Competition for the iPad?

It has been a busy month in the tablet world.  There were over 100 tablet computers introduced at CES, including the Motorola Xoom.  RIM continues to develop the BlackBerry Playbook, introduced in October 2010, and still not on the market.  On Wednesday of this week, HP introduced the TouchPad, which will be released sometime this summer.  And there are rumors that Samsung will soon announce the Galaxy 2, a larger Android-based tablet (10″).

Motorla Xoom

And let’s not forget the pre-existing tablet interface that has existed with Windows since 2002 (for more Windows Tablet discussion, see ViolaJack’s blog).

LE1700 Windows Tablet

I’ve seen research that the iPad commands roughly 95% of the tablet market (which is amazing, considering that Windows has had tablets available since 2002).  People point to the amazing growth of Android phones versus the iPhone, and expect similar growth with Android tablets (in particular) versus the iPad.  So let’s talk about this.

RIM BlackBerry Playbook

First, regarding Android phones, they have been available on more carriers (in the US) than the iPhone, and some versions are given away free with contract.  The iPhone always costs more (although you can buy a 3GS version for under $50 at the moment) and although it is subsidized, it is never given away free.

HP TouchPad

Second, Android phones are experiencing “fragmentation,” meaning that different Android phones run different versions of the software.  Ultimately, many older Android phones (some released less than a year ago) will never be updated to new versions of the Android Operating System.  This is a major issue, as different versions of the OS are not always compatible.  For example…iOS 4.2 ran very differently than iOS 3.2, and many apps had to undergo major revisions to be 4.2 compatible (particularly on the iPad).  Although original iPhones (2007 EDGE models) and iPhone 3G models may no longer qualify for updates, those models are four and three years old.  iPhones still “under contract” were able to update to versions of iOS 4.  There are currently phones running Android 2.1, 2.2., and 2.3–3.0 is coming for tablets and phones, but it sounds like none of the current Android phones will be updated.  This makes life difficult for programmers and consumers.  Meanwhile, 90% of iPhone users are using iOS 4.  Granted, advancements in technology will keep some phones from updates…but if a phone has been released in the last 6-12 months, you would think that they would be able to run the latest software.  (Granted, individual phone manufacturers control the update sequence and also put their own template over Android…so this isn’t all Google’s fault, although they are part of the problem).

The Barnes and Noble Nook Color - Actually a 7" Android Tablet

Third, Android’s app store is improving…and more apps are added daily.  However, fragmentation remains an issue, and the Apple App Store keeps growing, too.

Apple iPad

Finally, tablets will have the same issue as phones.  Other companies may compete with Apple in tablet pricing (although we’ve learned that a $499 iPad is actually a pretty good bargain compared to the unsubsidized price of many tablets, including Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, which is only a 7″ tablet, yet it costs more than the basic iPad), and some people will buy primarily on price.  If you buy a tablet and get one free, some people will go there.  Some people just hate Apple and will go with any alternative.  So ultimately, Apple’s 95% share of the tablet market will fade–just because more tablets are available.  Even so, I expect sales of iPads to continue to rise at tremendous rate, particularly when the iPad 2 is released.

Now, about the competition…let’s talk about some basics.  I know some people prefer the 7″ form factor for its portability.  A 7″ tablet is a great size for a large iPod.  But the world doesn’t run on 7″…the world…right now…runs on an 8.5×11 inch format.  As I’ve mentioned before, tablets flourish when allowed to free-flow to their own ideal size…but the world is still greatly influenced by the size of paper.  That’s why ViolaJack likes the 12″ 4×3 format LE1700 for music, and that’s why I would like to see an iPad XL.  For education, where paper is key, the 7″ tablet leaves something to be desired.  For music, it is too small.

Additionally, many of the new tablets are widescreen format…great for movies…but terrible for paper simulation.

The winning combination of the iPad is the ease of use of the OS, as well as the available apps.  And the fact that it is available TODAY.  You can wait for the next best thing…but it may never come (like HP’s Windows 7 tablet last year).  We KNOW the iPad 2 is around the corner…but if you want an iPad, you can get one today…at Apple, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Verizon, or other dealers.  Want that Zoom?  That Playbook?  That TouchPad?  That Galxaxy Tab 2?  You’ll have to wait.  And in the world of technology, waiting eventually becomes inaction.   Eventually you have to decide to play or get off the playground.

And once again, don’t forget the apps.  There are over 60,000 iPad-optimized apps in the app store…ready to be used right now.

I’m all for competition…it is great to have competitors, as competition results in better pricing, innovation, and further refinement.  A lot of anti-Apple people (many in educational IT departments) are hoping for iPad substitutes.  Perhaps one of these new tablets will fit their wishes.  But for now, the iPad’s main competition remain announced and unreleased.

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