I’m on the hunt for a new tablet. While my indecision on whether to buy the large Kindle e-reader or a similarly large Android tablet is a discussion for the more masochistic to ask about, an interesting thought had struck me when I was browsing through what’s available. Anyone who has done this recently has seen the same thing: there are a cornucopia of tablets and tablet manufacturers. Admittedly, there might be some argument as to if these are, in fact, just the same company. That aside, the pure number of available and curiously similar tablets on the market reminds me of another very interesting time in computing history. That time is when the IBM clones came.
When comparing then to now, there are a lot of parallels. Back in the mid to late 80’s, it seemed that everyone and their uncles were making computers. Making computers back then could be a profitable cottage industry. Taiwan was punching out ever so slightly name-less components that allowed someone to cobble together a working system rather easily and cheaply. All you had to do was grab yourself a copy of the tantalisingly thick Computer Shopper magazine, thumb through the endless black and white ads and make a grocery list of parts you wanted to build your machine out of.
From this diaspora of choices rose a number of companies that have transformed themselves into the giants of the computer industry. Admittedly, some have lost some sheen, or have been swallowed up by others, but their rise cannot be overlooked. Some names? Gateway computer, for one. They grew up from the newsprint pages of yore (and the James T. Kirk homeland of Iowa) to become one of the larger players in the PC market. Dell was another big winner; I’m sure Michael was digging through those same ads we were in his dorm room.
Flash forward to today. The market for tablets looks pretty much the same as PCs did in the late 80s. Sure, there are some large names out there, like Asus (who in the late 80’s was making respectable motherboards for home computer builders, like me) and Samsung, but there is an even bigger market of slightly unknown tablet brands fighting for customers. If I were a betting man – and I only do when I am certain of winning – I would bet that somewhere in that soup there will be the next few giant electronics companies.
Seems far-fetched, doesn’t it? If Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma theory holds true, these tablet makers have found the price point that’ll tip the scales into giant sales. At the same time, it’ll leave the high end players who think folks actually want to buy a $400, similarly kitted tablet only the business market, or worse, just holding the bag.