LG's G-Slate, Samsung's new Galaxy Tabs, Sprint's HTC Evo View 4G, and other tablets on view at CTIA are aimed at becoming the next iPad killer. What are these vendors' strategies?
At this week's CTIA conference in Orlando, it seemed like
you couldn't walk three feet without encountering another shiny example of the
tech industry's hopes for the next bestselling tablet.
Electronics, Samsung and HTC-alongside their carrier partners-seem intent on
flooding the market over the next couple of months with touch-screens running
Google Android 3.0 (code-named "Honeycomb," and optimized for the tablet
form-factor) and powered by robust hardware. The devices are thin and light, their
screen resolutions appropriately high, their support for Adobe Flash and all
sorts of nifty applications and features assured by smiling executives.
But can they
carve away market share from Apple's iPad 2?
generally expect Apple to hold the lion's share of the market, despite that
rising tide of competition. "We believe our estimate of 5.5 million iPads in
the Mar-11 quarter could be conservative," Gene Munster, an analyst for Piper
Jaffray, wrote in a March 25 research note. "Never before have we seen lines as
long or as persistent as the iPad 2 lines at U.S. Apple stores."
evidently never saw the lines for "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," at
least before America realized it sucked, but his point is nonetheless
reinforced by research firm IDC, which expects Apple to maintain a 70 percent
to 80 percent share of the tablet market through 2011.
collective bid to push back at that solid competition, these tablets-despite
coming from manufacturers and carriers diametrically opposed to one
another-seem to share a few common features:
Google Android 3.0
One of the
main criticisms leveled against the first generation of Android tablets, such
as the Samsung Galaxy tab, was that they relied on a version of Google's
operating system built for smartphones. Honeycomb has been optimized for the
tablet form-factor, meaning that applications designed for it will run smoothly
and clearly on larger screens. Based on the newly released Motorola Xoom, and
the tablets on display at CTIA, Honeycomb also offers a set of customizable
home-screens that organize the user's applications and data across a tablet's
larger screen real estate.
Particularly if its software version stays homogeneous across the device
ecosystem, Honeycomb could attract third-party developers to create
ever-greater numbers of tablet applications for Android Marketplace. In turn,
that will allow Google and its manufacturing partners to offer a solid alternative
to Apple's currently dominant App Store.
Android Marketplace's growing library of applications, Google basically offers
no competitor to Apple's iTunes. Companies such as Samsung seem intent on
making up for that lack with their own entertainment hubs, but those
cloud-based storefronts will need to take a page from Apple's easy-to-pay,
easy-to-download model if they want to offer a suitable alternative.
offer the 8.9-inch G-Slate. Motorola's Xoom measures 10.1 inches. Samsung is
prepping new Galaxy Tabs in 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch editions. Toshiba also has a
plus-sized tablet rolling out.
At CTIA, many
of the tablets on display seemed to embrace a larger-is-better paradigm, as if
these competing manufacturers had come around to taking Apple CEO Steve Jobs'
advice about the 7-inch form-factor being too small for anyone's good. (That
being said, other companies still seem devoted to a tablet you can hold in one
hand: Samsung will still offer the 7-inch Tab, as will Sprint with this
summer's HTC Evo View 4G and Research In Motion's upcoming PlayBook; the latter
relying on a proprietary, non-Android operating system.)
larger screens, these manufacturers seem to indicate their willingness to take
Apple's iPad ecosystem head-on. The emergence of Honeycomb could play a
substantial role in this newfound courage, but so could...
screen-sizes and Honeycomb are all well and good, but what truly marks the crop
of upcoming tablet competitors is the single-minded intent on top-of-the-line
specs, as signified by dual-core processors and higher-megapixel cameras.
Within the next few quarters, it seems, having a tablet capable of operating on
a 4G network will become, if not ubiquitous, certainly more commonplace.
manufacturers are also offering tweaks designed to make their particular wares
stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Sprint's HTC Evo View 4G includes an HTC Scribe digital pen
which lets users draw and write on documents and Web pages. T-Mobile's G-Slate
includes a rear-facing pair of
stereoscopic 5-megapixel cameras that can shoot in 3D. Samsung's larger tablets
have been retooled with lightness and thinness in mind.
With all these
high-end features, battery life could prove a substantial deciding factor. In
the months leading up to its expected April release date, RIM has been actively
tweaking the PlayBook's power management to provide what the company's
executives term "a full day's work." Presumably, other companies are also
looking for ways their tablets can offer shiny features while still challenging
the iPad 2's 10-hour battery life.
Adobe Flash Support
denied Adobe Flash support for its mobile devices, the decision ignited a
firestorm of debate within the tech industry. Just as quickly, however, Apple's
rivals decided that Adobe Flash support on their own products would serve as an
ideal competitive differentiator. Their marketing materials began to tout the
benefits of "the full Web," which was basically code for, "We have what Apple
sales record proves, though, Flash support-or lack thereof-won't sway customers
by itself. Nonetheless, other companies continue pushing it as a selling point.
Who Will Win?
market suggests that, given enough time, competitors will eventually find their
niche within an ecosystem. Both Apple's iPhone and the ever-expanding family of
Google Android devices were once new products with relatively little market share.
It's very possible-in fact, from certain points of view, almost a certainty-that
the iPad will eventually lose share to the point where it no longer has a
headlock on the tablet market. But which device(s) will be responsible for that
paradigm shift? Nobody knows for sure. But as CTIA demonstrated, there are a
lot of manufacturers (and carriers) out there hoping the tablet in their
portfolio will be the one to catch on with businesses and consumers.