Apple launched the iPad on April 3, 2010 and sold 300,000 devices on the first day. Sales grew quickly with one million units sold in the first month, and three million sold by June 22. In the first full quarter selling the iPad, Apple shipped 4.19 million devices, bringing the total to 7.5 million in less than six months. By the end of 2010, more than 10 million iPads were sold, capturing over 95 percent of the tablet market.
While the iPad has taken the lead, manufacturers large and small are scrambling to catch up with Apple and take advantage of the new interest in tablets that the iPad has generated. Apple hasn't been sitting still, though. With the next-gen iPad right around the corner, will that be enough to fend off the new competition, or will these new entrants be able to capture more of the market share?
The next-gen iPad
The original iPad was extremely successful, so it's unlikely that the second-generation iPad will have any dramatic or significant changes. Rather, the next-gen iPad will be more about incremental improvements and refinements as opposed to radical new innovations. What might that look like?
The new iPad will likely sport dual cameras for capturing both forward-facing and back-facing images, which would also provide FaceTime video call support to the iPad.
It's likely the new iPad will also have a higher-resolution screen. While not necessarily a full Retinal Display, the new screen will probably be larger with a narrower bezel. As Apple products are almost always thinner and lighter than previous versions, the next iPad will probably follow that pattern as well, potentially removing the rounded back and replacing it with a flat back similar to the iPhone 4.
The next-gen iPad will probably also have a larger speaker, faster processor, and more RAM. A CDMA version will most likely be offered in addition to the GSM version of the iPad so that 3G wireless will be available on both Verizon as well as AT&T.
So how will the new iPad stack up to the onslaught of competition?
Android is arguably the best-positioned tablet platform to challenge the iPad, and a number of new Android tablets have been announced recently.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab ($500-$600, samsung.com/us/mobile) was the first Android tablet to be viewed as a real iPad competitor. However, many users complained that it felt like a big phone and didn't take advantage of the larger screen. With Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb being optimized specifically for the tablet form-factor, it opens the doors for a new line of gorgeous Android-based tablets like the Motorola Xoom. There still remains the large question of Android fragmentation as well as the availability of third-party applications being customized to take advantage of the larger screen. Nonetheless, expect to see many Android-based competitors for the next iPad.
The Motorola Xoom was hot news at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011. The 1.5-lb. tablet offers a slightly larger, high-resolution display than the existing iPad and includes front and rear facing cameras. To compete with FaceTime, it includes Google Talk video call software.
Dell recently announced the Streak 7 (price not yet available, dell.com), a mini-tablet with a 5-inch display. The Streak runs the Android 2.2 OS and includes a collection of mini apps that support music, photos, e-mail, and more. It also includes support for Adobe Flash 10.1. (Are you listening, Apple?) Like Verizon's new iPhone, you can use the Streak as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
Research In Motion (RIM) has been seeing its BlackBerry market share erode in both the business and consumer environments and is hoping that the PlayBook (price not yet available, us.blackberry.com/playbook-tablet) will be a viable competitor to the iPad in corporate environments.
Employees bringing their personal iPads into the workplace have driven much of the iPad's adoption in the business environment. RIM will have an uphill battle selling PlayBooks to companies now that the iPad has taken an early lead. Additionally, while the iPad can be used as a standalone device, the PlayBook is designed to be more of a companion to the BlackBerry smartphone. As a result, the PlayBook will be a much harder sell to companies that are no longer solely rely on the BlackBerry but also support the iPhone and/or Android devices.
When HP bought Palm last year, it was buying more than just a phone company. WebOS, the relatively new operating system that powers the Palm Pre and Pixi is built on a technology called WebKit—the same Web browsing engine that powers the iPhone and iPad. WebOS has a lot of potential for phones, tablets, and even printers, but it is yet to be determined whether HP will be able to leverage the platform and take advantage of its full capabilities. HP is expected to announce their tablet strategy at a press event in February.
One decade ago, Bill Gates unveiled the Windows-based Tablet PC. He made some very strong predictions saying, "It's a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years, I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America." Five years later in 2006, the Tablet PC had only achieved a 1.2 percent of the PC market. Bill Gates saw the opportunity, but Microsoft was unable to take the tablet mainstream.
Now that Apple has taken the tablet mainstream with the iPad, will Microsoft be able to take back a market share? While Windows has traditionally run on an x86 processor, Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows will also run on an ARM processor, which is what most smartphones and tablets run today because it consumes much less power and allows batteries to last longer. In the meantime, there is a new wave of Windows 7-based tablets coming to market like the innovative Samsung Sliding PC 7.
Samsung's Sliding PC 7 ($699, samsung.com/us) is a hybrid touch-screen device with a slide-out keyboard and a 10.1-inch multi-touch screen, allowing you to use it as a tablet and laptop. It includes 3G and WiMax connectivity. It's slightly larger and twice the weight of an iPad. Samsung plans to roll it out in March.
Stiff competition ahead
This is definitely the year of the tablet, but the big question is, will Apple still be on top when the year comes to a close? With over fifty competing tablets looking to take a market share, the iPad will have some stiff competition. Will other platforms be able to challenge Apple's App Store lead in both iPad optimized apps as well as compatible iPhone/iPod touch apps? Will the next generation iPad come out with any unexpected features? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure… It's going to be an exciting year for tablets!