Apple has tablet competition…and lots of it. The iPad has been reigning supreme for over a year and only now are some possible contenders starting to pop up. The next iPad model is due in April, or so the rumors are saying. By all intents and purposes, Apple is well ahead in the tablet race having come to market early on with a precise, full featured and elegant piece of engineering.
But as I saw at CES 2011, new tablets are coming, and lots of them at that. Many manufacturers are going to come after Apple to try to topple them from their current throne, much the way the smart phone industry is playing out. iPhone dominated smart phones for a long time, but then there was an influx of Android-based smart phones which has pushed Apple from pure dominance (although we should pay attention on the ripple effect of having Verizon carry the iPhone now – will there be a shift to Verizon? Will AT&T loyalists be happy with freed up bandwidth? Or will Android phones continue to gain market share?).
This is what I’m concerned about for tablets, as it has already happened in smart phones. Customers are going to be overwhelmed by choices. What size tablet to get? 8″, 9″, 10″, 11″ or what? What Operating System would be the best? Android is clearly one of the best OS choices in my mind. But what about JoliCloud or MeeGo? Let’s say that the industry seems to gravitate to Android, will it become the same fractured mess that it is with smart phones? That is to say, with the Android phone market currently, different carriers have different versions of Android. While Google may release a new update, it could take weeks to months before it appears within a carrier’s smart phone line due to customization or testing. Will this be the same experience for tablets? Just walking around CES I saw Android 2.1, 2.2 and 3.0 devices out there. Obviously, you want the one with the later version, but then you need to look at the hardware powering it. Intel chip or Motorola? And what type of inputs? SD slots? And outputs? HDMI?
Another thing to consider in the tablet race are the apps. Apple has proven that the App Store is crucial and core to the success of devices similar to these. They are so behind the idea of the App Store, that they introduced it to their desktops running the latest Snow Leopard Operating System. The Android Marketplace is strong but it is sort of the uncultured cousin of Apple’s App store. Regardless, I do think that Android tablets may be the more cost effective and higher performing platform to get.
Windows has tried and failed. And they are trying again. Honestly, I’m not convinced that Windows 7 will be the right operating system for a tablet computer. It’s pretty clear to me that Android and Apple iOS are the ones to watch.
So, if I’m confused, I can only imaging what the consumer is thinking. The tech media is quickly trying to review all of the offerings out there, and as of last count, there are well over 100 different types of tablets out there and even more emerging. Mainstream media still seems to have a love affair with the iPad though, and that is what consumers are buying, literally, as of right now. They know the iPad and they know Apple and they know the Apple App Store. It’s going to be really hard to compete with a single product and a solid app marketplace and an elegant and refined user interface. But competition will happen.
I believe in order to compete in this chaotic clutter coming to the tablet marketplace that manufacturers need to get their devices into the hands of bloggers. This will personalize the experience. Product reviews by mainstream tech media are great, especially if they are from known and respected journalists like Andy Ihnatko or David Pogue. But really it’s word of mouth of friends and family reactions to the devices that sell. Bloggers are one step away from that, not media and not exactly someone you can sit down and chat with. But they do offer reactions, positive and negative reactions and many of us do interact with our audiences and answer questions, one on one.
Until the manufacturers (and their PR firms) embrace the fact that in order to win the tablet race they need to get these out to people to experience first hand, it will just become a one-upsmanship of feature comparisons and coolness factors. Do these sell products? Sometimes they do, but again, with the clutter in the marketplace, I guarantee that the consumer is confused and either off to buy an iPad or waiting to see what winners emerge.
The 10 Tablet Commandments
Until the clouds clear and leaders emerge, I offer you this, The 10 Tablet Commandments, as a guide to traversing the misty path ahead of you when evaluating and later purchasing a tablet;
- Thou shall have no real tablets before the iPad. A Windows tablet does not count, even if they supposedly came out first.
- The iPad shall not be worshiped…well, maybe a little.
- Thou shall not release thy tablet before all of features are defined. That means no prototypes, or rumors…just release the thing, damn it…er…darn it!
- Remember that the Sabbath is for sitting on your sofa and using your tablet and nothing more. Your tablet is the only things that shall labor on the day of the Sabbath.
- Honor thy father and mother (be sure to give them a tablet computer because they really deserve it).
- Thou shall not murder the person cutting in line at the Apple store trying to get the last iPad 2.
- Thou shall not sleep with someone to get the next version iPad as it is practically adulterous.
- Thou shall not steal the next prototype of the iPad from a developer in a bar in Silicon Valley.
- Thou shall not claim thy tablet is better than another without letting people test them first.
- Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s tablet, nor his smart phone, nor his netbook, nor any gadget he has, unless, of course, they are really great.
Remember, the “holy war” to become the dominant “god” within the tablet marketplace is just beginning. It’s positioned to be an interesting race. If you have ideas, questions or comments, be sure to let me know!
HTD says: The tablet is primed to become the next Holy Grail of computing. Which one will you choose?