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Apple's Secret Weapon To Win the Tablet Wars 716

Hugh Pickens writes "International Business Times reports that when manufacturers trotted out their Android tablet prototypes during the CES show two months ago, pundits were happy to toll the death knell for the Apple's iPad, but now manufacturers are discovering that simply making a good tablet does not guarantee that it will sell — much to the chagrin of Motorola and its Xoom product. Now it is plain for all to see that Apple's secret weapon is their network of dedicated Apple stores worldwide where dedicated sales people are not only able to better explain its tablet to consumers but Apple also captures more margin than competitors who have to share margin with retail partners. Apparently, we are not going to see a repeat of the Android ambush of the smartphone market where the combined, price, savvy marketing, and modulated supply releases of the iPhone created so much aspirational demand in the market that buyers simply surged at the chance to buy what was perceived to be an equivalent product at lower prices. 'Motorola's Xoom is only the first to face these problems,' writes AA Defensor. 'Soon RIM's Playbook, and HP's TouchPad will hit the shelves and unless they can do something drastic over the short term, it might remain to be an iPad market. But not because they did not build a good product.'"
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Apple's Secret Weapon To Win the Tablet Wars

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  • Not exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:07AM (#35706852)

    Apple's secret weapon is their network of dedicated Apple stores worldwide

    No, their secret weapon is their network of dedicated Apple *users* worldwide. Many (not all, but many) Apple fans have an almost cult-like dedication to Apple products, and are also pretty effective proselytizers for the cause. Motorola, HP, etc. don't have that kind of advantage, no matter how good their product.

  • Reality.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:11AM (#35706898) Homepage

    Your product will FAIL if it's priced higher than the "premium" product that is out there.
    Yes the new Motorola tablet is better than an Ipad, but it is not PERCIEVED as being a luxury item like the iPad has become.

    Have an iPad? you must be rich. no really, it has that "feel" that has been perpetuated by apple.

    The only way the Android competition can touch the iPad is to be cheaper and get units out there that are BETTER than the ipad. not cheap knockoffs that are half baked... Like the ones that dont have a legitimate Market app on them.

    IF your tablet does not ship with Market ready to be used, your tablet is a fail. If your tablet does not ship with honeycomb or at least a 2.2 android and can be upgraded to the latest easily.... then your tablet is a FAIL.

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:16AM (#35706944) Journal

    I don't believe that statement from the MS exec - they can't stand not to put a placeholder entry into every item category. I think that statement was just more marketing, but almost like Reverse-Vaporware.

    This post from Paul Thurrott says that MS is toying around with blending Windows 8 & Windows Phone code chunks. Somewhere in there someone will smash together a Windows-Something tablet. []

  • Usability maters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tei ( 520358 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:16AM (#35706948) Journal

    Wen I use a computer, I want raw power. A PC with Ubuntu will do. With windows... mostly .. I get angry at the lack of decent virtual desktop,but is almost there.
    But wen I want a tablet, I want usability. And Apple has that. I don't need my tablet to have 16 GB of RAM or any other stat. Is not about stat, is about the experience, and Apple has it. I suppose Android can get here, but I am unsure if thats what the Android people ask for... maybe Android is taking notes from Windows, and not from iOS.

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:20AM (#35706984) Homepage Journal

    I still hear on a regular basis that Macs are better for graphics. My mother is convinced she needs a Mac because she can't design a basic flyer on a PC. Perception trumps reality.

  • by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:23AM (#35707026)

    Simple. If making a good tablet isn't enough to sell a good tablet, that means that the demand for tablets is being driven by Apple rather than a need for tablets. That seems, to me, to be a classic indicator that a product is meeting a fad-driven need as opposed to a real need.

    Additionally, if the need was real, then similar products should be also be popular particularly if they enter the market with a lower price point because price-conscious customers should prefer the cheaper alternatives. If there are no price-conscious customers, then the demand is also likely to be driven by style rather then meeting a need the public has. Anything not meeting a real public need, is extremely likely to be a fad.

    I'm not convinced that tablets are a fad. However, while I do see a lot of potential for their use in niche areas, I have little desire for one and I have to wonder if they will have staying power.

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:29AM (#35707078)

    Maybe they could... you know... build a product that inspires the devotion that Apple's products do? This "it's just garbage that's marketed well to a bunch of cultists" meme doesn't explain the millions of units sold, doesn't explain the repeat customers, and doesn't explain their consistently high customer satisfaction ratings.

