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  • In Search of the iPad Killer

    September 17th, 2010

    The PC industry is in a tizzy in the wake of the unexpected success of the iPad. Where alleged tech industry analysts were talking of tablet sales of as little as five million for all of 2010, Apple moved 3.27 million units during the first three months. In each the next two quarters, sales may more than double that figure, as the iPad spreads into more countries and production levels improve.

    Estimated sales for 2011 are in the 28 million range. But there’s a huge caveat.

    You see, most of those experts insist that Apple’s sales are fated to flatten (maybe even decline) because there are iPad killers coming — eventually. Now when Apple blew away the portable media player market with the iPod, lots of competitors arrived from Day One. But few of them gained more than a few percent market share. Even though the market for such products has declined somewhat, Apple remains on top by a huge margin.

    With the iPad, there have been announcements of tablet-style PCs that supposedly emulate the iPad, but, for the most part, they appear stillborn. Manufacturers stage elaborate presentations boasting of the impending arrival of touch-based tablets as part of their latest and greatest product lines, but how many can you actually buy?

    The next version of the HP/Palm WebOS isn’t due until 2011, and it’s not at all certain of that OS can scale up to a larger screen. I suppose the same can be said about the Android OS, which is surely doing nicely in the smartphone space.

    Meantime, every single day you see TV ads for the iPad. The only thing to come from a competitor is Microsoft’s supremely lame Windows 7 ads, or one of their inscrutable Bing promotions that fail to define what they’re about; that is, unless you know Bing is a search engine that competes with Google.

    What’s worse is that most of the promised iPad killers also use the name “Pad” in their name, basically ceding to Apple the right to define a tablet computer as some sort of “Pad.” Indeed, when Apple first revealed that name, some suggested it didn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe an iSlate? But Apple has had great success with names that contain the letter “P,” such as the iPhone and the iPod.

    At least you have a sense of what they’re about, though I grant Pod doesn’t readily signify a digital media player based on the word’s usual definitions. Of course, if you hadn’t heard of RIM or BlackBerry, would you know the Torch is a smartphone? What about a Droid, any Droid? Would you realize that’s a play on the name Android (or Android OS), rather than some ugly robotic creature? Or a play on anything?

    Then again, how do you explain to a visitor from another world that a McIntosh is an apple, and also a consumer audio product, but a Macintosh is a personal computer? Assuming they don’t have words with similar murky definitions in their native tongue, they might regard Earthlings as mighty peculiar. Of course, they’d be right.

    But let’s move past the names and consider the sort of product the iPad represents, a 21st century version of the personal computer that has taken the consumer electronics world by storm. Even people who don’t normally ask about getting a PC — such as my loyal spouse, Barbara — have become intrigued by the possibilities of the iPad.

    These days, there’s also more and more talk that the iPad may be the savior of the newspaper industry. There are recent reports that publishers are talking with Apple about ways to establish subscription programs. And no wonder. Printed newspapers are on life support, and a profitable online business plan is still a pipe-dream. Besides, making a newspaper all electronic would save a tremendous amount of money in production expenses. Maybe the industry could use the savings to hire more skilled reporters; it’s not that I’d like to see the production and delivery people looking for work. Also imagine how many trees are going to be saved.

    On the other hand, I’m rather disappointed that the iPad hasn’t taken hold as a replacement for school textbooks. When Apple first announced the iPad, I expected agreements to be signed with the major publishers pretty quickly, and I even imagined that the fall 2010 school year would feature loads of students carrying their entire collection of books embedded in an iPad rather than heavy backpacks. Imagine doing all their homework on that singular device? With the forthcoming ability to print your documents in iOS 4.2, they’d even be able to hand in physical copies of their work rather than, say, email them, without having to return to a Mac or a PC.

    But the textbook capability remains a product of one’s imagination, since no such deals have been announced, or at least any that I recall. Well, maybe in 2011.

    But the tablet-based PC has become a rich market that Apple has largely assumed for itself not just by delivering a superb version 1.0 product, but also because the rest of the PC industry has remained strangely silent on releasing competing products.

    Is there a real iPad killer? I haven’t seen it, not even one that has the potential of becoming successful. Maybe there will be some before the holiday season, but I rather suspect that the real competition may not arrive until 2011. By then, it may just be too late for them!



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    7 Responses to “In Search of the iPad Killer”

    1. dfs says:

      This wouldn’t be the first time in history that the tech industry has refused tog et aboard a bandwagon that should have been obvious and attractive for no better reason than that the industry doesn’t WANT to go in that particular direction. I can remember back in the 1980’s when the industry biggies such as IBM resisted and disparaged the idea of a personal computer because they thought that the future belonged to workstations consisting of a bunch of dumb terminals hanging off a central CPU, and had constructed their business model around that idea. They just couldn’t see the profitability in personal computers and wrote them off as toys (how many multi-terminal workstations have you seen lately?) And, Gene, I can see at least one reason why schools may bit slow going the iPad route: teachers might wonder how to deal with that kid in the last row who’s using his iPad to look at porn or fight off space invaders rather than tracking what the class is supposed to be doing. And purchasing agents might worry that iPads aren’t rugged enough to take the beating they’d inevitably receive in a school environment. But, given the price of textbooks, I’m sure that in time they’ll come around.

