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Can Anyone Really Compete With the iPad?

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A few months ago, I said there was still plenty of room in the tablet market, despite the runaway success of the iPad. But as I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone else can come up with a hit tablet for mainstream consumers.

The iPad continues to gain ground. The Register insightfully noted that the 4.19 million units sold represented a 28 percent increase over the previous quarter, and iSuppli last week upped its forecast for fourth-quarter iPad sales, saying component-availability problems are improving.

The iPad’s success is due largely to the fact that it can replace lots of minor devices. It serves as an e-reader, mobile gaming system, digital photo album and portable media player, in addition to being a great device for browsing and running all sorts of other apps. It’s intuitive enough that anyone from my four-year-old to my great-grandmother can pick it up for the first time and use it successfully.

Yes, the device has obvious flaws, including a lack of Flash support and true multitasking functionality. But most of its shortcomings will surely be addressed in time, and, additionally, any real competition has yet to appear on the radar. Would-be manufacturers of Android-based tablets like Lenovo and LG have delayed product launches, citing the platform’s failings when it comes to the emerging form factor. Meanwhile, the price tag for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab won’t sway many shoppers away from the iPhone, and Dell’s $550 Streak hasn’t attracted much attention.

A handful of manufacturers are wisely vying for room in the space by targeting budget-conscious users with less-attractive hardware. Archos is building out an impressive line of gadgets that start at $100 and top out at only $300. Asus is taking a similar tack with $300 and $400 tablets. There will be room for high-end devices targeted at road warriors and workers in the field. (That’s a market Research In Motion will try to tap with its upcoming PlayBook and Hewlett-Packard is going after with the Slate 500.) When it comes to the mainstream tablet market, though, Apple will dominate the space, at least for the short-term.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy flickr user John.Karatkatsanis.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):


34 Responses to “Can Anyone Really Compete With the iPad?”

  1. The iPod had a ten year lock, give or take. Mostly because the specs were good enough, the design was terrific and the software lock-in was just what most people wanted. Also, they improved when they needed to and maintained the iPod’s functionality in its two successor devices.

  2. sunnysal

    Mr. Gibbs is right; “The iPad’s success is due largely to the fact that it can replace lots of minor devices.” this is at the core of the pad-craze and is, in fact, at the core of the smart phone revolution.

    What is missing to connect the dots completely is to take the Pad/computer to the next level, telephony. “Telephony??!!” you say?, yes what is mis-firing right now with pad computing is that it has broken the chain seemingly finalized with the iPhone, the ultimate all-in-one device.

    The focus of analysis regarding the success of the iPhone has been largely on its beauty and less on its utility. Smartphones reduce the number of gadgets we need to rely on to one, the iPad ups this count to two again…a step backwards for many of us.

    “Egads! talking into an iPad? that’s ridiculous!” Perhaps this will be the initial reaction of pad users. For those of us old enough to remember the birth and growth of the desktop computer, the laptop, the netbook, the cellular phone and the smart phone and to remember the reasons why we eventually tried and subsequently made these devices valuable parts of our daily lives, the next step in pad computing is obvious, continued consolidation of functions into a single device.

    Give me a bluetooth headset and phone functionality and the race will be over. I will have all the benefits of my iPhone with the screen area I really need. If I am willing to carry the thing along with me anyway let it be my only device, in the mean time I carry my iPhone AND my reading glasses.

    Other tweaks like USB ports, memory slots, etc. are all valid additions to plan for the iPad but the strategic shift will come when we recognize and embrace one of the principal forces that has driven smart device success, consolidation of functions into one device.

  3. Virtuous

    It’s telling that neither the Galaxy Tab nor Playbook support pen input. PC makers at best break even selling netbooks. Apple earns profit on every iPad they sell.

  4. Short Answer: NO !

    This is the iPhone Redux. It took more than three years after the iPhone launched for anybody to come close, namely Android, and still nobody has surpassed it rather only caught up using copycat engineering with no innovation whatsoever.

    The dearth of engineering talent at the PC makers enables Apple to kick the competition to the curb where they belong.
    Just like the iPhone it will be at least 3 more years before anyone catches up.

    This is all because there are so many very very bad engineers out their that cannot think beyond their nose. Its sad but Cupertino is the lone visionary in the mobile tech world these days. I wish it wasn’t the case but Apples $52 billion in cash with no debts tells the whole story.

    The non-cupertino software engineers these days are absolutely horrific, most cannot code their way out of a wet paper bag seriously!

  5. I think that the Notion Ink Adam will provide the competition needed to kick apple into gear with their next version of the iPad. I thoroughly dislike the iPad for the fact that it has to be tethered to a PC. I do however like the concept and the usability of the device. IMO, I believe that slates should be stand alone devices and i think that the Adam will be the device to have for those who don’t already own a slate.

