The iPad Part 3 – The Competition

Having looked at the good things and the bad things about the iPad, I’m now going to look at the market as a whole and see where the threats are going to come from. One of the best things about the iPad is that it got out there first. And while there are plenty of Tablet computers on the market or on the way, only the iPad is really finger-friendy, light and portable while still being reasonably functional. And at the moment, there really isn’t anything that competes with the iPad.

You have to remember, too, that this is a new market – it’s not the established tablet market, because the iPad can’t compete on features. Again, it’s an appliance – a media consumption device. A glorified e-reader.

So let’s compare it with the dominant King of e-readers, the Amazon Kindle. In it’s own right, it’s a fantastic device. The impressive e-ink screen mimics an actual book and has no backlight, so it’s very easy to read and doesn’t hurt the eyes. But it’s even more limited than the iPad – it can’t run apps, it can’t play movies or music. It’s just a black and white book/newspaper reader. That will change though – we already know Amazon is looking to implement apps capability for the Kindle, but even then it is starting from scratch. The iPad appstore has over 134,000 apps (80,000 of which are fart apps and Duke Nukem soundboards). Colour e-ink has been developed in working prototypes, so a Colour Kindle won’t be far away. Amazon will have to dramatically slash its price, though, given how severely limited it is compared to the very cheap iPad. The key strength of the Kindle is that it’s backed up by Amazon’s massive library of over 400,000 ebooks – but since the iPad can read Kindle books anyway, that advantage is gone. And while the iPad is ridiculously ugly, theKindle is oh so much worse.

Microsoft is touting it’s Windows 7 operating system as beingoptimised for tablets, and while the interface on Windows 7 is finger-friendly, many of the applications you use on a daily basis aren’t. Things like web browsers and email clients all have small menus rather than big, finger-sized buttons. And because most Win7 tablets are more like stripped-down laptops, with all the hardware you’d expect like cameras, wired ethernet, and an array of usb/video/networking ports they tend to be heavy and expensive. The big advantage they do have, however, is stylus support and handwriting recognition. It remains to be seen if the iPad has a sensitive enough screen to be used for writing or drawing.
The most hyped up Windows tablet coming out this year is probablythe HP Slate. Details are sketchy, but it’s believed to be have a 10” multi-touch LCD screen, a 1.8GHz processor (compared to the iPad’s 1GHz), and that’s about all we know. It’s due for release “Sometime in 2010”, and has a stupidly massive frame.
And then there’s smaller, almost unheard of companies like ExoPC and Archos who are have released or are planning to release mini-tablets, like iPads but with all the features of Win7.

The real competition for the iPod is from a tiny, little-known Californian company called Google. As proven by the Google Nexus, Motorola Droid and upcoming HTC Bravo, Google’s Android operating system is an impressive rival to Apple’s iPhoneOS. While it hasn’t got the quantity of available apps – only 24,800 – almost all the top-used iPhone apps are available on Android. The only thing I wish my Nexus could do is listen to Audible books, which is likely to be supported early this year. Google is the only company with the resources, finesse and reputation to make a product that can take on the iLove that Apple has. Google is massive, it’s everywhere and for the most part, everyone loves it. And we love Google not because of its marketing efforts – Apple reigns the marketing world – but because of its simple, open, friendly deliver-what-the-user-wants philosophy.
Android’s a great platform for tablet-style devices because, like the iPhoneOS, it’s designed with fingers in mind. Unlike Windows Mobile, it doesn’t require a stylus for using tiny menus and buttons. Unlike Windows 7, it’s not bloated and resource-intensive (despite Win7’s huge advances in those areas over previous versoins). And most importantly, apps developed for Android share its finger-friendly interface.

There are no tablets running Android yet, but a lot are being developed. Perhaps the big weakness with Google’s open philosophy is that too often the hardware companies will let them down. For example, HP is making a version of the Slate for Android – but they’re building a keyboard onto it. That’s not a tablet, HP, that’s a netbook. However companies like Acer, Asus, HTC and Dell have some very worthy looking devices, most tipped for release this year. They range from stupidly small (the Dell Mini 5 has a 5” screen, half that of the iPad and only 1.3” bigger than my phone) to the same as the iPad (10”). Perhaps the most highly anticipated will be from MSI, with a much more powerful processor and graphics capabilities than the iPad for a similar price.

What I’d love to see, though, is Google teaming up with Amazon to create a colour Kindle-style device based on Android. The device would be able to play video, multi-task, have a camera and integrate with Amazon’s ebook store.

It will be interesting to see how the future plays out with Apple and Google, I think these two companies will revolutionise how we interact with information and the world around us. Tech site Gizmodo recently did a comparison of the Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo empires, illustrating how many markets those companies are in competition with each other. Both Apple and Google are innovative, have good brand recognition and have products that are ubiquitous and high

Will I buy an iPad?
No. I’m a gadget freak, a geek, a nerd but most importantly I’m a tinkerer. I like going outside the mainstream and pushing the boundaries. Apple won’t let me do that. I completely agree with tech personality and Google FanGirlGina Trapani who said “iPhone’s for Sheep; Android’s for Geeks”.
When iPhoneOS is available on hardware made by other manufacturers, allows multitasking and allows me to get apps that Apple hasn’t approved, then I’ll consider it.
But I can can see why other people will buy it. And I’m glad Apple’s bringing portable, flat, paper-like devices a step closer. In fact, that’s why I want the iPad to sell really well. If the iPad takes off, and all the other companies start thinking “Wow, we need to get in on that action” – the technology will advance dramatically, the price will drop, and we’ll start seeing some really cool stuff.