First, an admission: I was wrong. Last year I said I didn’t think the iPad would be a commercial success, but it clearly is. I also said it was a just a bigger, faster iPod Touch, but it’s obvious that the large 9.7 inch LED screen makes all the difference.
Despite a clear use case for its place between the laptop and the smartphone, the iPad has captured people’s imaginations and validated the market for tablet devices. So, you think this would pave the way for the “iPad killers” and the cheap imitations that inevitably follow any successful product launch. Except one year later, this still hasn’t happened yet.
Since its release on April 3, 2010, Apple’s iPad has owned the tablet computer market. It took seven months before its first competitor, the Galaxy Tab, was released in the U.S., and another four months for the Motorola Xoom to available for purchase. But let’s be honest – to call these devices iPad competitors is being extremely charitable.
And with this week’s announcement of the redesigned iPad 2, Apple has positioned itself to dominate the tablet market for the foreseeable future. Yes, we will be seeing a ton of new products running Android 3.0, webOS, and BlackBerry’s Tablet OS, but for most people, there’s no compelling reason to buy one over an iPad 2.
Here are some of the reasons why I think Apple is going to remain the leader of the tablet market:
- Name Recognition: Thanks to tons of press attention and its long lead time over other the competition, the average person now sees the words “iPad” and “tablet” as interchangeable. The Galaxy Tab and Xoom have zero mass-market name recognition.
- Price: Apple’s aggressive move of selling the lowest-end iPad for $499 was a genius move. It sets the baseline for comparison, and makes a hard target to match. So far, no other tablet maker has been able to offer an entry level model for the same price1. One reason for this is that Apple has purchased massive quantities of iPad components, making these same parts more costly and harder for other manufacturers to get.
- Ease of Purchase: Besides its own website and the hundreds of Apple stores, the success of the iPod line has allowed Apple to make the iPad available at the most popular retailers – Target, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. As far as I know, the Android-based tablets are only available offline at mobile phone retail stores and Best Buy.
- Design and Build Quality: Apple seems to be unique in its ability to design and make products that don’t feel like cheap plastic toys. Just today, Samsung’s mobile VP is quoted as saying its forthcoming Galaxy Tab 10.1 is “inadequate“” compared to the design of the iPad 2.
- Beyond Specs: People don’t care about technical specs like CPU speed or megapixels. While Apple publishes these numbers, it doesn’t market with them. The Android tablets are commodities, however, so they’re left to compete on specs and feature checklists.
- The Ecosystem: Why you buy an iPad, you gain access to Apple’s App Store, which currently has over 65,000 apps designed for the iPad2. Also, there’s a thriving market for third-party cases and accessories that gives you thousands of ways to personalize and customize your iPad. The same can’t be said for any of the competing tablets.
- iTunes: In spite of my annoyance of the kitchen sink functionality of iTunes, I have to admit that it plays a key role in seamlessly getting music and video transfered to Apple devices. No other tablet maker has a way to legally purchase media or offers a canonical method for getting it onto their devices. And to make matters worse, Android devices still can’t run Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video on Demand.
One Simple Question
Let me set the scene for a hypothetical question:
- The iPad 2 has been released, and is available for purchase
- The Motorola Xoom WiFi-only model is out, and priced at $539
- The HP TouchPad is available for slightly more than the iPad3
- The 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook can be purchased for $599
So, the question: I hand you $600 to spend on a tablet of your choice – which do you buy?
To me, the easy, pragmatic answer is to go with the iPad. Apple is a proven brand with quality products and support, while the others have a lot of uncertainty4. If you purchase a non-Apple tablet through your phone carrier, who’s responsible for support? Will they keep providing updates and improvements for it on a regular basis?
Let me be clear – I think the HP TouchPad looks great, and I hope that Android’s rough edges and inconsistencies will eventually be worked out. But HP needs to somehow bootstrap an app market that’s compelling to customers, and Google needs to focus on refining the Android user interface so that it’s on the same level of usability as iOS and webOS.
And for the others? I think BlackBerry has made a huge mistake in depending on Adobe AIR and Flash for the success of the PlayBook. Not that it really matters though, because based on its preorder price alone, it’s dead on arrival. That leaves Microsoft, who has managed to put itself in the position of having nothing that can realistically compete against the iPad. And much like Windows Phone 7, by the time it eventually does have an alternative, it’ll be too little, too late.
So to close this out, I’m excited to see the energy and competition surrounding the tablet computer right now. We’re going to see a lot of different things being tried, resulting in a lot of duds and a few winners. But for now, the market is Apple’s to lose, and all the others are fighting to take second place.
- The 7-inch Galaxy Tab can be purchased for $499, but its smaller size and required data plan make comparison with the iPad difficult. ↩
- The first Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet, the Motorola Xoom, launched with 16 tablet specific apps available for it. The iPad had 3,000 apps on day one. ↩
- HP has yet to announce pricing information for the TouchPad. ↩
- With the possible exception of HP. ↩