Motorola Xoom, HP TouchPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 suggest new manufacturer confidence in taking on Apple's iPad in the 10-inch tablet category.
Back in October, Apple CEO Steve Jobs
took the unusual step of participating in his company's earnings call.
Competing tablets had no chance against the iPad, he told the assembled media
and analysts, particularly tablets with a 7-inch form factor.
"Almost all [competing devices] use 7-inch screens as opposed to the iPad's
almost 10-inch screen." He added that, if you compare the diagonal lengths of a
7-inch and 10-inch screen, the former is "only 45 percent as large."
At that time, the iPad's chief competitors included the then-newly announced
Samsung Galaxy Tab, along with the upcoming PlayBook from Research In Motion-both with 7-inch screens, and both seemingly more than
capable of attracting consumer and business customers. Soon afterward, Dell
announced its 7-inch Streak. It seemed like Apple's rivals were intent on
proving Jobs wrong.
But, now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. Several upcoming
devices, including Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad, the Motorola Xoom and Samsung's
next-generation Galaxy Tab, all seem determined to take the screen-size fight
directly to the iPad. Samsung's tablet and the Motorola Xoom both feature a
10.1-inch screen, while the TouchPad measures 9.7 inches. Toshiba's tablet
device, currently in the works, will boast similar screen dimensions. HTC's
announcement at this week's Mobile World Congress of its 7-inch Flyer tablet,
running a hybridized Android 2.4, suddenly seems more like the exception than
And for all the rumors swirling around the next-generation iPad, nobody
seems to be suggesting its screen will be any smaller than the first
generation's 9.7 inches.
During that long-ago earnings call, Jobs said the "painful lesson" for
Apple's competitors would come when they realized that their "tablets are too
small and increase the size next year, abandoning developers and customers who [had
]jumped on the 7-inch bandwagon."
Is that prediction playing out in the marketplace? Are Apple's rivals, with
no device proving a breakout hit on the iPad's scale, merely experimenting with
different form factors? Or are they feeling confident enough in their hardware
and software to directly take on the iPad?
Tablets in the space boast other competitive differentiators from the iPad.
For one thing, they support Adobe Flash, which Apple's mobile products do not.
Many devices also offer front- and rear-facing cameras, for videoconferencing,
although that feature may appear in the next version of the iPad. The Google
Android-based tablets, at least in theory, will soon upgrade to Android 3.0
("Honeycomb"), optimized for larger screens. Hewlett-Packard's webOS, inherited
during last year's acquisition of Palm, has likewise been adapted for running
tablet-size applications and games.
Despite the consolidation of certain hardware features across various
companies' models (i.e., front- and rear-facing cameras, and, increasingly,
dual-core processors), and an upgrading of software platforms to a tablet-ready
state, the variation in tablet screen sizes suggests that many of these companies
are still trying to figure out what works best for them. The answer to that
question-and whether the Samsungs of the world will abandon their 7-inch models
entirely-will probably be some time in coming.
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.