    And if it is just garbage, then why don't HP and Motorola hire a better marketing team and beat Apple at their own game? There's nothing that's inherently "Apple" about producing good advertising and marketing campaigns - there are hundreds of memorable ads and millions of useful products that are produced every year - it's not like you can't find an advertising company willing to help you build a campaign.

    After all, if "Garbage + Good Marketing = huge sales," imagine how much more money they can make if they were to hit the magical "Good product + Good marketing = ??? PROFITS" point.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:30AM (#35707090)

    Let's go with:

    Microsoft was clueless and once again counting piles of coins while Apple engineers were getting the full supply chain details buttoned down to make other tablets extraordinarily difficult to get into the market.

    When you consider that the only real "invention" Microsoft has put into the market with any aplomb is the Kinect in the past five years, it's easy to see why they would wishfully dismiss it as a "current fad" when it's both a reasonably new market and Windows isn't plastered all over it.

    So you're right. Not a fad. Hugely popular device and incredible insult to development teams that have a bunch of not-invented-here attitudes.

  • Re:Use cases? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:36AM (#35707160)

    Laptops I understand: you can use them to code, do your e-mail, ssh into machines to get stuff done etc.

    Well, there is your problem. Of your 3 tasks listed, only 1 of them is something that a normal person is only likely ever to do.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:37AM (#35707180)

    Simple. If making a good tablet isn't enough to sell a good tablet, that means that the demand for tablets is being driven by Apple rather than a need for tablets.

    That assumes anyone wants to buy a tablet. Almost no one does. They want to "do stuff" and use apps from the itunes app store on something about the size of a book. It conveniently happens that the action of "buying a tablet" is a step on the path to that destination. Buying a tablet about as relevant as buying gas for the car to drive out there and buy it, its just something annoying, tedious, and expensive that you have to do before you have fun.

    Anyone who sells something that connects to itunes and is about the size of a book will win. Anyone whom sells a similar sized piece of glass and plastic with some computer chips will not win.

  • by commandermonkey ( 1667879 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:50AM (#35707338)
    The summary draws the conclusion: that despite the Xoom being a good product, what moves tablets isn't the product but the marketing and hype. And despite how long tablets have been around the average person on a sales floor can't really tell you what their good for, where as at the apple store they know their talking points about the device and are able to make a more convincing sale.

    The jump I made when I read the article is that:
    a) the average person can't articulate what a tablet is good for and what it can do for you, unlike a phone, pc, tv, microwave, etc. Since the average store clerk can't vocalize the benefit of a tablet people don't buy the Xoom, but because Apple will tell you why a tablet is so awesome people buy the iPad. If this long after a product launch, the average person can't tell you anything benefit to the device other than you hipster friends will think you are cool, it could be an indicator of a fad.

    b) People aren't buying tablets from Apple because they have a need for a tablet, or because it fits a niche that their otehr computing platforms lack, they are buying because its Apple and a new thing. If that is true than it's even more of an indicator that its a fad, and much like furby there is not a large market for them past one or two generations.

    What would have made the article much better would be trending numbers for sales of both Xoom and the iPad. What rate are they currently selling at? What is the conversion rate between the two? Did iPad and Xoom have similar sales before the launch of iPad2? How do sales of iPad2 compare with the original? Really any hard information would have been better than Apple stores look cool.
  • Re:Not exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:53AM (#35707394) Homepage
    I think you're ignoring the OP's main point: the cult-like dedication. Yes, Apple makes a good product. But there's a large chunk of that decision being made for materialistic reasons. Apple has the hip product, it's trendy. Most people aren't out there comparing specs and reading reviews.
  • Re:Not exactly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:56AM (#35707434) Homepage

    > The PC guys doesn't understand it because it's a different
    > mindset from theirs. While they often focus on features and
    > specs, Apple focues on what the product _can do_. mean like PRINTING, or playing my movies, or transcoding them in a timely fashion if not, or playing some simple game from a big studio, or being able to organize my photos, or being able to add a single album to my media player?

    You mean those sorts of "functional things".

    "Specs" are what makes "features" possible.

    Yes. It is a different mindset: "willfully ignorant".