  6. The interface has to evolve from just tapping and swiping. And adding the ability to draw with a pen is certainly another replacement for a pencil and a pad, but I’m finding I’m still liking my laptop more, because it’s got more freedom.

    Apple, get rid of the glossy screen, it’s a nightmare.

  7. EV Engineer

    I don’t see Apple giving up tablet lead in at least a decade or more. Sure the overall sales of Android tablet may surpass the single iPad in sales BUT I predict Apple will still be the single biggest tablet sales of any one company for sure. Several analyst have predicted iPad sales to approach 48 million in future years, that thar be a heaping hoard of tablet fer ya.
    Be advised that the iPad is already taking a big bite into the netbook market (confirmed by several netbook makers!).
    It really is a magical device just like Steve said.

  8. I agree with Wolfgang- the iPad has left my other devices, including laptop, to gather dust. The only other thing I use is my phone (Android, which seems unbelievably clunky by comparison, UI-wise). It simply works.
    My business partner bought a Kindle (we publish eBooks) and I cannot believe what a piece of crap it is. For example, I am left-handed so the page turning/menu control is virtually useless. Aside from the sunlight viewing issues, this device is toast compared to iPad.
    Another example: The software company I work for was asked to develop a kiosk interface last year. Then we bought an iPad and realized we already had one (browser-based software). So long kiosk business…there are innumerable similar situations. This thing has a killer lead…

  9. landgero

    History do repeat itself.

    Think back in early 80s when Apple was the first to successfully market a desktop and everyone else played catch up; and caught they have. Some of those companies are still around (example Dell) and other are not (example Compaq acquired by HP).

    No doubt iPad is the sexiest tablet; however, it’s lacking some features that makes people think twice before busing such as:

    Smaller storage space of only 16 to 64 GB. Most netbooks at half the price have more than double that capacity.
    No USB port. If people would like to connect their camera or other gadgets, they have to buy a $35 or so adapter. Which is not bad at all on Apple’s market.
    No Camera.

    On the other hand, some, if not all of those features will surely be available on it’s 2nd generation of iPads. Afterall, it’s better to be first in the market than come up with a full-featured products that’s too late.

    A more likely rival would be something from Samsung/HP/Dell/HTC/Archos based on Google’s Android… more storage… a USB and SD ports… from at least 5 colors to choose from… and at 25% less in price.

    • PRETHOUGHT

      What the iPad has going for it is the unexpected uses that people have come up with. With the hackers already familiar with jailbreaking the iPhone there is a huge assortment of non app store apps that make the iPad even more useful. What Jobs needs to do is turn his head the other way. Rather than fighting jailbreakers he needs to provide tacit acceptance because it makes iOS devices that more desirable.

      On the other side of the spectrum they have effective EAS and Cisco vpn support out of the box. This is where Android lacks. Juniper, Checkpoint and even Microsoft are adopting acceptance of the iPad. I gurantee VMWare VDI is just around the corner. They need to expand on the tools to make the iPad even more attractive to the enterprise. The Playbook will be a major challenger with BES support out of the box.

      If they can work on those two key areas it will be hard for others to compete.

  10. Some Data on the Tablets Market…

    Colin – good post. We’re preparing a report on this topic, with Pt. 1 to be published next week. Here are a few findings – more info at http://slidesha.re/9q6kZo:

    Among those surveyed (n = 400; smart phone and feature phone users):
    – 1 in 2 interested in purchasing a Tablet; interest is equally high across all age groups and gender
    – Only 1 in 4 “very familar” with Tablets
    – Of benefits examined, highest interest in benefits related to usability (durability; viewability; instant-on; battery life; portability), with nearly half rating as “very appealing”
    – Top activities for which Tablets most likely to be used: Social networking (70%); e-mail; look up information; search; directions/map; visit websites/surf the internet
    – “Sweet spot” on pricing – $200 (“price that’s such a good value you would definitely buy”) to $350 (“price at which Tablet would start getting expensive but you would still consider”)
    – Preferred brand for Tablets – Apple leads by a wide margin (69% rate as “ideal”); next 4 highest rated are all PC OEMs (Dell, Microsoft, HP, Sony)

    Excerpts from If We Build It, Will They Come?
    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst
    Presented at the CTIA iPad and Tablets conf., Oct. 6, 2010

  11. Wolfgang

    I bought my iPad just as a toy, thinking of sofa-surfing. To my surprise, it has replaced all my other computers at home. It does all I need, is always on, and it never creates problems. That, of course, is just my very personal experience, but something tells me I may not be alone.

  12. Some of the True Believers here – 7″, Android – are hilarious with their crystal balls.

    I still have to ask, “Why do you consider the absence of Flash – as something lacking?”

    I’ll bet a significant number of folks reading this articles have a flashblocker activated in their browser. I certainly do – on both of the browsers I use.

