It’s been fifteen months since the first iPad shipped. Nearly every sizable company that makes anything that looks even sort of like a computer or a phone has rushed into the market that Apple created. Many of these companies haven’t yet shipped the tablets they’ve announced. Still, a critical mass of major iPad alternatives are now here–tablets such as Motorola’sXoom, RIM’s PlayBook, and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1.
And yet no Apple competitor has started selling anything that clearly answers afundamental question: “Why should somebody buy this instead of an iPad?” Sure, it’s easy to point at specific things that other devices do better (or at least differently) than the iPad, and some of the people reading this article can explain why they chose another tablet and don’t regret the move. (If you’re one of them, please do!) Still, sales figures for tablets show that when consumers compare the iPad to other choices, an overwhelming percentage conclude that the iPad is the best option.
As a reviewer of gizmos, I think that the iPad 2 is easily the best tablet on the market–and that most of the competition so far is too half-baked to be credible. As a lover of competition, though, I’m itching to see other tablets arrive that deserve to do well, too. So that question–”Why would somebody buy this instead of an iPad?”–is stuck in my head. I’ve been trying to figure out how an Apple rival can come up with a tablet that pretty much answers that question for itself. And I’ve come up with thirteen ways it could happen.
Most of these answers aren’t going to lure massive numbers of people away from the iPad all by themselves; it’s pretty clear that it’s unlikely that any one tablet will offer any one thing that lets it grab massive market share from Apple in the immediate future. But if you could ask a tablet why anyone should buy it instead of an iPad, here are the kinds of responses* that would make a difference.
*(Yes, for the purpose of this exercise, tablets can speak.)
1. “I have more and/or better apps.”
The single best thing about the iPad is the amazing quantity and quality of the third-party applications available for it–software that was designed with it in mind and which often isn’t available for other tablets at all. Any manufacturer that had a tablet with more nifty apps than the iPad would have no trouble making the case for it as a viable alternative.
Any examples of other tablets that offer this? No. Not hardly. Nowhere near. And how long would it take for any competitive platform to get there? The real question isn’t when someone will surpass Apple; it’s when someone will have a selection of well-done tablet-optimized software that deserves any description other than “skimpy.”
2. “I have noticeably better hardware.”
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1
There are people who will buy a tablet because it has the fastest-possible dual-core processor, or the largest amount of RAM, or the camera with the highest megapixel count. If that makes them happy, fine. It’s clear, however, that with tablets–even more than PCs–impressive numbers don’t translate directly into the most impressive user experience. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no opportunity for an Apple rival to build a tablet with hardware that’s unquestionably better in ways that matter–something that’s much faster, for instance, or far lighter, or way better in terms of battery life.
Any examples? Not decisively so. Some will argue that Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 is there, but Seth Weintraub’s cogent explanation of that tablet’s virtuesuses words like “marginally” and “silly” when discussing the Tab’s edge on the iPad 2. I’m still looking for a tablet that blows the iPad away hardwarewise.
3. I have hardware with features Apple doesn’t have.”
The iPad doesn’t have 4G connectivity. Or an SD slot. Or a standard USB connector. Or built-in HDMI. Or a removable battery. These are all things which reasonable people might covet in a tablet, and while I can’t imagine many folks would opt for another tablet over the iPad to get oneadditional feature, they might be intrigued by a tablet with a critical mass of them.
Any examples? Toshiba’s Thrive, arriving next month, has the SD slot, USB port, HDMI, and removable battery–as befits a Toshiba, it’s the most PC-like Android tablet I’ve seen to date, and among the iPad alternatives with the clearest identity of its own.