Apple's iPad sold 300,000 units by the end of its first day of general release, perhaps proving the viability of the consumer tablet market but also setting a bar for its competitors and their own upcoming tablet PCs. HP is already attempting to create differentiators between the iPad and its upcoming slate by emphasizing the latter's support for Adobe Flash, video conferencing and other functions. Other competitors, including Nokia, could follow suit as they roll out their own wares throughout 2010; but as one analyst warns, the consumer tablet market is still in its infant stages, and still as a whole in need of general acceptance.
Apple's iPad sold 300,000 units by midnight April 3,
including preorders, on its first day of general release: enough to ensure the
device as a commercial hit, at least in the short-term. In a larger way,
though, those sales numbers represent not so much a victory for Apple but a
sign that a market indeed exists for consumer-oriented tablets. As companies
ranging from Hewlett-Packard to Nokia prepare similar tablet PCs in coming
months, Apple's hardware choices and rollout could become the competitive
benchmark by which these competitors map their own choices and strategy.
Some signs of that shift are already present in HP's
strategy for its upcoming tablet, with
videos and a company blog showing off the device's ability to video-conference
and snap images. HP has also highlighted its Slate's support of Adobe Flash,
which powers rich content on many popular Websites. By contrast, the iPad does
not support Flash, nor does the current version include a camera-both things
that HP seems eager to highlight as the competitive differentiator for its own
offering, due at an as-yet-unannounced point later in 2010.
"With this slate product, you're getting a full Web browsing
experience in the palm of your hand. No watered-down Internet, no sacrifices,"
Phil McKinney, vice president and chief technology officer for
Hewlett-Packard's Personal Systems Group, wrote in a March 8 posting on the
company's Voodoo Blog. "A big bonus for the slate product is that, being based
off Windows 7, it offers full Adobe support."
McKinney followed that up a few weeks later with another
Voodoo Blog post touting the HP slate's other abilities.
"Think about the last time you chatted with friends over
Skype on your notebook," McKinney wrote on April 5. "Or uploaded a picture from
your mobile phone to Facebook or Flickr. How about the last time you viewed
images or video from an SD card or USB device. We know that you expect to be
able to capture and share digital content on your mobile devices."
That same day, Engadget posted an image of what it claimed
was an internal HP presentation comparing the specs of the company's upcoming
tablet PC to the iPad. That document suggested that the "HP Slate" would retail
for between $549 and $599, and feature a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor,
inward-facing VGA Webcam and outward-facing 3-megapixel camera. Windows 7 Home
Premium, tethered to a proprietary HP touch-optimized user interface, will
serve as the operating system.
Nokia is also developing a tablet competitor for entrance
into the market later this year, according to recent online reports.
"Right now the supply chain (for a Nokia tablet) is being
primed up for a fall release. It has to be on the shelf by September-October to
meet demand for the holiday window," Rodman and Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar told
Reuters on April 7. "You don't want to give that much of a lead to Apple
because otherwise it becomes insurmountable."
Nokia apparently declined to comment on those supposed
developments. Other manufacturers, including Fujitsu and Fusion Garage, have
tablets in some stage of active development. This year's Consumer Electronics
Show (CES) in Las Vegas highlighted a number of laptops with touch-screen
the HP Touchsmart tm2 and Fujitsu Lifebook T4410, designed with an eye
toward both the tablet and traditional PC markets.
But how will these tablets market themselves? HP and Fusion
Garage, creator of the JooJoo tablet, are already touting their Flash support
in a bid to slice off some iPad market share. (Recent online reviews of the
JooJoo's Flash support have been unkind.) Other manufacturers could follow that
same route, using Flash support to set themselves apart, whether or not their
device uses Windows 7 or another, more proprietary user interface.
"By ignoring a pervasively widely used technology like Flash
and treating its parent company with disrespect," Charles King, an analyst with
Pund-IT Research, wrote
in a March 10 research note, "Jobs opened the door he must have preferred
to leave closed: providing his competitors the opportunity [to] define these
devices, technologies and markets far more clearly than he himself has done."
On April 5, HP released a 30-second video demonstrating its
slate's video conferencing and image-snapping abilities, suggesting that both
it and other companies may use embedded cameras as another differentiator over
Yet despite the hoopla surrounding the iPad's launch, and
other companies' aggressive entrance into the space, the tablet market is still
nascent; as one analyst warns, simply because Apple managed to sell a few
hundred thousand units during its new product's first weekend on the open
market doesn't mean that others will be able to reproduce a similar feat, extra
hardware and Flash support or not.
"The market will play host to a
flood of -me too' tablets in 2010, but it's an immature product category with
an unproven use case," CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber told Reuters in an
April 7 article. "Apple's brand and service offering means the iPad will be an
exception in a category that will struggle to gain consumer
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.