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Apple Hasn't Sewn Up the Tablet Market Yet

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CrunchGear’s Matt Burns created a stir last week when he asked whether Apple had “preemptively killed” the U.S. tablet market with its iPad. But as I explain in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, all Apple really did was create a tablet market that simply didn’t exist before. And it’s one that still contains plenty of opportunity for competing devices.

Though enormously popular, the iPad remains primarily a complementary gadget: It isn’t functional enough to replace a laptop (at least for most of us) and it obviously won’t replace your smartphone. So the demand should be relatively small, especially given the starting price point of $500. In fact, the iPad’s enormous popularity owes more to the fact that it can do so many things well, from gaming to casually surfing the web to delivering video for individual consumption. But none of those qualities are unique to the iPad — any similarly sized tablet could offer the same features.

And the iPad isn’t without its shortcomings — a lack of Flash support, so-so integration with programs like Microsoft Word, the absence of any sort of camera or space for removable media, along with a price point beyond the range of many consumers. Those vulnerabilities leave the door wide open for vendors who can build a better — or less expensive — mousetrap. Just as it did with its iPhone, Apple has done a remarkable job of creating demand for devices and services users may not have even known they wanted previously. Now it’s up to Cupertino’s competitors to improve on the iPad and prevent Apple from owning a space that simply wasn’t there just a few short months ago.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr user Yutaka Tsutano.

23 Responses to “Apple Hasn't Sewn Up the Tablet Market Yet”

  1. I just got an iPad, and it is definitely a complementary device, in addition to my Android smartphone and PC laptop. I create a lot of content and shift files back and forth and have not yet figured out how to deal with the lack of USB, using iTunes and finding the right Apps to help me perform business tasks (and it was a surprise that everything costs $$). I don’t see it replacing my laptop at all (and just returned from a trip carrying three “screens.”). I think that there will be a lot of “winners” in this category – it depends on what you are willing to trade-off. I wanted something now, love the instant-on and some of the user-interface advantages. I’m also learning what’s important to me for a future tablet. And, of course, my young kids love it.

  2. John Davis

    I do a lot of writing and the combination of iPad and BlueTooth keyboard is perfect for long writing sessions. The battery lasts forever and Pages is a very capable word processor. My iPad is not a substitute for my main computer, but an extension of it. It’s lighter and much smaller than a laptop and perfect for business trips.

    It’s an excellent product and one that I can’t see being imitated any time soon.

  3. dieter bohler

    it replaces my laptop 100percent and I use it extensively on trips and at home and yes it replaced my need for an iphone 100 percent so I’m happy to use it with my old company issued blackberry again … the same is true for my 12 year old son and a colleague who is a senioe manager as well…flash is not even an issue! you are therefore wrong….

    • Colin Gibbs

      I appreciate the fact that there are at least three people on the planet who’ve replaced their laptops with iPads, Dieter, but I’m not sure why that means I’m wrong. And if you’re carrying a BlackBerry then the iPad hasn’t replaced a smartphone for you. But thanks for the comments.

  4. Microsoft and PC vendors have been playing in the tablet space for about 10 years. Apple just redefined the tablet. I examined 3 PC tablets this past week. The vendors call them “tablets” and Bill Gates predicted they would change the industry. The PC tablet has not. It can best be discribed as a swivel screen, laptop with stylus (and for some limited touch) input. Generally they cost more than $1500 and now run Win 7 although they still are available with XP. New models come out monthly but few ever see them.

  5. Robert Zion

    At prices like $500 and $650 for stuff which essentially costs $200- $250 to make, it is hard to believe you can conquer the market. Tablets running Android with their 100k + apps can be sold for $300-$400, they can easily take market share from the iPad, the way I look at it, iPad is a sitting duck.

    • Totally irrelevant – Back then, computing WAS business computing. Businesses were already locked in to PCs and people who bought their own generally bought whatever they had at work. Computers are now a consumer product and people are deciding on their own. Different era, different criteria, different level of consumer knowledge.

      • you are sure right about a different level of consumer knowledge. consumers of computers used to educate themselves first and know what they were buying. the average guy in walmart or bestbuy these days does not have a clue. they buy based on the media hype, the looks or what the hard ball salesman tells them.

      • I agree, remember the iPhone popularity, behind Blackberry, came before Android’s and look how that’s turning out for Steve and the gang, they maybe first to be popular compared to Android, but that doesn’t mean they will remain more popular- opps- Android passed iPhone.

      • Tom – Yes, it’s no longer “geeky” computing, it’s now mainline consumer electronics. People just want things to work and be as simple as their iPod or TV. It’s no longer about gigahrtz, spec lists. Many geeks/techies are having trouble with this.

        Tim – The book on android has yet to be written, it’s in an initial draft. All things look good for android at the moment but it’s the only choice manufacturers/carriers have at “the moment” to even come close to competing with iPhone. It could fracture to hell (more than it is) if the manufacturers need to differentiate themselves. Or they could see all the mobile ad money Google is counting on and decide to cut Google out – will Google then even be interested in spending a lot of money on android? Then there is Google itself with ChromeOS, hows that going to affect android on pads? Lots and lots of if when it comes to the future and android. Going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out. The only relatively stable thing at the moment is we know Apple will probably continue to play by it’s playbook, but even that isn’t a sure thing.

      • McBeese

        Don’t count out Windows Phone 7. It won’t be a substitute for iOS, but it could easily address the shortcomings of Android (rough UI, app store with no QC) AND provide an Office-compatible business feature set.

  6. “So the demand should be relatively small, especially given the starting price point of $500.”

    Ah, it has been the opposite because the entry level model came in much lower than anyone thought possible. This plus the iPads features has caused everyone else to do a reset. Apple, having the headstart will lower prices on the current form factor, and if there is any truth to that smaller tablet rumor, then the entry level may be much lower. Apple has a position of strength and knows how to herd the technology, so it remains to be seen how much of this category they will own.

    “along with a price point beyond the range of many consumers.”

    To bolster your argument, you forgot to add, “during a recession”, lol.

  7. you say it will not replace your smartphone. i agree no one is going to go without a phone after buying an iPad, but i know several people including myself who are considering moving back to a simple basic cell phone on a voice only plan plus an iPad instead a phone that does everything. i do have to admit though that this has become far less appealing since the change in AT&T’s pricing options moving away from unlimited data.

    • Steve Setzer

      As one data point, I use a basic phone and an iPad for work, and I like it better than the traditional “smartphone+laptop” setup. I draw complex system diagrams and write proposals on the iPad; I can’t imagine doing that on a smartphone. The tablet gives me 95% of a laptop for much less weight.

      I think powerful tablets could actually spur a move back towards desktop computers; use the tablet for portability, and leave your cheap+powerful desktop at home with remote control software to cover the few things your iPad can’t do.