By Stephen Schenck | May 16, 2013 7:04 AM
Competition is one of the most powerful forces driving the mobile industry. It fuels innovation, keeps prices reasonable, and opens up worlds of options. Whether we’re talking about OEMs, carriers, or the companies crafting mobile platforms, competition is awesome.
That said, having more options isn’t necessary always a good thing, and when there’s already a healthy amount of competition going on, just throwing more contenders in the ring doesn’t always lead to positive results. That’s what I’m thinking about this morning, specifically when it comes to LG and tablets.
LG, Back In The Game
The rumor arrived just about a week ago: a report out of South Korea claimed that LG was to start making tablets again this year, maybe as soon as the third quarter. Wait, “again?” I had the same thought at first, as LG is not the first, second, or even in the top five companies I think of when we’re talking tablets. Sure enough, though, I pulled up the Pocketnow archives and refreshed my memory: LG had an Optimus Pad, and even put out an LTE version.
Then all of a sudden, LG started giving tablets the cold shoulder. Just about a year ago, the company announced that future tablet development was indefinitely on-hold. Really, LG’s tablet interest had already seemed like such a haphazard whim that the news carried little weight; it’s not like Samsung was closing up its tablet shop, or Nokia abandoning its entire phone business.
But now there’s this talk of LG rekindling those tablet fires. If the rumor is true, presumably LG finally has something interesting to say about tablets – some bold way to reemerge on the market, captivating us and giving its competition a run for its money, right? Right? As you can no doubt tell, I have my doubts.
What Would LG Do?
Ask me what an OEM needs to do to address an under-served niche of the smartphone market, and I could talk your ear off: we need higher-end phones with compact form factors, handsets where power concerns are placed first and foremost, and phones made from materials that are as durable as they are attractive. But with tablets… I’m hard-pressed to rattle-off a similar list.
So, why is that? I think that with tablets much more so than smartphones, our demands fall seriously lower. We’re not so obsessed with connectivity options, or even material choice. While things like bezels and thinness are on our radar, and enter into purchasing decisions, they just don’t seem as important as they would if we were talking about smartphones. That makes sense, since we’re using our phones so much more than any tablet that we need to have higher standards.
Looking at the Android layout of tablets – as that’s where I assume LG’s new entry would fall, it being the path of least resistance and all – we’ve got big tablets, little tablets, high-end ones, seriously underpowered ones, expensive models, and many even cheaper than our phones. Within reason, I can think up a screen size and general performance level I want, and I’ll find a few close options to consider.
Where does LG think it can improve upon that situation? Its smartphone game is already a little weak, and it’s not like the company can coast by on name alone; any LG tablet needs to address a not-previously-met need in order to succeed.
And here’s where I hit a brick wall. LG’s a fine company and I like its devices – a Nexus 4 is my daily driver – but it just doesn’t strike me as particularly innovative nor creative. Sure, it had some tech “first”s in years past, but for the life of me I can’t imagine a new LG tablet that doesn’t end up disappointing.
I don’t think LG could make a nice budget-priced tablet. At that end of the spectrum, margins are razor-thin, and you need to compensate with volume – somewhere LG is at a disadvantage.
I also don’t think LG can create a very compelling higher-end tablet. Being out of the game for as long as it has is going to put it behind the curve to begin with, and it would have its work cut out for it to best some of Samsung’s or Sony’s offerings.
On the flip side, it wouldn’t be flat-out impossible for LG to nail its return to the tablet field. Maybe LG’s learned a lot in the past year or so, and has the right mix of components in mind to create a killer tablet that still manages to beat everyone else on price, performance, and software. From what I’ve seen of LG, though, I’ve got to say that such a prospect is highly unlikely to the point where it’s barely worthy of consideration.
LG, stick to your strengths. You make some fine phones, but you’re still missing as often as you hit. Tablets are an avenue to branch into when you’re already comfortable with your smartphone business, or when you’re ready to lead the industry. I don’t think either of those are the case right now. As such, LG would probably be better off just leaving tablets alone.