2010年12月3日 星期五

Tablets Prove the Right Medicine for Consumers

Tablets Prove the Right Medicine for Consumers
The January launch of Apple's iPad has been the most talked about consumer technology event of the year. Much of the discussion has revolved around just how innovative the iPad really is. It does not look that different from other manufacturers' devices, which are essentially laptops that use a touch-screen rather than a keyboard for input.

The origins of this type of tablet computer design go back decades. An electronic clipboard with a touch-screen featured in the original 1966 Star Trek science fiction television series. The first commercially available tablet computer, the GRiDPad, was released in 1989. Since then the basic concept has altered little although there have been huge improvements in the underlying technologies such as touch-screens, batteries, processors, connectivity and software.

Although sales of tablet computers have never been enormous, they have been used in a number of important, mainly industrial, niches in areas where a keyboard is either impractical or unnecessary. Until the iPad came along none of these devices was remotely 'cool'.

Beyond its attractive physical design, where the iPad differs from most existing tablet computers is that it uses a variation on the operating system developed for the iPhone rather than one created for desktop or laptop computers. This difference has led to a number of analysts creating a new category of device called 'media-pads' or 'slates' to describe the Apple product and its competitors.

Although a number of iPad alternatives have been announced, few are actually on sale yet. Really all they have in common is they are larger than smartphones, ranging from the Dell Streak with a five-inch screen, the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook with seven inches and the iPad's 10 inches.

Perhaps Apple's central achievement with the iPad has been to tie it into the same ecosystem it had already developed for its range of iPod personal music players and refined for its iPhone handset. From Apple's own online store it's an easy, intuitive process for users to download music, video and, most famously, small software applications known as 'apps'.

This makes the iPad more of a platform for innovation than an innovation in itself. As with the clam-shell laptop, it's not really possible to change the fundamental design of tablet computers. The greatest innovation on the horizon comes from the development of thinner, lighter, flexible displays most notably from the Taiwan-based Industrial Technology Research Institute, which won the top prize in this year's Wall Street Journal Innovation Awards.

This technology could usher in a range of more portable devices, but it's the way they're likely to be used for the consumption of content that's key. Perhaps the most significant technological development is going on behind the scenes as, for instance, publishers look to find ways to sell and display their content on screens of varying size and quality. An important example is News Corporation's purchase of Skiff, which enables the distribution of digital newspapers and magazines to a multiplicity of devices while retaining the original publications' look and feel.

The other key area for innovation is in the operating system software used to power the new breed of tablet computers. These are in continuing development from Microsoft, Nokia's MeeGo, RIM BlackBerry and HP, which recently acquired the former hand-held computer market leader Palm and its WebOS. Most devices, however, are expected to use variations on Google's Android OS, which closely resembles Apple's iOS in that it has an extensive range of apps and it runs on both smartphones and tablet computers. The difference is any manufacturer can make a device to run on Android whereas iOS will only run on Apple products.

But there has been some suggestion that the choice of operating system is almost immaterial as tablets are designed to be connected wirelessly to the internet almost permanently. The idea is that software, data and services instead of being stored on an individual device, are available on demand in a similar way to electricity from a grid, a process known as 'cloud computing'.

Duncan Stewart, the author of Deloitte's 2010 Tablet Prediction, does not believe this makes the operating system irrelevant, partly because some users will have specialist needs, such as high security, and because it's a more effective way of controlling functions such as built-in cameras. He says: 'Tablet devices will need to be used in an offline fashion, you can't always move everything to the cloud.'

The fact that there is just one design of iPad -- although more are expected -- leaves plenty of room for competitors to produce devices of different sizes, prices and new functions. The current models, for instance, have no camera, no slots for memory cards, no USB sockets and are unable to play Flash, the software used for many games, videos and animations on the internet.

'What will probably happen in tablets is there will be very different price points and market positioning, just like cars,' says Mr. Stewart. 'And those companies that are first to market in new sizes, new feature sets, new price points will end up dominating those portions of the tablet market.'

