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Brace for The Tablet Wars

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Joel Quenby

As Thailand’s Bangkok Post recently acknowledged, it “seems to have become the year of the tablet.” Apple’s competitors have scrambled to play catch-up in time for the holiday season. Whose pad will emerge victorious from the year’s-end shopping bonanza?

Once Upon a Time in a galaxy not so far away...

Once Upon a Time in a galaxy not so far away...

Apple’s iPad has revolutionized the digital race, sending rivals scrambling to catch up as if the iPod never happened. At the end of 2010, this re-emerging market is primed with competitors bristling for a showdown. And 2011 will see the faceoff. “The Tablet Wars” may sound like a gonzo episode starring Hunter S. Thompson and Timothy Leary, but both of those men are dead. And the tablets are very much in the here and now.

Death of a (PC) salesman?

Many buyers are choosing tablet computers over laptops. Steve Jobs & Co. shifted 300,000 iPads on launch day, back in April 2010. More than three million of the digi-slates slid off the shelves over the next 80 days. Optimistic estimates place the total sales volume for 2010 at about eight million.

U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy claimed iPads were cannibalizing sales of notebooks (then backtracked from its own “grossly exaggerated” assertion). Seems these consumer durables are significantly denting the computer market.
But why pay double the price of a notebook for a device that can’t do half of the things in a notebook’s arsenal? It seems the iPad has forged a niche—as a glorified coffee-table book. It is ideal for idly browsing the web while watching T.V. The iPad thus plugged the gap that Web TV’s, converted PC’s, media extenders and DIY centers tried to exploit, in clunky attempts to import your digital repository to the living room. Research firm IDC predicts that 46 million tablet computers will fly off the shelves in 2014. Will Apple retain its early market dominance?

Apple iPad: Pushing to Pad its Market Dominance

The original: Apple iPad

The original: Apple iPad

As with the game-changing iPod, Apple’s superior execution of a pre-existing concept forged market dominance for the company. Its design-driven head start forged market dominance for Apple to the sweet tune of 80 percent.

Everyone else has a lot of catching up to do. Although competitors at least have the chance to right some of the iPad’s wrongs before Apple releases its next-generation edition in 2011. Among the iPad’s list of “cons” are its weight (too heavy, more than half a kilo); lack of camera or support for Adobe Flash; and its eye-straining LCD screen, “which is like staring at a light bulb,” according to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper’s tech-geek guy, Charlie Brooker.

However, iPad owners remain smug, with 72 percent of those recently surveyed claiming to be “very satisfied.” In July 2010, a Barclays Capital analyst predicted Apple would sell about 20 million iPads in 2011.

Samsung Galaxy Tab: Astronomical Potential?

Samsung's Galaxy Tab hits Tokyo (by Taka via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Samsung's Galaxy Tab hits Tokyo (by Taka via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Korea’s main contender is in line with Samsung’s Galaxy S line of Android-based smartphones. Dinkier than the iPad, it even resembles a phone, yet boasts impressive hardware. It has the same speed processor as the iPad but twice the RAM. The Galaxy Tab also offers multitasking, support for Adobe Flash, and unrestricted access to applications.

Its rear-facing 3.2-megapixel camera and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel shooter facilitate video chatting. The Samsung also supports up to 32GB of expandable storage, whereas Apple’s device is limited to the internal space only. Projected battery life comes up three hours more than iPad’s purported 10 hours. But costing US$100 less than Apple’s pad, this is the highest-profile Android tablet in the pipeline.

BlackBerry Playbook: Future Player

RIM's Blackberry Playbook, as seen online

RIM's Blackberry Playbook, as seen online

BlackBerry’s business-oriented slate is also smaller and lighter than the iPad, though bigger and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Its tablet-optimized user interface is nicer for navigating than, say, Android’s equivalent. Other Apple-cussing plusses include Flash compatibility and multitasking, thanks to 1GB of RAM. BlackBerry producer RIM seems keen to play up the latter, implying the Playbook will comfortably run bundles of stuff in the background, like a BlackBerry phone.

It has impressive camera stats, with a 5-megapixel rear-shooter and three-megapixel front-facing camera. Can Playbook capitalize on e-book potential? It is more book-sized than the iPad; RIM’s pixel-dense screen should also produce cleaner-looking text; and an Amazon Kindle app for reading is on the way. However, like the iPad, the Playbook’s display is LED-backlit rather featuring Amazon’s more eye-friendly “digital ink” ebook screen. RIM is yet to release pricing details for its BlackBerry PlayBook.

The Verdict: “Companies are quickly developing products that match or exceed some of the surface hardware specifications of the Apple iPad. But it’s still unlikely that any of the competitors will be able to equal the overall performance experience of the iPad,” said iSuppli director of monitor research Rhoda Alexander. “If recent history is any lesson, it will take some time for these companies to get their products to market, longer for them to offer necessary software support and infrastructure, and an even lengthier period to begin to rival the overall user experience Apple is able to deliver.”

Ultimately, the size of the dent to Apple’s market-share may come down to that mind-warping old advertising conceit: brand loyalty. Put simply: which pad has most pose factor? To this end, in October 2010 ChangeWave asked tablet-interested consumers which brand they considered a “most likely” purchase. As many respondents went with the BlackBerry PlayBook—eight percent—as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Hewlett-Packard Slate, Archos Tablet, Dell Streak and Sony Dash combined.

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Amy Ma

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