The computer became personal when Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Macintosh in 1984, according to Malcolm Gladwell in a recent story in the New Yorker titled Creation Myth. A case can be made this helped launch what we now call the era of consumerization of technology, where technology is liberated from technogeek functionality and democratized so anyone and everyone can easily use it.
Lightning struck again when Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010. As with the desktop computer decades earlier, tablets had been round for many years. The Styalator electronic tablet with pen, for example, was developed in 1957, and the more famous RAND Tablet was invented in the early 1960s. The RAND Tablet, by the way, was priced at $18,000!
Owners of tablets will represent nearly eight percent of the U.S. population by the end of the year, according to an estimate by eMarketer. Smartphones, in comparison, will reach an immensely larger share of the population, approaching 25% by the end of 2011.
But there are compelling reasons why tablets are the more significant game changer for retailers. Recent RIS surveys (bolstered by interviews with key executives) indicate that tablets are being fast tracked for retail roll out. Many companies have already purchased boatloads of iPads for headquarters staff, and the next step will be deployment to field and store managers.
But the real game changer is occurring at the store level where leading players like Best Buy, Rooms to Go and Rite Aid are exploring tablet implementations for the sales floor. The aim is to provide associates with the same amount of fire power that shoppers with smartphones have to research product specifications, comparisons, competitive pricing, special offers, and user reviews.
By using a dedicated sales tablet in-store associates get access to all of this information and much more. They can stream product demos, videos and visual representations of products in various settings. The associate can also show alternative products or product types (changing colors, sizes and styles, for example) that are not present on the sales floor.
As one retailer put it, sales associates today are essentially armed with pistols while shoppers entering stores are armed with machine guns. Tablets help level the playing field.