One key area will be enterprise-level computing as Apple does not have a strong reputation in business applications or integration with corporate IT infrastructure. The BlackBerry PlayBook was announced in September very much as a serious and secure business-oriented device to distinguish it from the more consumer-focused iPad.

Robert Filkins, consultant at telecommunications specialist, Coleago Consulting, says BlackBerry or Microsoft Windows powered devices might have more success. 'Having said that, there is no doubt that corporate IT department geeks love gadgets, and the iPhone and iPad are very attractive gadgets,' he adds. 'So the traditional resistance that Apple has experienced when trying to break into the corporate world may be significantly less when IT staff themselves want to use these products.'

The iPad is already finding favor in some corporate settings, according to Tom Schwenger, global director of sales and marketing for Accenture's Life Sciences practice: 'Within the pharmaceutical industry, we see the iPad as a being an appropriate size for a variety of uses. It's small enough to be used unobtrusively by field reps within a physician's office or hospital setting where laptops may be obtrusive or prohibited. The large screen makes it an ideal platform for showcasing interactive content with physicians.'

It could be that the iPad is most important in terms of innovation in the ways it is used rather than its physical form. Already some magazines have iPad editions to take advantage of its video and interactive functions. None is regarded as entirely successful.

As other devices appear, the challenge will be to make the publications available for sale without making them easy to pirate. At the same time the mass market for tablet computers is so new that nobody really knows which direction it will take or how big it will grow.

Nick Clayton

果 公司(Apple)於1月份推出的iPad已成為本年度最受關注的電子消費品。這方面的熱議大多是圍繞著iPad的創新性﹐但實際上﹐iPad的外型與其 他廠商生產的平板計算機並沒有多大區別。從本質上講﹐平板計算機就是一個使用觸摸屏而非鍵盤進行文字錄入的筆記本計算機。

Abi Hardwick
平 板計算機的設計原型可以追溯到幾十年前。1966年﹐美國科幻電視劇《星際迷航》(Star Trek)首次提出了使用觸摸屏的電子寫字板的概念。1989年﹐第一台商業化量產的平板計算機GRiDPad亮相市場。從那時起﹐平板計算機的基本概念 沒有多大變化﹐但在底層技術方面有了巨大的進步﹐包括觸摸屏、電池、處理器、連通性和軟件等等。


除 了吸引眼球的外型之外﹐iPad與現有大多數平板計算機的區別在於其使用了一個為iPhone開發的操作系統的衍生版本﹐而不是專門為個人計算機和筆記本 計算機開發的操作系統。這種區別導致許多分析師新設了一個電子設備的分類﹐叫做媒體平板(media-pad)或slate﹐以描述蘋果及其競爭對手推出 的此類產品。

三星公司的Galaxy Tab﹐希望能夠成為iPad的替代品。
雖 然已有很多公司宣佈推出可替代iPad的平板計算機產品﹐但實際投入銷售的還寥寥無幾。這些產品的最大共性就是它們都比智能手機的尺寸大﹐如戴爾公司 (Dell)五英寸屏幕的Streak﹐RIM公司七英寸屏幕的BlackBerry PlayBook﹐以及十英寸屏幕的iPad等。


這 使得iPad更多意義上是一個創新的平台﹐而非創新本身。和翻蓋式筆記本計算機難以突破自身形狀一樣﹐平板計算機的基本設計幾乎也沒有改變的可能。該領域 最大的創新來自於更輕薄更靈活的顯示屏技術﹐以台灣工業技術研究院(Industrial Technology Research Institute)開發的最為著名﹐該技術贏得了本年度的《華爾街日報》技術創新獎(Wall Street Journal Innovation Awards)。

