Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tablet Wars

ZDNews has a couple of columns on tablets. Their conclusion is that Apple owns the market and that no one can catch up. The only thing left is to fight to be a distant number two, fighting for a tiny market of people who do not like Apple. Is this a valid assessment? I don't think so. We've been here before with the iPhone.

Remember how young this market is. The iPad started shipping less than fifteen months ago. That gives Apple a big head start but not an insurmountable one.

Fifteen months after the iPhone was released Apple had no competition at all. The first touch-screen competitors like the Blackberry Storm were unimpressive. Even the Android phones released before 2.1 had serious problems. At that point the release cycle was so fast that some phones were outdated by the time they hit the shelves. Despite that, more Android phones are sold than iPhones.

Yes, Apple has advantages. They have a head start, a big app store, and low production costs. They are also tied to one form factor. The head start will become less important over time. Android's app store is smaller but growing. It is also more open. People who want adult content on their device will have to go to Android or settle for a browser-based experience. Besides, just how many fart applications do you need?

The basis of Apple's low production costs is coming under fire. A plant in China makes all of their hardware and working conditions there do not meet American standards.

The forms factor is Apple's biggest weakness. Many companies think that a 7" screen is desirable. It is lighter and easier to carry and it can be sold for less. Also, most tablets are more open. You can plug in a memory chip or possibly a camera.

The iPad has one advantage over the iPhone. Originally you were locked into AT&T if you wanted an iPhone. That gave Verizon and Sprint an incentive to push their own hardware. Base models of the iPad do not need a wireless contract so there are no big wireless retailers pushing alternatives (although some tablets have data plans).

Come back in a year and see how the market has shaped up. I expect that Apple will still be the leader but will have some worthy competition.

No comments: