Apple launches the iPad 2 March 11, hoping to maintain its lead in the increasingly crowded tablet arena-even as new data suggests the company's share of that market tumbled by the end of 2010.
That data, from research firm IDC, pegs Apple's share by the fourth quarter of last year at 73 percent, down from 93 percent in the third quarter. Samsung's Galaxy Tab closed out the year with 17 percent of the market: good enough for second place. Overall, some 10.1 million media tablets shipped during the fourth quarter, versus 4.5 million in the third.
IDC expects that Apple will maintain a 70 percent to 80 percent share of the market, despite the presence of more competitors. In addition to an updated version of the Galaxy Tab, other rivals in 2011 include the just-released Motorola Xoom and the upcoming PlayBook from Research In Motion. While the majority of tablets will run Google Android, both RIM's PlayBook and HP's TouchPad will leverage proprietary operating systems.
The iPad 2 comes with hardware upgrades designed to match those rival's capabilities, including a dual-core processor and a pair of front- and rear-facing cameras. Its various models also retail for the same price as their original iPad equivalents, which could further pressure rivals looking to undercut Apple's prices.
Apple plans on making the iPad 2 available for online preorder starting early March 11. By 5 p.m., users will be able to shop for the device at Apple's stores, as well as those of retail partners such as Best Buy. Apple has also slashed the price of first-generation iPads by $100, in a bid to clear out its existing stock, and even better deals can be found for refurbished iPads on the company's Website. Reseller Websites such as eBay may also do a brisk business in old models.
Apple has already begun pushing through its iOS 4.3 update, which includes new features such as a tweaked version of AirPlay that streams content to an HDTV via Apple TV, a sped-up version of Safari, and iTunes Home Sharing, which lets users play their iTunes content on various devices over a shared WiFi network.
The massive size of Apple's App Store is another element the company likely hopes will help it blunt competition from iPad rivals. "Android is way behind Apple in the application space," Gartner analyst Van Baker recently told eWEEK. "If you are comparing OS features, then the gap is not as significant, but consumers are not going to buy a tablet based on which OS it has."