這項技術的應用可以生產出一系列更為便攜的設備﹐但消費者如何通過該技術進行內容方面的消費活動才是關鍵所在。也許﹐最 重大的技術進步正在幕後發生﹐比如說出版商尋求在各種尺寸和質量的顯示屏上展示和銷售出版物。其中一個重要事件就是新聞集團(News Corporation)收購電子閱讀平台Skiff﹐從而可以將其數字報紙和雜志能發佈到各種閱讀設備上去﹐同時保留原始出版物的外觀和閱讀感覺。

Research in Motion公司CEOMike Lazaridis和他的黑莓PlayBook。
創 新的另一個核心領域是驅動新一批平板計算機的操作系統軟件。微軟(Microsoft)、諾基亞(Nokia)MeeGo、RIM黑莓和惠普(HP)都在 進行這方面的開發﹐惠普公司最近收購了曾引領掌上計算機市場的Palm公司及其WebOS操作系統。然而﹐絕大多數移動設備預計將使用谷歌公司 (Google)Android OS的各種衍生版本。該操作系統與蘋果公司的iOS操作系統很像﹐都有大量的應用程序可供使用﹐都能同時在智能手機和平板計算機上使用。兩者的區別在於﹐ 任何一個設備製造商都可以開發基於Android操作系統的移動設備﹐而iOS只能用在蘋果公司自己的產品上。

也有人提出建議說﹐操作系 統的選擇根本不重要﹐因為平板計算機本來就設計成能夠隨時與互聯網進行無線連通。他們認為﹐軟件、數據和各類服務用不著儲存在移動設備上﹐而是可以隨時從 互聯網上調用﹐就像通過電網隨時用電一樣。這種方式被稱為雲計算(cloud computing)。

《德勤會計師事務所2010年平板 計算機預測》(Deloitte's 2010 Tablet Prediction)的作者斯圖亞特(Duncan Stewart)並不認為雲計算會使操作系統變得無關緊要﹐部分原因在於有些用戶仍有自己的特定需求﹐如較高的安全性等﹐因為這是控制內置攝像頭等功能安 全性的一種更有效的方式。斯圖亞特說﹐平板計算機也應該能在線下使用﹐畢竟你不能把什麼東西都放到網上去。

雖然預計將有更多型號出現﹐但 iPad目前只有一種型號﹐這給競爭對手推出不同尺寸、不同價格和不同功能的移動設備留出了充足空間。舉例而言﹐現有的iPad型號沒有攝像頭﹐沒有記憶 卡插槽﹐沒有USB接口﹐無法播放Flash﹐而Flash是互聯網上許多遊戲、視頻和動畫所採用的格式。


其 中一個關鍵領域將是企業應用﹐因為蘋果公司在商業軟件方面沒有很強的市場聲譽﹐與企業IT基礎設施的整合程度也不高。RIM公司於2010年9月宣佈推出 BlackBerry PlayBook平板計算機﹐這是一個商用特色明顯、安全性能突出的商用移動設備﹐與更注重個人消費者的iPad形成鮮明區別。

電 信咨詢公司Coleago Consulting的咨詢師菲爾金斯(Robert Filkins)表示﹐使用黑莓或微軟Windows操作系統的移動設備可能有更多的成功機會。菲爾金斯說﹐不過話說回來﹐企業IT部門的技術精英喜歡創 新的小玩意兒﹐iPhone和iPad對他們來說很有吸引力。因此﹐如果IT部門的員工自己也想用蘋果的產品﹐那麼蘋果公司進入商業領域所遭遇到的阻力可 能就會比原先小得多。

埃森哲咨詢公司(Accenture)生命科學部門負責銷售及市場營銷的全球董事施文格(Tom Schwenger)表示﹐iPad已經在一些商業場合受到青睞。他說﹐在醫藥行業﹐我們看到iPad的尺寸在很多場合使用起來很合適﹐醫藥代表去診所或 醫院拜訪時﹐筆記本計算機可能引人注目或被禁止使用﹐而iPad的尺寸就顯得比較低調。此外﹐iPad的大屏幕是銷售代表向醫生展示產品交互式內容的理想 平台。



Nick Clayton