network is the obvious minimal-risk strategy in an uncertain market, and will be suitable for addressing the long tail of niche devices from smaller manufacturers and platforms. Providing reasonable and flexible data pricing plans will be key here.