Upstart Tablet Aims High

The tablet market continues to grow at an amazing rate with recent IDC estimates putting it at an annual growth rate of over 27 percent, with 227 million tablets expected to ship in 2013. IDC expects he tablet market to grow by almost 80 percent over the next four years. The fourth quarter of this year will see more tablets shipped than PCs, and this will occur on an annual basis by 2015.

Apple's iPad continues to dominate the market (with new models expected to be introduced soon), but Samsung, Amazon, Google and others present a growing challenge. For the most part, though the feature set of tablets is quite similar – a touchscreen, a variety of sensors, front and back cameras, and perhaps a slot for a memory expansion card or perhaps HDMI out in some cases.

One new entrant in the tablet market aims to shake up that model. German game peripherals maker Sunflex is introducing the unu tablet this fall as a combination of a tablet, a smart TV, and a gaming console. The [a]list daily spoke with Nicki Repenning, vice president of business development about the unu tablet.

He explained that they thought of the tablet as being in its earliest stages, and dreamed of how they could evolve it to the next level. "If the tablet is in its infancy, what could you do to develop it further? How could you bring it to the next level? Right now it's something you use for yourself, it's not a social device.," said Repenning. "It's not something you can use with everyone. How can you make it the hub of your whole entertainment system throughout the house?"

The idea is simple, but proper execution is not. Getting the details right is important, and Sunflex has done its homework. The hardware portion is a 7 inch Android 4.2 tablet, with a 1280x800 screen, a 1.6Ghz quad-core processor, 8GB of storage expandable to 72GB with an SD card, and a 5MP rear camera with a 2 MP front camera. This comes with a docking station for your TV, an HDMI cable, and an airmouse remote that allows gesture control on the TV as well as a full QWERTY keyboard. That package weighs in at $199.99 retail, a feature that's extremely important in a very competitive market. There's also a Gaming edition, which includes all of the above hardware plus a Bluetooth game controller for $249.99.

"We wanted to play more traditional games as well as casual games, so we included a high-end Bluetooth wireless controller," said Repenning. While the number of Android games that make good use of a controller is small, Sunflex is making it easy to adapt existing games to the system. "We've included three different SDKs so it can handle any controller game, and there's a button mapping function built in to emulate as if you were touching the screen," said Repenning. The airmouse can be used to play gesture-controlled games on the TV screen, such as Angry Birds or Cut The Rope.

The pricing makes the unu tablet competitive against major players like the Kindle Fire HDX at $229, or Google's Nexus 7 at $229. Of course, the tablet has to be in front of people when they make a buying decision. Sunflex has distribution with major retailers including Best Buy, GameStop, WalMart, Newegg, Amazon, and Office Depot. Unfortunately, the product won't be in most of those stores before Christmas, but it will be featured on store web sites. Alone among major retailers, GameStop will have the unu tablet in stores for the holidays – which is good, considering the tablet's strong gaming positioning.

Marketing is the biggest challenge facing an upstart tablet, and Sunflex knows it's got a fight ahead for visibility. Initially, PR will drive early awareness, along with Google advertising to drive inquiries to the pre-order site. "This is step one," said Repenning. The company will follow that up with appearances at events, participation in awards competitions and more. "In December a marketing campaign is planned, with videos built around the theme of "more fun simply won't fit" to be posted on YouTube and using social media to create awareness." The process won't be easy. "It's an uphill battle," admitted Repenning.

The key differentiator for the unu tablet is its three capabilities in one unit. First is the ability to turn your ordinary HDTV into a smart TV, with all of the benefits. That's better than a smart TV in one sense – you can move the docking station to a different TV, or buy a second docking station. Second, the unu is a gaming console that can compete with Ouya, with a powerful CPU/GPU combination and the HDMI capability along with the wireless controller. Finally, it's also a competitively priced Android tablet.

The difficulty ahead for the unu tablet is purely a marketing one, and it's an issue that will have to be addressed without the massive warchests available to a company like Amazon or Google. Can Sunflex generate enough viral interest, social media and SEO juice to generate some significant sales? Is it possible for a hardware product from a small manufacturer to really get noticed amongst the giants? The challenge is enormous, and it will be interesting to see the outcome next year.

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