iPad's Multifaceted Success Makes for Tough Tablet Competition

The iPad is expected to lead the tablet market for some time, says a new report, which also notes that Apple's success is due to a culmination of different factors.

The success of the Apple iPad is built on more than its (slick, lovely) hardware, which portends a long road ahead for Apple competitors racing to bring media tablets to market, according to a Dec. 28 report from DisplaySearch.

The report comes as several new tablets are expected at the 2011 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) from January 6-9 in Las Vegas.

The iPad's popularity is not just based on its sleek design. In fact, the device is very simple with only one port and few opportunities for accessories, writes Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch. The Apple iOS and the applications truly differentiate the iPad.

There is no doubt that the popularity of the iPad will rise as its availability increases in more regions. However, what about competing products?

The competitors most likely to prevail, continues Shim, are those that can offer not just appealing hardware, but an operating system and software community around them that can offer a unique experience.

Hewlett-Packard, with its summertime acquisition of Palm, appears to understand this, and it's in the process, says Shim, of building out a developer community for WebOS. (So far it has only released WebOS on the Palm Pre 2, but a slate is on its way. It is rumored to arrive in March.)

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which is poised to launch the enterprise-friendly BlackBerry PlayBook in early 2011, also seems to get it. The company recently acquired the user-interface specialists The Astonishing Tribe and, per Shim, is in talks with Gist, a start-up with a solution that culls together a user's contacts from all the areas that he or she interacts with people.

Others, however, are relying on the oh-so-popular Android OS-now the No. 2 operating system worldwide and the fastest-growing in the United States-and Microsoft's Windows 7. This may be a cause for concern, as it limits the companies' ability to differentiate themselves because it forces them to compete almost solely on price and economies of scale. This is difficult since vendors generally rely on the same components and manufacturers. That said, acquiring an OS and a developer community also doesn't guarantee success.

"Many of the brands looking to compete in the slate market are strictly hardware companies," said Shim. "They do not usually manage, promote, qualify and support developers. Those competencies take time to properly mature, but would-be iPad rivals have to learn fast or risk Apple running further away with the market. We should not forget that Apple is leveraging the success it built up with iPhone developers for the iPad."

A number of companies reportedly have plans to introduce iPad competitors at CES. Will any have staying power?

Over the next two years, says Shim, expect a lot of false starts, failed attempts and disasters. Still, the most likely survivors, he adds, are those that have a long-term plan for their products, recognize that a successful product requires significant investment in an OS and an ecosystem to support it, and understand that standard business operations will not help them create a winner.