If you’re not a tablet owner yet, you’ve no doubt encountered some of the millions of tablets being toted around today. Consumers and businesses alike are buying into tablet computing with a momentum that exceeds most other computing products. The launch of the iPad in March of 2010 created what we know today to be the ‘tablet’ category of devices and setup an entirely new set of paradigms for how users compute on the move. Despite some initial projections from analysts that consumers wouldn’t take the bait, the iPad has gone on to be become a resounding success for Apple. Several other manufacturers have also thrown their tablets into the ring, marking 2011 and 2012 as a pivotal time for tablets. So with all of the choices in the market, how does one go about deciding on a tablet? Let’s a take a look at some of the options available and compare and contrast what each has to offer.
While Apple remains on top with a lion’s share of the tablet market, in the past 12 months manufacturers have released several new options. For the non-iPad tablet market, a majority of the devices are running a variant of Google’s Android operating system. Samsung has released a line of Android based Galaxy Tab products with varying form factors and technical specs. Amazon made a splash in the 2011 holiday season with their Android based Kindle Fire tablet. The Kindle Fire runs a highly customized version of Android that makes use of Amazon’s app marketplace. Not to be left out of the game, Research In Motion has released an updated version of their BlackBerry PlayBook, one of the non-Android competitors in the market.
Many consumers today equate the more generic term ‘tablet’ to actually imply iPad. So it’s no surprise that the iPad is by far the current market leader. In 2011, analysts expected the competitive landscape to open up further as several competitors launch products in the tablet space, but Apple has proven that the iPad is a very tough device to compete against. Since its launch in 2010, Apple has sold over 60 million iPads and is expected to sell over 100 million by the year’s end. Most recently, with the release of the third generation iPad in March of 2012, Apple sold 3 million in the first three days the device was on sale. The momentum behind iPad sales has out paced the past performance of both of Apple’s flagship products the iPhone and iPod.
Adoption of tablets other than the iPad has been more tepid. The market continues to grow and is expected to stay strong for the next several years. Manufacturers have struggled to gain traction with Android based tablets and several competing offerings like the HP TouchPad have been dropped entirely based on weak sales numbers. Even non-Android devices like the Research in Motion (RIM) PlayBook have yet to connect with mainstream consumers. Priced significantly lower than the iPad, the Kindle Fire saw some traction in the holiday season but has more recently seen a dip in sales numbers. Tablets like the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook, are also more focused on media consumption as opposed to content creation and may appeal to a different set of consumers than the full featured iPad class of devices. With the coming launch of Windows 8 for tablets, Microsoft will attempt to enter the tablet market and leverage its user base and developers to gain some traction. So far Apple has proved to be a very formidable competitor with the iPad, but it’s possible we’ll see the competition heat up in the coming months.
So what does this competition mean to the consumer? Better tablets. Competition will continue to drive manufacturers to innovate and create great new features and products for the marketplace.
The hardware may provide the horsepower, but it’s the software that truly drives the experience. The software that is at the core of any tablet is the operating system. The current major operating systems are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Research in Motion (RIM) has created their own OS for the BlackBerry Playbook and Microsoft is currently developing Windows 8 with capabilities to run on tablet devices due out fall 2012. However, we’ll focus here on iOS and Android since the other operating systems are marginal in the market share today. Apple takes a fully integrated approach with their products and designs and produces both the hardware and operating system for the iPad. Apple has created a tablet and OS that are so well integrated that most users don’t even think about the separation of the software from the hardware. Apple maintains tight control over the OS and total autonomy on how the fully integrated product is seamed together. Android however, is an operating system developed by Google that is made freely available to device manufacturers to use in their own products. Google maintains and develops Android which is then often customized by device manufacturers for the specific devices it’s being implemented on. The more open nature of Android has allowed manufacturers to create tablets with widely varying hardware dimensions, specifications, and features. However, many attribute the simplicity and polish of iOS on a single device with striking a chord with consumers looking for a tablet that is approachable and easy to use.
What would mobile computing be without apps? Tools for business productivity, outlets for creativity, games to entertain, utilities to eliminate paper processes, and windows into our social networks–the possibilities are limited only by developers creativity. When the original iPad launched back in 2010, the App Store had over 1,000 iPad specific apps at launch and today boasts of over 200,000. Not every app in Apple’s store is as innovative as the next, but given the sheer number of apps, there’s plenty of variety to choose from and tons of compelling apps to download. By contrast, when the first Android tablets launched in 2011, there were less than 20 apps in the Android marketplace that were designed for the tablet platform. That number has grown over the past year, but the rate of growth is far slower than that of the iPad. Google has not provided official numbers on tablet specific apps, but even finding tablet specific apps within the Google Play marketplace can prove to be difficult. Most of the apps developed for Android phones will work on tablets but the layout and design of phone apps have not been tuned to the user experience of the larger tablet form factors. One of the key elements to Apple’s success with the App Store is the strong development community they have nurtured. Part of the App Store’s appeal for developers is its record of success in terms of app sales revenue. Many commercial apps have not found the same success in the more loosely- controlled Android marketplaces. In turn, Apple’s App Store tends to have higher quality commercial apps. When Microsoft enters the tablet market with the release of Windows 8, they will need to compel Windows developers to create attractive apps for their platform in order to compete. For now, no competitor has been able to come close to Apple’s tablet app dominance.
Which tablet should I buy?
There are a lot of factors that come into play when choosing a tablet device. Some Android powered tablets can be appealing to the tech types that want to have the ability to customize the OS and create their own unique experiences. However, hunting down great tablet apps to fulfill the full tablet experience will prove to be more difficult than on the iPad. For the mainstream consumer, the simplicity and straightforward design approach to the device, operating system, user interface, and apps of the iPad is very attractive. The simple touch based experience of the iPad draws users in and the plethora of apps in the App Store keep them coming back. The iPad is just as compelling for toddlers playing games as it is for seniors plugging in to the social networks—and everyone in between.