      • Richard says:

        @dfs,

        As an eReader, the iPad is easily beaten by any number of other products on price, which will be the determinant for educational use, especially at in the lower grades.

    2. Russ says:

      There are important reason why children aren’t toting these around to school this year – not enough time or funds. It takes multiple years to get a new textbook approved by most states. Even without any changes in content, there is no way that these books could get approved in time for the 2010-11 school year. I would say that it would be difficult to get them approved for next year as well. The earliest we would see them in K-12 will be 2012-13 school year.

      Secondly you have the issue of funds. Currently in most school districts, they use last years books to hand out to students for this year. If a few books are badly damaged, they can purchase a few additional copies. If they make a switch to the iPad, they need to purchase all new books, plus iPads for the students. In our current economic climate, this is just not going to fly. How do you explain to city/county/state workers on furlough or laid off that you are investing millions of dollars to purchase technology for the schools?

      I think the iPad will take off first at the collegiate level where students purchase their own books and the professors selects the reading materials. When the K-12 publishers begin to take advantage of an eBook with interactive content, making it different from the printed book, then we might see a change. However, this will take 3 to 5 years for the books to be redone and approved. It is much easier to justify the purchase of an eBook if you were going to buy new texts anyway.

    3. lrd says:

      The Dell Streak & Samsung tablet are playing right into Apple’s hand: Android Market Fragmentation. Leading to complete and utter confusion.

      In a rush to get competing tablet like devices to market, these companies are implementing various half-baked versions of Android’s Operating system; which even the newest version of Android is not nearly as finished as iOS 4.

      This will play right into Apple’s hand. Why?

      First, it will create an unsatisfactory end-user experience. The Dell Streak according to Walt Mossberg of the WSJ had numerous software and even hardware issues at launch in the US.
      Walt was brave enough to mention them in his review. The Samsung I’m sure will have numerous shortcomings on the software side, some of which are mentioned above.

      Second, software updates will be another point of contention with these Android tablets. Expect system and application crashes galore- again leading to an unsatisfactory end-user experience.

      Here’s the best part- you wont hear about all these issues facing Android devices now and into the future. Why?

      Well the media is so concerned about Apple’s influence in music, movies, books, magazines, etc., that they’ve pretty much made a “pact” to overlook these shortcoming in order to make sure that a “duty” free platform arises from the ashes. The media companies don’t want to pay the Apple “tax” of having their content on the iPAD or iPhone or iPOD Touch or iTunes.

      So, the consumers won’t ever hear about how system and app crashes are common on these devices because everyone is so desperate for a viable competitor that they’re willing to look the other way for now.

      Sought of like the Mac vs. Windows in the early to mid nineties. All the PC magazines were touting Windows although the Mac was light years ahead and much less prone to crashes and system issue.

      The Android fragmentation is heading that direction now for sure.

    4. iphonerulez says:

      Who needs an iPad killer? Just flood the market with iPads. What’s the big deal? The PC vendors flooded the computer industry with those crappy netbooks that were underpowered and shoddily made. So let Apple flood the market will well-constructed iPads that consumers seem to enjoy using. There’s no current equivalent of the iPad for sale, anyway, and it might be some time before any halfway decent Android tablets are even offered. The Galaxy Tab hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet and it’s going to be even more expensive than the iPad. Most of the other cheaply constructed tablets will run some modified smartphone version of Android which isn’t really suitable for tablets. Likely, Apple is going to sell around 12 million iPads by year’s end and will have a comfortable lead over all the other tablet vendors. Those companies are all going to focus on building tablets with better hardware than the iPad and they’ll still fail, because the software won’t be up to par, as usual.

      I think it will take a couple of years for the rest of the industry to catch up to Apple’s iPad in market share, so Apple can take it easy and work on future tablets and hope that they come up with some fine model that will be hard for most companies to duplicate without a lot of effort and cost.

      • Richard says:

        @iphonerulez,

        “Just flood the market with iPads.”

        While it is unquestionably true that Apple have benefitted from being “first to market” with the iPad, flooding the market implies a pricing structure that is not in Apple’s DNA. If any tablet it going to “flood the market” it will be something other than an iPad.

    5. pipboy3k says:

      The problem with these supposed iPad killers is that they are likely to include tons of feature bloat and be running an OS that even Google admits isn’t quite ready for tablets. Either that or they’re running Windows 7. When the iPad came out and all of these other “me-too” devices started showing up, Win7 was like a major selling point for those manufacturers like HP and it’s “Slate”. They ditched that real quick in favor of WebOS which while we dont know how well it can scale up, I’m pretty certain Win7 can only be squished and shoehorned onto a device like a tablet and will likely be horribly unusable due to the fact that the interface is not optimized for small touch devices.

      Also another reason a lot of these “killer” devices will not dethrone the iPad is because Apple markets to the consumer while most of these devices will really only make the advertising rounds on the Internet and only be known to tech enthusiasts who hate Apple. Thankfully these people only account for a small percentage of sales of electronics compared to the average consumer.

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