When people talk about a specific brand becoming the generic term for a product type they usually refer to Hoover or Kleenex, but there are plenty of examples in technology too. Readers as old as this correspondent will remember referring to personal cassette players as Walkmans in the 80s.
But more recently it was Apple, with the iPod, that dominated a category so absolutely that its brand became, for many people, the term they used in preference to the cumbersome ‘portable digital music play' or the arcane and often inaccurate ‘MP3-player'. Now it looks set to repeat that with the iPod.
According to new research from Bernstein, reported on by All Things D, found that half the people surveyed in the US and UK said they would go for Apple if they were buying a tablet. Even big brands such as Samsung only got the nod from a tenth of respondents, on average.
"Fifty percent of respondents preferred Apple over all other brands. There is a remarkable degree of unanimity in consumer's preferences for the iPad over competing products," said the report. "In the US, we find that Apple has more than double the brand appeal of Blackberry, HTC, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung combined. These manufacturers have a very high level of brand equity and visibility in adjacent categories. It is striking that they hold so little appeal for consumers in tablets."
The reporter hypothesises that iPad has already become the generic term for the modern tablet - effectively a large smartphone - and it's hard to disagree. The iPad has a one year head-start on the competition, which has struggled to deliver a compelling alternative even then. In the eyes of many Apple invented the MP3-player, even though it didn't. But Apple really did invent the tablet and is able to offer a complete experience at a competitive price thanks to its mature, closed ecosystem.
As a result of this, the research sees Apple dominating the tablet market for the foreseeable future, with the only real market opportunity for everyone else being at the lower end, where margins are tight. As such it sees minimal upside for other handset manufacturers.
But as the quote above shows, there's nothing like this imbalance in smartphones. My feeling is that tablets won't get anywhere near the market opportunity offered by smartphones for some time, if ever. I've explored some of the reasons why in recent pieces, but it comes down to this: tablets are neither as good for productivity as notebooks, nor as portable as smartphones, in fact there are very few functions they perform uniquely well.
On a related note, Microsoft recently published some research into our ‘emotional connections' with the various screens in our lives. Apparently it "applied Jung archetypes to help put personalities to each device," as you do.
So the TV, it emerged, can be personified as an old friend who's a bit of a laugh, unless you live in more authoritarian countries, where it has more of an Orwellian, Big Brother persona. The PC was a more universally trusted as you can exercise more control over it, while the smartphone is a new lover that you can't stand to be separated from, and tablets fall somewhere between all these categories - further evidence for its lack of unique identity.
Here are some other bullets from the study.
- At the core is a story of consumers and their relationships with screens. These are not impersonal devices but rather, personifications of their users: caring, loving ... normal.
- In the U.S. and UK, people have a strong friendship with TV. Nostalgia plays an important role in how they perceive the screen. Not so in Russia or China, where the TV was under state control and became something to be wary of. Saudi Arabia sits somewhere in between.
- People over 45 are more likely to prefer watching programs or movies on TV, whereas people under 30 watch all sorts of video on their computer. In fact, to them, it's especially important to be able to access content across every device that they own.
- Around the world, consumers in Russia and China feel closer to their PC than TV.
- Did you know that mobile devices are the screen of choice in developing markets?
- People let their guard down when watching TV. It's a particularly powerful screen for delivering brand messages.
- It's not surprising that video goes viral on PCs; it's the screen of choice for sharing.
- There's the potential to attract 1 billion new customers by getting the content right across all four screens.
It's interesting that they conclude with ‘four screens', which presumably means TV, PC, phone and tablet. While the tablet is still searching for an identity - and a Jungian archetype, for that matter - it's generally considered to be a whole new category that's here to stay. How the tablet evolves will be fascinating to observe, and the biggest worry for Apple's competitors is not its current dominance of the tablet market, but the likelihood of that still being the case in five year's time.