Apple has long since been accused (or credited, depending on your perspective) of dominating the tablet market. So much so that iSuppli felt it was worth stating that Apple actually created the tablet market when they released the iPad.
This may be safe to say when Apple’s second-quarter global tablet share climbed to 69.6% (up from 58.1% in the first quarter) marking a five-quarter high for the company. The last time Apple enjoyed this much of the tablet market was just after the first generation iPad release when they sat at 70.0%, though the number is much more meaningful now that there is increased product diversity.
All of the industry’s key players have tossed their hats into the ring and tried to create their own version of the iPad killer (as each one is seemingly called before they hit the market), generally resulting in an entirely underwhelming response from consumers.
There have been more flashes in the pan than success stories: HP’s TouchPad was on the clearance rack before the first shipment was even unboxed by some retailers, Dell’s Streak and Cisco’s Cius are other examples still of good companies with mediocre tablet market entries.
Research in Motion (RIM) came to the party with their PlayBook, a tablet designed to prop up their BlackBerry smartphone lineup. Initial reviews for the device were quite varied, with many saying that while it had nice features and a beautiful screen that it fell short on the operating system side and lacked key features that people were looking for. Now, over a year after the initial release, the Playbook has become the Happy Meal toy of tablets: retailers can barely give them away for free with handfuls of other incentives. A new 4G model has been promised, but it’s difficult to be optomistic that it will be a success when fewer and fewer people have any faith that RIM will be around in 6 more months.
Samsung seemed the most likely competition with their Galaxy Tab series, but with the company waist-deep in litigation against Apple and sales figures that are frequently described as being uninspiring, it is difficult to see how they could rise to become the tablet market leaders with that product.
The most promising tablet we already have our hands on may be the new child of technology giants Google and Asus. With their Nexus 7 receiving a good deal of applause and with it running the latest version of Android (4.1, Jelly Bean) there might be hope in the Android world… but it’s still a 7″ tablet and it’s still Android, which while powerful and fantastic in many ways, still scares some of the non-techies around us. Remember how popular Linux was in the 1990’s? Remember that insane Red Hat IPO? What happened? Sure it’s still around, but it never really caught on for the average user.
If I were advising eyes to turn in any particular direction it would be toward Amazon. Their Kindle Fire was a resounding success for a few minutes, but it failed to keep the established sales momentum gained from the launch during the holiday season last year. Rumors and hints tell us Amazon has a little something up their sleeve with most expectations being that there is a 10″ Kindle Fire nearly ready to ship (maybe even with a launch sometime next week).
But even if Amazon delivers something really amazing and wonderful and exciting, it still isn’t going to be enough because it’s not a tablet the same way the iPad is a tablet. It is an eReader on steroids, and that has a place with consumers as well, but you will not see businesspeople carrying a Kindle and using it to do business. The only company with enough brand recognition and the corporate reputation to pull that off is Microsoft.
Microsoft’s Surface tablets should be on retail shelves soon, but that is exactly their problem. When? How much? How many? We think it’s coming at the end of October, but Microsoft has become the poster-child for missed deadlines. we think it will be about the same price as an iPad, but then again it could be upwards of USD $1000 to buy your very own; if you can even find one. With this being Microsoft’s first stab at a tablet release, it is difficult to predict whether they are likely to have enough supply to meet the potential demand.
With everything said and considered, Apple has to be cautious. The view from the top may be marvelous but it doesn’t take much to end up off the throne and back down at the bottom. As the world overwhelmingly adopts the tablet as their device of choice, demands for improvements and enhancements will increase in direct proportion to the complaints and concerns over existing hardware –meaning Apple has to ride ahead of the wave if they don’t want to be crushed by it.