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:05AM (#35707530) Homepage

    Usability takes a holiday on a tablet the moment I try to do anything the least bit "geeky" like trying to print or use some data that's "alien" or an interesting access method.

    The point of a PC isn't the 8G of RAM or the 6 cores. It's the fact that I can do whatever I want with it.

    This was true in 1983 and is still true today.

  • by gauauu ( 649169 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:06AM (#35707552)

    Simple. If making a good tablet isn't enough to sell a good tablet, that means that the demand for tablets is being driven by Apple rather than a need for tablets.

    That assumes anyone wants to buy a tablet. Almost no one does. They want to "do stuff" and use apps from the itunes app store on something about the size of a book. It conveniently happens that the action of "buying a tablet" is a step on the path to that destination. Buying a tablet about as relevant as buying gas for the car to drive out there and buy it, its just something annoying, tedious, and expensive that you have to do before you have fun.

    Anyone who sells something that connects to itunes and is about the size of a book will win. Anyone whom sells a similar sized piece of glass and plastic with some computer chips will not win.

    I disagree entirely. Almost everyone that I know that buys one spends very little time thinking about what they stuff might actually "do" and instead want an iPad because that's the new cool gadget. If pressed, they want to use it to send email and surf the web. Which any decent tablet will do, but the others all seem like iPad ripoffs (as I guess they are), so people aren't interested in them. I'm sure there are exceptions to that rule, but not in the people that I talk to. So I think the opposite is true. People want to buy a tablet. The step of "doing stuff" is the part that they aren't sure about yet, and will make up as they go.

    (And since the iPad is a decent enough product, people usually find plenty of good stuff to do with it to make it worth it. I'm not here to rip on the iPad, I just think people are first interested in the product, THEN its usefulness)

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Betonschaar ( 178617 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:07AM (#35707572)

    You are fooling yourself if you still believe in that 'Apple cult' crap by now. Of all the people I know who use Apple products, maybe one or two could be described as having a 'cult-like dedication to Apple', and then I would be including myself just so I can come up with more than one example. Most of them just buy stuff because they like the way it looks and works, and because they hear their friends say good things about them. With over 90% 'high or very high' customer satisfaction, Apple doesn't need any 'cult-like dedication', the word-of-mouth marketing from their users already does half the PR for them, and the main driver behind that is customer satisfaction.

    Now, of course you could argue that the customer satisfaction numbers that Apple scores are inflated, and that this 90% of satisfied users all have Stockholm syndrome, or a simply bragging to each other because they like to pimp their gadgets, but that simply doesn't make any sense at all. No company can keep up selling polished turds for over 10 years and still have the whole world think their products are great while they aren't. You might be able to pull that off once, using sufficient hype and a big marketing push that distracts from the downsides of your product, but if it actually sucks and is not worth it's money, you'll be out of business within 1 or 2 generations of your product. Nobody buys a polished turd twice.

    In my perception it's more often Apple's competitors that try to create hype and distraction to sell inferior products to a loyal following of customers who don't want to buy anything made by Apple, out of principle. I'm not implying that includes you yourself, but when people don't seem to be able to get passed the 'Apple cult', 'sheep', 'buy everything with an Apple logo' or 'believe everything their god Steve Jobs tells them', it usually means someone is trying too hard to justify their own, personal preferences, without having to acknowledge that they are 'different' from what most 'normal' people enjoy in their tech purchases.

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:16AM (#35707676)

    And HP, Motorola, Samsung, RIM, Microsoft, Nokia, HTC... these are fly-by-night upstarts, new to the industry?

    The question is, what's preventing other manufacturers from achieving the same thing, especially if they have a better product? It can take a while to build a brand's perception, but none of the companies competing with Apple are exactly newcomers on the scene. They've had plenty of time to build their own reputations and user bases, but they've failed to do so - in some cases, they've failed to do so in a spectacular fashion.

    There's clearly something missing in their execution that goes beyond the lack of a marketing tagline.

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:20AM (#35707742)

    Right, I know that's what this stupid meme perpetuates. What I'm asking is, if the competitors' products are so superior, what's preventing them from marketing their products like Apple does and enjoying success beyond even Apple's profits?

    None of these competitors are exactly new to the mobile industry. Microsoft, RIM, HP, Motorola, Samsung - they've been doing it at least as long as Apple. So... where's their products, and where's their marketing? Why don't they have legions of devoted fans like Apple does?

