Apple's iPad faces a host of competitors in 2011, with Microsoft reportedly readying several Windows-based tablets for debut at January's Consumer Electronics Show and other manufacturers preparing their own first- or second-generation devices.
For the moment, however, it seems that the iPad's sales record remained strong through the year-end shopping season, with some analysts taking a particularly strident position on the device's appeal to holiday consumers.
"Even with a handful of tablet competitors hitting the market, the iPad remained the only game in town in our holiday checks largely because many of the tablets hitting the market are junk for lack of a better word," Brian Blair, an analyst with Wedge Partners, wrote in a research note quoted in a Dec. 28 All Things Digital report. "They are underpowered, poorly constructed and largely not ready for prime time."
Reports from other analysts suggest robust iPad sales. "Computer hardware ranks as the top growing category for the holiday season to date with a 25-percent increase versus last year," reads a Dec. 19 note from research company comScore. "Purchases of handheld devices (such as Apple iPads and e-readers) and laptop computers drove much of the growth."
That comes despite prevalent rumors that Apple is preparing a next-generation iPad for unveiling sometime in January. A Dec. 10 Reuters article suggested that front- and rear-facing camera modules would appear on that device, along with a higher-resolution screen.
Apple's competition in 2011 involves tablets targeted at both consumers and the enterprise. The iPad currently constitutes some 82 percent of the business market, according to a recent survey by ChangeWave, followed by Hewlett-Packard, with 11 percent, and Dell, with 7 percent. In 2011, however, those numbers change somewhat: 78 percent of corporate buyers indicate their eye is on the iPad, followed by 9 percent each for Dell and Research In Motion tablets, 8 percent for HP, and 4 percent for Samsung's Galaxy Tab.
"Although the release of the RIM PlayBook isn't expected until late-1st Quarter 2011, RIM (9 percent) is now tied with Dell (1 percent) for second place in terms of future buying-a positive development for the Canadian manufacturer," Paul Carton, ChangeWave's vice president of research, wrote in a Dec. 15 research note.
Microsoft may also have a big tablet play in 2011, tied to the upcoming release of Intel's Oak Trail processors, which supposedly offer better battery life for lightweight devices. Microsoft will reportedly unveil a new line of Windows 7 tablets at CES, according to unnamed sources speaking to The New York Times.
More Android-based tablets are also set to enter the market during the first quarters of 2011. But whether these companies can blunt the iPad's holiday-sales momentum remains to be seen.