I See a Tablet in Your Future

The emergence of tablet computers, most recently highlighted by Apple’s iPad, has significant implications for channel marketing and sales operations, well beyond the computer industry. The form, price, portability, connectivity, and convenience of tablet computers place them in a market “sweet spot;” between laptops and cell phones (which, of course, will still have their own substantial uses).

On Monday, the New York Times ran an article highlighting commercial iPad deployment by General Electric, Wells Fargo, and Medtronic among other corporate users. On a call with financial analysts, Apple’s CFO claimed that 80 percent of the Fortune 100 is now deploying or piloting iPads.

There really isn’t that much you can do on a tablet relative to a laptop; its just that tablets are easier to carry, share, and use with multimedia. They can also tap into the vast ecosystem of app developers. I think tablets are likely to impact manufacturers’ channel operations in several areas:

Partner Portals– to reach tablet-enabled channel salespeople, manufacturers will need to adapt their portals. More video. Apps that link to the portal – imagine a deal registration app, or a special-promotion app, for example

Product Demos– channel reps will want vendors to contribute tablet-ready demo content. This means more multi-media and Internet links as part of the demo. Reps might also want to initiate a simultaneous chat session with vendor support people during the demo

Channel Training and Support– same thing as above

Trade Shows– tablets will allow salespeople to venture beyond the booth to offer demos, collect contact information, etc. Using the GPS features might even allow for a variety of new selling opportunities

Apps– end-customers and channel partners will look to vendors for any number of potential apps for the tablet (and vice versa, manufacturers will push partners and end-customers to use vendor-written apps). Third-parties may also develop apps, either to fill gaps left by vendors or to handle functions that cut across multiple vendors

However, distributors are notorious laggards in the adoption of technology. Therefore, I suspect that the early inroads will happen in more tech-savvy channels and at the end-user level. Traditional resellers will be pulled into the tablet market by others.

Even among tech-savvy channels and end-customers, tablet adoption is not a slam-dunk. Manufacturer IT budgets are already strained. Furthermore, how do you secure and audit all the potential information flowing through such portable (and potentially losable devices)?

Like most new technologies, people are probably overstating the speed of adoption, but underestimating the eventual impact.

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