St. Joseph company ready to be the change in the tablet computer market

As the co-owners of Kismet prowled the aisles of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January their excitement began to build.

Tablet computers were everywhere. All the big guys had them on exhibit: Microsoft, Toshiba, LG, Motorola.

It was raining tablets, as commentators said during the show. By some estimates, 80 were introduced as companies raced to be the one to keep consumers forever connected.

Scott Lange and Orlando Malone -- at the show to size up potential suppliers for the businesses they work with -- quickly realized they had the experience, contacts and supply chain in place to move into this exploding market.

They went home to St. Joseph and started a new division of their company, called Kiztek, specifically to provide a retail division that would help both them and their clients.

Within five weeks their tablets were built and ready for sale.

This has been called the year of the tablet and Lange and Malone are ready for it.

Various estimates say the market for tablets will hit between 30 and 60 million units in 2011. By 2014 that number could be more than 164 million units. Even if sales come in on the low side of the estimates that could be $7 billion in revenue by 2015. On the high end, predictions place sales revenues at $46 billion.

The tablet sales curve is rising faster than HDTVS, handheld gaming consoles and MP3 players. Analysts expect tablets to be replaced at a rate to be similar to MP3 players or smart phones rather than that of a PC. Based on its replacement rate, sales are expected to keep going up.

Although Apple had the advantage as the first to break open the market, that should wane a bit as consumers compare other tablets now being offered. Considering the size of the market there is room for lots of players, analysts say.

As the nation moves the into era beyond the desktop personal computer, analysts suggest people will be looking for devices that are personal, relevant and immediate.

That's where Kiztek and its line of tablets come in. Lange and Malone expect tablets to lead to big things for their company, not only because of the size of the tablet market, but because Kiztek has the ability to customize tablets to fit the hardware and software needs of specific businesses.

The company offer a range of tablets with functions built into them to satisfy customers in a number of different markets. It starts with the Monolith, a device designed for the workplace and beyond. Kiztek's Media Pro is for the entertainment market. The E-Traveler has a built in GPS and they expect it to be one gamers gravitate to. The Socializer is billed as a movie and music player, internet browser, Android App platform, and digital photo frame all in one.

At a table in the Pheonix in Benton Harbor's art district, Lange and Malone pull out their tablets and begin to put them through their paces. They show off the touch screen capabilities, the high definition screens, and speed with infectious enthusiasm of longtime friends.

The two have known one another since college and after graduation both took jobs with General Electric, although not in the same cities. Lange and Malone crossed paths again when they both came to work for different groups within Whirlpool in Benton Harbor. Malone ultimately convinced Lange to come work with him and they found they were a winning team. Through their experience and expertise in getting the right suppliers, they saved the company $100 million at one point.

They realized that small- and medium-sized businesses could use the expertise they had to realize similar savings, so they left to form Kismet, a company that helps find solutions for companies creating electronic devices.

Now, through the Kiztek division of the company, they will be able to offer a way for their clients to sell their products, as well.

When it comes to the tablets that are the company's first offering, what Lange and Malone expect to set them apart from the flood of tablets on the market is that their company has the ability to provide custom hardware and software solutions to businesses tailored to their exact requirements. 

They have the solutions for all sizes of companies, too.

"We're unique in that we can provide system solutions for whatever you need," Lange says. Through Kiztek Smart Solutions they can write specific applications as companies need them and as their needs change. When it comes to software solutions, "the big guys aren't playing there," Malone says.

One market for which their tablet is particularly well suited to is the medical field, which is being required to move to electronic records by federal mandate. Lange foresees a situation in which a doctor treating a broken arm can send an e-mail to radiology and get back an x-ray of the patient's fracture in minutes. "What now takes four to five hours can be accomplished in five minutes. It's instant communication," Lange says.

Schools have shown interest in the tablet because it allows teachers to control the devices as students walk into a room.

What excites Lange and Malone about the technology is its potential. As Malone says: "Our customers can let their imaginations run wild."

Kiztek tablets are made in China, as is the case with nearly all consumer electronic products these days.

The potential is there, however, for St. Joseph to someday soon become a hub for tablet sales and the development of a fulfillment center could bring a lot of jobs to the area.

"It's exciting," Lange says, "to be a part of that."

Kathy Jennings is the editor of Second Wave Media. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Photos by Erik Holladay.

Scott Lange and Orlando Malone with Kiztek tablet computers.

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