Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down


17 June 2012 by Nicholas in Technology

Remember the netbook? Lovely little devices, battery lasted for ages, low powered laptops that you could use to browse the internet and work on simple documents using. They’re pretty much dead now, replaced by the tablet. The tablet has fewer parts to go wrong, a smaller form factor, are more intuitive and more responsive.

When I saw the first iPad I had no idea what on earth it was for and what it would actually achieve. In terms of prescience it is right up there with not signing The Beatles, and proof of a different Apple getting it completely right when others didn’t have their foresight or imagination (or, possibly, blind luck).

We’re now on the brink of the post PC age, where sites will be designed to be rendered and viewed on tablets. Intel has just readied their first mobile phone, and are obviously positioning themselves to provide chips for use in tablet devices. Microsoft is preparing a version of Windows whose UI only makes sense in the tablet marketplace.

Microsoft and Intel are both latecomers to the marketplace. I honestly think that Intel will succeed because they have invested so heavily into low powered chips and have a very aggressive die shrink plan in place. They’ll be creating chips as powerful as anyone else and pricing them very competitively just to ensure they capture some of the market. Add in the fact they have the ability to throw engineers and programmers at ensuring that there are applications and optimisations in place for their chips and it looks relatively good for them.

Microsoft, by comparison, may be in trouble. The tablet eco system already seems to have settled on Android and IOS, with HP having found there is no room for another operator. Windows will have to have been written from the ground up to be quick and responsive on a tablet and then have apps that make sense in that form factor in order for it to be able to compete. Put simply, I don’t think they can achieve it. Microsoft make their money on their productivity suite and their OS, neither of which will create much revenue at the micro prices of the tablet marketplace. And Windows applications are largely very different from tablet applications.

Microsoft doesn’t look like being the only loser in the tablet sector. AMD haven’t got a low power enough chip to be able to compete and don’t look like they will be creating one any time soon. Cisco have been beaten out of the market, having tried to create a tablet for business. HP entered and exited the market in a hurry, costing them their management.

Of the PC players, the one company doing very well from the tablet market is Nvidia. They are now a larger company than AMD and this is partially due to AMD’s failure in the processor market and partially down to Nvidia making chips that are finding their way into tablets and phones. Whether by luck or management they are the company most easily transitioning to the new landscape who rose to prominence in the old.