on August 31st, 2011

Last week's announcement by HP that it would stop making tablet computers – not particularly long after it had launched them - was a shock for many of us. In their early days, HP were always a company strongly focussed on engineering professionals. In the past year, mainly in response to the overwhelming success of the iPad launched by Apple led by the inimitable Steve Jobs, HP and a few others had launched Tablets based on the WebOS and Google's Android operating system.
Apple has over 60% of the tablet market with its legendary iPad - a share which is growing strongly. Windows-based tablets account for only 5% of the market. But Android-based tablets (and those from HP based on the WebOS) are definitely not  technically inferior. Far from it. Far better connectivity. Ability to run Flash-based applications. Although (arguably), Apple's design of the iPad  shows considerable panache with a slim appearance and pleasing to the eye – what we could term a so-called ‘coolness’ factor; perhaps of appeal to the ‘managerial classes’. However, what does tip the odds in Apple’s favour is that they have ensured that there are 90,000 applications for its iPad available out  of the 475,000 available from Apple App store. In contrast, there are only about 300 (out of a possible 300,000 for Android phones optimised for the Android based  tablets).
A flawed strategy?
Simply producing a tablet from a Netbook by squeezing it into a smaller case, adding in a new operating system (WebOS) and chucking away the keyboard and hard drive is not a complete and  successful strategy; resulting in exceedingly poor sales for HP. Only when HP slashed the price from $499 (for the basic version) to $99 did sales rocket. Naturally this is a flawed  strategy, as the price is well below the cost to product a tablet.  Perhaps, HP should have hung in for 18 months – the usual time to persist with a completely new product.
What does this mean for you?
This saga reinforces, the age old story. Simply copying some one else’s  product or service (with yet another "me-too" product) doesn't necessarily guarantee success unless your price is dramatically lower (which means lower profits and perhaps an unsustainable business) or unless you are building in additional useful benefits to your offering.

So, when creating new products look for unique niches and an integrated solution  with other parts of your product range - whether you are an electrician  servicing local customers and looking to distinguish your offering from those of your competitors, or a massive manufacturer of electronic  products. Above all, certainly persist longer than a few months once you have designed your new product or service; before assessing the results.
In my note above; I am not referring to unfair competition (or piracy) practised by some countries and individuals in fraudulently copying one’s intellectual property. This is obviously a short term successful strategy but is not fair to anyone.
Thanks to The Economist for a great, although contentious article, on what I can only call ‘the tablet’ wars.
Joseph Addison is spot on the money for anyone engineering new products or services with  his comment:
 If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience
 your wise counselor, caution your elder brother and hope your guardian

Yours in engineering learning

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