In 2012, affected by global economic factors such as the eurozone debt crisis, concerns towards China’s decelerating economy, and slow economic recovery in the U.S., shipments for major ICT and consumer electronics product did not meet projections from the beginning of the year. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablet PCs, however, have bucked the overall downtrend and continue to see strong sales. According to TrendForce, in 2012 smartphone shipments are projected to reach 606 million units, a 31.6% increase compared to last year; tablet shipments are forecast at 94 million units, a 69% increase. Desktops and notebooks are expected to see less than 5% yearly shipment growth, to 146 million and 206 million, respectively. Undeniably, desktops and notebooks are no longer in the spotlight; smartphones and tablets have taken center stage in the technology industry.
Microsoft Diving into Hardware Development Pool? Testing the Waters with the Surface Tablet
Microsoft’s June unveiling of its new Surface tablet shocked the PC industry; the software giant sought out ODMs and handled the development of both software and hardware in an unprecedented move by the corporation. Looking at the two product versions that will be available, it is clear that Microsoft is optimizing the hardware for both the x86 and ARM-based platform models. Based on the official arrival date for the Surface tablet, TrendForce believes the Windows RT version will be the highlight of Microsoft’s product releases this year, especially as the success of the new OS will be an important measure of where the manufacturer stands against Google and Apple.
The arrival of the Surface has important implications for both Microsoft and the media tablet ecosystem. TrendForce provides the following analysis regarding Microsoft’s expansion in the tablet sector this year: 1. Microsoft will continue to take a proactive stance in order to stay on top of product development timelines; 2. Development of Microsoft’s Metro UI will have decisive influence on the quality and quantity of apps available on the platform; 3. Whether Microsoft will eventually cooperate with OEMs on the Surface tablet or not depends on future sales performance; 4. Pricing of the Surface tablet is the most important part of Microsoft’s product strategy.
The Surface tablet’s hardware specifications have already been revealed, and the tablet market is shaping up for a three-way battle between Apple, Google, and Microsoft; the figure below provides a comparison of hardware specifications. Although Windows penetration in the tablet operating system sector is currently low, Microsoft’s leading operating system is highly competitive in itself, and Microsoft tablets will enable integration with Windows OS. Microsoft already provides a variety of services, including cloud services acquired or developed on its own (Skype, SkyDrive, etc.), and the company is working hard on achieving complete PC, smartphone, and tablet integration via Windows 8. Microsoft’s venture into the tablet sector is expected to help diversify the industry, as the manufacturer expands alongside Apple and Google and becomes an important cooperative partner for OEMs.
As for Microsoft’s new smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 8 (WP8), the next-gen OS shares a core code with Windows 8, which means that software developers will need to change less than 20% of a program to ensure both WP8 and Windows 8 support. TrendForce believes the following strengths will enable Windows Phone 8 to compete against Android-based smartphones: 1. WP8 upgrades are easier than Android upgrades; 2. Fewer compatibility issues for OEMs to work out, as WP8 specifies hardware requirements just as its Windows 8 big brother does for PCs; 3. WP8 provides a standardized consumer experience, whereas Android’s highly customizable nature results in wide variation between different devices. Therefore, although the development schedule for WP8 is behind that of its competitors, the standardization of Microsoft’s product lowers software development costs, which will in turn help increase WP8 market share.
Software and Hardware Both Key, Winner Takes All in New Mobile Device Era
Since 2007, Apple has provided full integration of content, software and hardware. From iTunes to iCloud, Apple’s services have always been cross-platform, working seamlessly on various Apple devices. The company’s strategy has stimulated strong sales, which in turn attracts more developers to build more apps, expanding Apple’s ever-increasing market presence, consumer loyalty, and profits. Apple’s domination has forced Google and Microsoft to break away from their tunnel-vision focus on software and directed their attention to the rest of the mobile device production chain.
In other words, the mobile game has changed; the emphasis on software-hardware balance brought about by Apple, Google, and Microsoft will usher in a new era for mobile devices beginning in the second half of 2012, and only manufacturers producing fully integrated devices will be able to entice consumers to take out their wallets in this sluggish economy.