It’s clear from Mobile World Congress that tablets are the pivotal product in the mobile space. All the financial analysts have estimated iPad growth will beat that of the iPhone. You can tell that everyone is frightened of an Apple market sweep by the fact that tablets are being rushed out for display with neither pricing nor availability noted. Part of this is the fact that the tablet players are still looking at carrier deals and don’t want to spoil any negotiations. But another issue is that Apple competitors are just not ready. Android Honeycomb is the first tablet-sensitive version, WebOS is just emerging from its new HP parent, and nobody is sure what form factor makes sense or how important the enterprise is versus the consumer.
Smartphones and tablets might become the next battleground between traditional players and the emerging China competitors. ZTE is going to ramp smartphone production and is promising models under a hundred bucks. I’ve also heard that both ZTE and Huawei are looking hard at the tablet space, both focusing on an Android model. The story is that there won’t be a big push by either until late this year, but you never know.
The entry of either of these players could throw a big wrench into the market because both might be inclined to offer a very cheap WiFi-only model that would decouple tablets from carriers on a larger scale. That could confound the strategies of the current giants, though some (like Apple) already have a pure WiFi capability. The reason for vendors liking the carrier strategy is the subsidy, which gets the price down and increases acceptance. If somebody does that without the subsidy, all bets are off.