  • by danaris ( 525051 ) <danaris@[ ].com ['mac' in gap]> on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:37AM (#35707954) Homepage

    I should hope that people would like a tablet that DOESN'T connect to iTunes. That NOT having to continuously run iTunes software (or helpers) is actually a selling point. It's kind of ironic that people buy svelte wafers to play music / vids and then are forced to sync them with a piece of bloatware. Not only that, but said bloatware deliberately obstructs users and limits what files they're allowed to copy to their own device.

    See, what you don't get is, non-geeks don't care.

    They don't care that they can't copy arbitrary files to iDevices. What would they do with a zip file or a copy of their Civ 5 saved game on it, anyway? If they want something like a PDF file, there are a number of apps that will display those, and let them copy them over by selecting them in iTunes. I agree the interface is a little clunky, but it doesn't prevent you from copying to an iDevice any file that you can actually use on it.

    Furthermore, they don't care that they have to sync it in the first place. Geeks love to bitch about iTunes, but pretty much every non-geek I've talked to that has used it has had no troubles with it.

    I certainly don't disagree that iTunes has become more bloated than it perhaps should be, and that Apple should think about breaking the iDevice syncing capabilities out into another application (maybe iSync? ;-) ), but that's the kind of thing that generally only bugs geeks. Most people aren't geeks.

    Dan Aris

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:38AM (#35707966)

    It's willfully ignorant to care more about the actual things you'd use a device for than you do about the "raw power" it has?

    Pro tip for the people who failed their marketing classes: "Now you can video chat with your kid who's in college 2,000 miles away," is a FAR more powerful marketing message than "this device has 57,000 bieberhertzes (BHz), and a bajillion flippabits!" 57 kBHz sounds like a lot; so does a bajillion flippabits. But I don't know what that's going to let me *do* with the device, just that it has "a large number of fancy sounding things."

    Most people don't select a car based on the horsepower and torque and braking distance. Gearheads care about horsepower and torque and compression ratios and optimal air intake rates, maximum RPMs and top speeds; the 99.5% of the rest of the car-buying market wants to know how many people the car will seat, what the gas mileage is, whether it looks nice, and if it comes in a color they like. Bonus points if it's got an entertainment system for the kids in the back.

    It's my belief that this is the crucial difference in marketing, and the reason why Apple infuriates so many geeks: they refuse to cater to the small "gearhead" market with their devices, and instead focus on showing the much larger segment that doesn't understand all the jargony terms, "here's what you can do with this device, and we think you're really going to be impressed with what you see." In an industry that for years has marketed to people using the jargony terms that only the gearheads care about, it annoys a lot of little tin gods who, if they're really honest about how they feel, firmly believe that computers should only be used by people with advanced engineering or computer science degrees. Apple isn't interested in preserving somebody else's little fiefdom, and it rankles that they're so good at introducing devices like this to the mass market.

  • by guidryp ( 702488 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @10:52AM (#35708114)

    There is no secret weapon. But a great many obvious ones.

    First Mover advantage: You can argue tablet existed before, but until iPad, they didn't for the average consumer. Apple's iPad will be seen as the spark that started a new product niche, they will have mindshare advantage, competitors are left playing catch up and will be largely perceived as iPad knockoffs, that you get because you were too cheap, or unsavvy to get an iPad.

    Mature OS vs Beta OS: You can argue about better notifications in Android or some other pet feature, but the reality is that Honeycomb is beta quality. It is unstable, apps are crashing all over the place. You certainly aren't going to win converts with this.

    Apple consistently builds top quality HW: Again you quibble about some minor spec sheet improvement some competitor has, but Apple is pretty much a safe bet of deliver top quality HW. If you go with the competition, you will have to dissect spec sheets/reviews to make sure you aren't getting a crappy screen or low battery life, etc...

    Ecosystem: 65000 tablet specific applications vs 100...

    Unique Killer Apps: Apple is creating a suite of excellent apps that off a cut above anything available for Android Tablets. Garage Band, iMovie, Pages, Number etc..

    Marketing: Apple is fairly good at marketing and they are clearly outspending all the competition on tablet marketing..

    Mom Factor Think about which one you would get for your Mom? I tried to get my Senior Mom using a PC and it was hopeless, but I think an iPad could work for her and I do think it will be easier with an iPad than an Android tablet.

