Judging from many of the products featured at CES 2011, it's going to be an Android year and distributors now are ramping up their initiatives to support the products and solutions associated with Google's mobile OS, according to executives. And they're hoping VARs are ready to do the same.
"I believe it's the year of mobility. These [Android] tablets are going to have a major effect on the business opportunities with VARs," said Dan Schwab, co-president of D&H Distributing, Harrisburg, Pa. "We believe tablets will have some effect on notebook sales, but mostly it will be additive and expand the market as an additional device."
Schwab noted that more than more than 100 tablets were showcased at CES 2011 in Las Vegas recently, a product category that garnered more fanfare than any other, he said. In addition to Android, D&H and other distributors are planning to support products on other platforms too, including Windows, Palm's webOS, Blackberry PlayBook, Apple's iOS and more.
After Apple's iPhone and iPad, it appears Android devices could be the quickest to mass market, but the expected onslaught of products from all comers in the first half of 2011 means distributors are rushing to make sure they have the right relationships, trained sales and technical resources and a strong overall strategy to support the burgeoning demand.
"It will be a very fragmented market this year. It's our responsibility to pick the right vendors, whether it be through the form factor, the OS, or just educating customers on how and where it fits into a solution," Schwab said.
For early adopters, D&H now carries Android tablets from Archos, ViewSonic among other brands. This week, D&H also picked up Sony Ericsson Android-powered phones.
This week, D&H announced it was carrying new Android phones from Sony Ericsson, including the Xperia X8, Xperia X10 mini and X10 mini pro, and will eventually include additional models introduced later this year, according to D&H.
Most distributors' Android offerings will initially be tablets. Some smart phones are available, but several distributors said their selections are limited right now. They added that conversations with OEMs and even carriers are under way to expand their presence in that area.
"We're right in the middle of these manufacturers launching products. When Android 3.0, Honeycomb, comes out late in Q1, that's when we'll see most of the tier-one OEMs launch their [Android tablets]," Schwab said.
SED International, a Norcross, Ga.-based distributor recently added two vendors: Augen and Boss Magic, for their Android-flavored tablets, and plans to add the Android devices from Acer, Asus and MSI once those products are released, said Rob Kalman, vice president of U.S. and corporate marketing at SED.
Even before Android 3.0 is released, SED is banking on Android 2.3, code name Gingerbread, to start sparking demand, Kalman said.
"We had meetings at CES and we're looking at additional [vendors]. This is one of those times when everybody is coming out with something at the same time. There's going to be a lot of product and there is going to be some consolidation. We are not interested in picking up everything in the world. We will be selective on what we think are good choices for customers."
Next: Apps Are Key To Commercial SuccessGreg Parsonson, vice president of Systems at Tech Data, said his company currently sells Apple's iPad Hewlett-Packard Slate Windows-based tablet and a Viewsonic Android-powered product, but the Clearwater, Fla.-based distributor plans to add more devices very soon.
"Coming away from CES, Android is a formidable force in the slate and tablet space. I'd say about half of what we saw demonstrated was on Windows and half was on Android," Parsonson said.
As more products and more platforms hit the market, solution providers that can support multiple OSes will be ahead of the game, Parsonson said.
"I anticipate it being easy enough to support all three platforms [Apple, Android and Windows]. That's how it will be positioned. And each OS is doing a good job to make sure it's easy for [VARs] to participate in any of the three," he said.
Kevin Murai, president and CEO of Synnex, said Android-powered devices will also see considerable uptick once more bandwidth is available through major mobile carriers on 4G networks and when applications are developed for true business value.
"The actual apps themselves are not going to be characterized as off the shelf. There's off-the-shelf e-mail connectivity [as an example] but integration into the business workflow, that's where we'll focus: on the very specific application layer," Murai said.
Executives for Ingram Micro were not available, but a spokeswoman said the Santa Ana, Calif.-based distributor is also ramping up its portfolio of Android-powered tablets and smart phones, as well as those from competing platforms.
Solution providers should be driving business applications into more mobile devices, as well as integrating smartphones and tablets into existing solutions, Schwab said.
Distributors also might play a role working with application developers or even with solution providers themselves to customize apps specifically for vertical markets or other business needs, said Tech Data's Parsonson.
"It could be health care, legal, education. The real value [end users] see from the apps, it'll get them into the whole solution and the VARs can guide them towards appropriate apps," he said. "You need to align to the needs of the end user community."
Added SED's Kalman, "The tablet lends itself to some of that. There are new waves of [apps] in health care, new ways to run the business. The tablet currently lends itself more to the consumer space, but as the next generation comes out, there will be more opportunity for business."