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  • The iPad Killer Window of Opportunity Shortens

    September 24th, 2010

    As regular readers know, the first of an expected large group of tablet-based gadgets are beginning to go on sale. These are the supposed iPad killers that will, some suggest, seriously erode Apple’s market share in the tablet market.

    That assumes, of course, that any of these products are actually any good and properly marketed, and that’s saying a lot.

    You see, there’s the unfortunate assumption, proven wrong over and over again, that Apple has gained ascendency in various segments with smoke and mirrors and clever marketing. A real tech company will ultimately do them in, a repetition of the Mac versus Windows wars of long ago.

    Certainly, Apple is on a roll, selling far more iPads than any supposedly knowledgeable tech analyst dared to predict. Even as I write this, more and more countries are getting iPad shipments. Here in the U.S., additional dealers will be carrying them. Apple has also claimed that the iPad is being tested by many of the largest firms on the planet.

    The problem with the supposed competition that’s been announced so far is that they do not present a superior interface or hardware configuration. Yes, there’s that Samsung 7-inch tablet with front and rear cameras. But having those cameras doesn’t mean they will take good pictures, or that the software is clean and elegant. Far too many consumer electronics makers believe that adding a feature your competition doesn’t have proves superiority. They don’t realize that Apple doesn’t always put all the eggs in one basket, nor will a new product have every conceivable feature.

    Sure, Apple obviously wants you to upgrade to the newer versions, so they add improvements. But it’s not at all clear that features are withheld just to provide upgrade paths. Certainly the various iOS upgrades were free to iPhone users, yet lots of features were regularly added. It is very possible that Apple just wants to make sure everything works properly before the upgrade is released — not when it’s too late.

    As to the iPad, it’s also clear Apple worked hard to keep the price down, and maybe the bean counters and designers decided that there was either not enough time to add cameras, or the cost of the raw materials was a little too high. Larger production quotas will clearly change that equation, and nobody is betting that iPad 2.0 won’t have one or more built-in cameras, and perhaps even a direct USB slot for easier connection of peripherals.

    More to the point, Samsung, certainly a credible company when it comes to building smartphones, flat panel TVs and Blu-ray players, has yet to demonstrate any skill in creating the personal computer of the 21st century. The first entry, the Galaxy Tab, will reportedly be sold primarily with two-year 3G data plans through major wireless carriers. Sure the price of admission is apt to be reasonable, and it’s estimated at $300. But the tablet sans contract may cost as much as $1,000, which kills the potential to compete with the iPad on any reasonable basis.

    So is it possible that Apple is better able to build affordable gear than Samsung? As you know, some of the parts used in various Apple products, including displays, are sourced at Samsung? What a strange turn of events.

    More to the point, just what sort of operating system will the Samsung Galaxy Tab use? Well, published reports indicate it’s Android, and that Samsung is working to modify the open source OS so that it will yield better results on a larger screen.

    All well and good, but what experience does Samsung have in developing a tablet or PC-based operating system, even if the underlying code on which it’s built comes from another company? Apple has been in this game since the 1970s. Yes, I realize Samsung has lots of brilliant engineers on the payroll, but believing that a full-fledged OS for a modern tablet computer can spring forth simply by throwing money and people at the problem is unrealistic.

    There’s also a published report that Dell hopes to sell their tablet for 30% less than Samsung, which is still far more expensive than the iPad, if you don’t consider a possible data plan.

    Has Dell demonstrated any affinity for building good products beyond their core cheap PC and server gear? Yes, Dell makes perfectly fine displays, but the underlying parts are sourced from the same manufacturers used by Apple and other companies. Where’s the innovation? Oh, right, Dell doesn’t innovate. They just sell — or try to sell — boxes cheaper than the competition, with the same features.

    Yes, there is always room for a better mousetrap and, if marketed properly, there’s no question that a tablet PC superior to the iPad can get a good share of the market. But the iPad has already become an icon, in the best tradition of the iPod, so the window of opportunity for the competition is closing fast. It may not be too late, but any hopes of substantially displacing the iPad at least for the next few years are slim to none.



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