    The only time I “miss” Flash is when browsing a site that hasn’t the technical smarts to switch into an html5 alternative for whatever small portion uses Flash. That number diminishes daily.

  13. The fact of the matter is, if other Tablet manufacturers don’t start to offer completely custom experiences on their devices, the iPad will keep on gaining market share, leaving others in the dust.

    People are looking for something that works the way it does because it was DESIGNED FROM THE GROUND UP to be that way! Slapping Windows 7 Ultimate onto an HP Slate with its tiny screen is NOT a customized experience. It’s still the same desktop-grade OS running on a tiny screen that wasn’t meant to be interacted with by touch.

  14. timjones17

    Although the tablet is a accessory that most people don’t have a use for between a laptop and a smartphone, thus is a small niche market, Android tablets are better than the iPad. Most people who are getting tablets, are holding off getting an iPad and are waiting for Android tablets.

    • Steven Freitas

      How do you figure this? Millions already sold? But people buying are holding off to get a different product?!? If they are buyin aren’t they obviously buying iPad? Have you used any tablet for any length of time?

  15. I guess it all depends on how you define “short term.” Beyond 6 or 12 months, suggesting that Apple has a total lock on the market is sort of like suggesting the Atari 2600 was a lock, back in 1977.

    • Colin Gibbs

      I think Apple locked up dominance for 6 to 12 months when the iPad launched, Jack C. They’ve built on that window substantially since the launch, and the competition has simply failed to answer the call. I think they’ll dominate the space for the two years, at least, and probably twice that long.

      • Colins,
        I doubt they can dominate for two more years.
        Apple had a run with iPod for nearly five years. Competitions is catching up with Apple.The competition is now matching or exceeding APPLE in most areas. Android is firing on all cylinders. RIM can sell a few of the Playbook. HP, if releases that WebOS tablet, can dent APPLE on consumer space. They can compete with Apple on the corporate business.

        My prediction, Apple will sell good for one more year before Android takes over, followed by HP.

    • pellucid

      The iPod had a ten year lock, give or take. Mostly because the specs were good enough, the design was terrific and the software lock-in was just what most people wanted. Also, they improved when they needed to and maintained the iPod’s functionality in its two successor devices.

  16. The iPad is being used by more executives in business despite some alleging that it lacks enough “enterprise” support. As Steve Jobs said this week, Apple may have caught a tiger by the tail.

  17. spinedoc

    While the points about the UI are extremely important and spot on, that Apple’s UI just “works” and is intuitive enough for a non tech person to use, IMO the hardware aspects are potentially much more important. In particular are instant on and true all day battery life, without these 2 essential hardware factors I’ll bet any tablet fails. The true strength of the ipad is that it is ubiquitous in it’s use, you don’t worry about booting up and you don’t worry about plugging it in, and that’s extremely powerful, especially in this world of huge power bricks and such.

    It just seems that while all the other companies are going in the wrong direction, once again Apple senses what joe blow the consumer (and not necessarily joe tech( wants and delivers it. The only thing Apple missed big time was pen input.

  18. After using the Streak, I will agree with Steve on form factors. Perhaps a 7″ will be popular, but the difference in size is not enough to warrant a new form factor. More to the point of the article, none of the competitors are really going to devise a new paradigm for computing on the device profile.

    The Streak suffered from a lack of support, something I was pretty vocal about on the boards. But, is Dell really going to provide a tablet interaction outside of the Android experience? Is Google ready to do so? I bet the Chrome devices will be more popular than an Android tablet, and for good reason.

    My personal experience with Android tells me that the OS is a browsing experience. Apple owns the app world. BB the text world. Chrome and Android should merge and likely will, and the browser will become the de facto mobile experience on such devices. I have stated that Nokia should have moved to such a platform, but Google has the technology and the people to make that happen.

    What will tablets be like without interfaces per se? What will phones similarly be like? That is where the Google tablet platform will emerge, and it will compete.

  19. I have high hopes for the hp slate 500 as it should allow for existing windows stuff to work, like flash and other line of business apps while bringing pen input to tablets. If only they could beef up the CPU, I think my people who use the new hp slate will find it sluggish, but i will hold off until I get to test one…

  20. I have to agree with your point. Plus, we as consumers should be shouting for competition, because if the competition adds features we desire enough, then Apple will add them the iPad 2, and we will benefit. So I am anxious to see how the emerging tablet market goes.

    • Tablets with pens has been a tiny submarket for the longest time. Pens and virtual ink is needed by a very small minority of people. You, a few artists, maybe some mindmappers and flowcharters. Works out to much less than 1% of users. So if Apple can sell 100 million tablets in two years in the US, that means pen enabled tablets represent a 300,000 to 500,000 size market. If any manufacturer is satisfied with selling that number in a 2 year period, then they should step up and sell the product, but I don’t think it will be one of the majors and it will not be a threat to Apple.