There’s a lot of talk about tablets floating around these days, so much so that Techmeme should change its name Tabletmeme. So Austin Startup set out on a mission to find out more about this remarkable, mythical Apple invention – a fancifully flat, game-changing take on the traditional personal computer.
Surprisingly enough, on our journey we discovered that a local, Austin-based company called Motion Computing has been making tablet computers since 2001. You heard us right. It turns out that the yet-to-be-released Apple tablet is not the first one ever, meaning that the supposedly self-declared “most important thing” that Steve Jobs has ever done has, in fact, already been done. So we asked Mike Stinson, Motion’s VP of Marketing, a few questions about their business, Apple’s rumored tablet, and how they felt about Steve Jobs crashing the party.
Most of the discussion about the Apple tablet is centered on consumer use cases; however, Motion has been providing slate tablets to “mobile professionals” for many years. Do you believe that an Apple tablet would have a noticeable impact on the business/professional market too?
You’re right, from what we can tell the Apple tablet seems to be consumer-focused with emphasis on content consumption with features for e-reader capabilities, gaming, music and video. Motion Tablets are purpose-built for point of service computing – markets where users need powerful, mobile and rugged devices at the point where they do their jobs. We see a lot of opportunity in markets like construction, field service, point of service and healthcare where users are required to stand, walk and compute. We expect Apple’s market entrance to help further communicate the value of the slate tablet PC form factor, but it’s hard to tell at this point how big of an impact it will have. We don’t expect to see a noticeable impact on Motion’s target users.
Many vendors are turning their attention towards tablets, including HP and Lenovo most recently at CES. What impact do you think this flurry of entries will have on Motion’s business?
The marketing activities of these leading hardware providers will provide a lot of visibility into the benefits of the tablet form factor. However, as with the Apple tablet, these devices are commercial-grade and heavily targeted at the consumer. Motion tablets have features that are tailored to vertical market users that compute in harsh, highly mobile environments. Rugged tablets with outdoor viewable displays, highly accurate pen navigation to run almost any windows based program or electronic form and powerful processors are all required for this set of users. So, while we see the increased visibility as a positive thing, we don’t expect to see a lot of impact on the “point of service” worker.
What challenges would Apple and other vendors face if they tried to introduce a tablet to the professional/business markets where companies like Motion have been focused for several years?
In addition to the product requirements listed above, there are unique integration and product requirements that are associated with point of service computing. Motion engages with customers on workflow planning, go-live and post-deployment support and other areas such as wireless validation. Our users also require product specialization – like the integrated RFID reader, barcode scanner and documentation camera, as well as solutions that support mobile workflows such as vehicle mounts, custom battery chargers, cases and docking solutions. It has taken us time and a lot of customer feedback to identify the most important requirements of our customers – and any manufacturer that targeted these markets would need the same level of specialization.
Tablets have long been associated with the medical vertical. How much of that association is true, and do you feel that Apple or other vendors entering the tablet market have what it takes (in terms of the products and expertise) to meaningfully penetrate that market?
Yes, tablets have been very successful in healthcare. The Motion C5 mobile clinical assistant (MCA) is the first purpose-built device from Motion. Fully sealed for easy disinfection with an integrated handle for mobility ease and integrated features– the C5 is highly tailored to healthcare. We have certified with the industry’s largest electronic medical record providers – which is critical in successful clinical deployments. There is a lot of room for growth in healthcare with the current emphasis on electronic patient records – but any provider that wants to be successful in these markets will tailor solutions to the unique needs of healthcare.
Some people believe that Apple is a “market maker”… that Apple can lift up other vendors merely by entering a niche market. Do you think Apple’s presence in your market would be beneficial or detrimental to existing vendors such as yourselves?
In Motion’s case we believe it will be beneficial because Apple will provide increased awareness of the slate tablet form factor, without competing directly.
If Apple introduces a tablet for consumers and also goes after the business/professional market, can we expect to see Motion specifically target the consumer market with a new device?
Motion has seen a lot of success delivering purpose-built devices for point of service computing in vertical markets. We never comment on unannounced products but, at this time we’re not focused on consumer devices.
With rumors about Apple’s potential launch of a tablet later this month reaching fever pitch, few people have taken the time to investigate what exactly is going on in the existing tablet market. What have been some of the key issues and recent trends in the tablet landscape that people might not be aware of?
We have seen increased recognition of the tablet as a strong productivity tool. People are automating a variety of processes in the field and reducing the time and costs associated with completing critical tasks by as much as 50 percent. We’re also seeing a lot of interest in in-store applications for point of sale, because the ability to take a fully-powered, Windows-based computing tool to the point of activity or point of sale reduces redundant tasks and enables faster collaboration. Additionally we’ve seen increased demand for ruggedized options, include a significant increase in solid state drive (SSD) deployments and durable, outdoor displays. There is a noticeable increased demand on the combination of durability and mobility.
What can industry watchers expect to see from Motion in the coming year?
We will continue to enhance our existing product line, develop even more partnerships with software providers that tablet-optimize their solutions, as well as deliver a number of peripherals that make it easier to deploy or use tablet PCs in the field. While we aren’t going to comment on unannounced products, we’re continually looking at new solutions to support mobile workflows and as technology evolves so will our products.
Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you would like to bring up?
Motion has had a really great year. We’ve introduced new solutions such as the Motion Clinical Workstation (MCW) and made several enhancements to our products and associated peripherals. We’re confident that the focus on rugged, highly mobile solutions designed for vertical market users that need to compute at the point of service is the right fit for Motion at this time. Additionally, we’re thrilled about the heightened level of awareness around tablet PCs and believe it will be beneficial for us going forward.