    Against this, the main thing Android tablets seem to have going for them is: Nerd rage about walled gardens and Nerd spec sheet worship. That doesn't seem very relevant this time out. I honestly wouldn't have a clue how to compete against iPad and I doubt any of the competition does either, they are just trying to build comparable HW and hoping.

    After some earlier waffling, I am planning to get an iPad as my first Apple product ever.

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Monday April 04, 2011 @11:02AM (#35708222) Homepage Journal

    I think you're ignoring the OP's main point: the cult-like dedication.

    I'm ignoring it, too, because it's wrong. I'm not an Apple "fanboy" or "cultist", but I have an iPhone because I like it and it works well. My boss (who is no way, shape, or form an Apple "fanboy" or "cultist") has an iPad and uses it regularly because he likes it and it works well. When I was at PyCon, half the attendees had MacBooks. While I imagine that there were some Apple fanboys in the large crowd, the people I talked to were long-time developers who loved the tools available to them on OS X, and used MacBooks - wait for it!, wait for it! - because they like them and they work well.

    I remember the cult-like followers back in the 90s. I worked with a few, and they were incredibly annoying. I think that meme needs to die, though, because it hasn't been valid in a long time. It's easy for people to dismiss Apple users as mindless sheep. It's harder to recognize that most of them are regular, un-fanatical people who just happen to find a product they like using.

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @11:19AM (#35708410) Homepage Journal

    > If making a good tablet isn't enough to sell a good tablet, that means that the
    > demand for tablets is being driven by Apple rather than a need for tablets.

    Or, it means the competition ISN'T ACTUALLY GOOD. Can you name me one tablet with a 10 inch screen, 10 hour battery life, and the weight and thinness of an iPad, at ANY price, let alone the same price or less? Read this Ars review of the Xoom [] and tell me if it's something you really want to own. I'm not saying it'll never be good, but it is absolutely not there yet.

    Apple, believe it or not, is KILLING on price, and they've spent over YEARS* working on this device, whereas everyone else is playing catch-up. So there's a LOT of refinement in there that isn't always immediately apparent or easily quantifiable. 15 million people purchasing a $500+ device in the middle of a recession can not be entirely explained by a) braindead sheep easily swayed by marketing, b) fanbois, or c) OMGSHINY!

    Face it, techheads, the iPad is FUCKING GOOD in ways that are important to normal people and possibly beyond your ability to comprehend. How many slots you have, how many MP or flashes your camera has, how many MHz or cores you have, IS NOT EVERYTHING.

    Two quotes come to mind:
    "No wireless, less space than a Nomad. Lame." - CmdrTaco on the original iPod
    "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." - Louis Armstrong

    NOT THAT ALL IS LOST. Face it--it took Android a couple of years to get to the point where it is a really viable competitor to the iPhone on most fronts. Give Android 3.0 another year of refinement, some better tablet apps, and some better hardware and it'll be truly comparable to the iPad. But two things: 1) No matter how good they get, they're competing against a juggernaut in this space, and I expect Apple to maintain 70-80% of the market, leaving the remainder to be split among many companies, and 2) Don't expect Apple to just sit still either. They'll keep improving the iPad roughly annually, and they're leading in this space, so the competition will be trying to hit a moving target.

    * at the iPhone's launch in January 2007, Steve Jobs started by saying "I've been waiting two and a half years for this day." In post-iPad interviews he has said that they started on tablets first and then decided to release a phone first instead. So even if the two-and-a-half-year figure applies to when they started on tablets, that still puts us back to June 2004. Everyone else is saying "Wow, Apple is selling a lot of iPads, what can we make that's comparable?"

  • Re:Not exactly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by brkello ( 642429 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:10PM (#35711754)

    We think this because we come to this site and their are people defending Apple no matter what they do. We think this because there are products that are superior and cheaper to Apple's products on the market, but the Apple fanatic doesn't do research, they just buy the next Apple product. I own both Apple and non-Apple products. Apple does make nice stuff. But you can't be on a tech site and claim Apple is better than all their competitors. You can't tell me Apple's are immune to viruses and crashes. You can't the me the spec on an iPad 2 are better than the Xoom. But most Apple users don't even know what a Xoom is...because all they care about is Apple. You don't see them with other companies nearly as much as you do with Apple. It more sounds like you are justifying your fanaticism than others are trying to justify their own.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken