2011: The Year of the Tablet Wars
Nov 29, 2010 5:00 AM PT
This has been an interesting month when it comes to tablets. Apple has pretty much owned the segment, but Samsung reports it sold (or shipped) 600,000 of its Galaxy Tablets in the first month, which may mean it's a player. HP almost had a surprise winner in its Windows 7 Tablet, but it can't seem to buy a break and under-forecast demand, which probably didn't please its new CEO very much.
Acer ended the month announcing several tablets, including a phone that is just slightly smaller than the already-shipping Dell Streak. Finally, Notion Ink quietly signaled it was going to have its second-generation tablet available -- at least for order -- on December 9th. We aren't even in 2011 yet, and the tablet wars are starting. That's what I'll look at this week.
I'll close with my product of the week, which is the iPad. So far, it's easily kicked the butt of every other product that has been brought to market, and it will likely kick most of what we see at CES next year. It is on my short list of products of the year.
Tablets: The First Generation
While many might consider the Windows tablets of early last decade or even products that came out in the 90s -- like the Apple Newton -- the first generation, I don't agree. Each one of these generations was a restart and had little to do with the prior generation other than the touchscreen. Everything from the operating system to the approach to putting applications on these products was different.
So the iPad is the first product of the current generation. I'm calling it generation one, and it is the first generation of tablets to go broad market, much like the iPhone was the first candy bar screen phone to go broad market and truly started that trend.
The iPad defines the first generation of offerings that have multitouch screens, are relatively light, cost under US$1,000, and are exemplified by relatively -- when compared to PCs -- long battery life. However, they have a number of shortcomings -- they can't be viewed outdoors, for instance. Also, the first ones lacked cameras, and they had very little performance headroom.
Mac Trojan Horse
Interesting enough, about half the people I know who tried to use the iPad as a laptop have gone back to using a PC -- but most have chosen to use a Mac this time and not a Windows PC.
This is because the iPad is great at consumption but sucks at creation (unless you want to draw) and lacks processing and graphics horsepower. So it became a Trojan horse for the Mac PC, and Apple has been getting two sales for the price of one with the new 11" MacBook Air being the form factor that most seem to prefer.
While I think this is brilliant on Apple's part, it also showcases the major shortcoming of the first generation, which is that you can't really live off it.
Windows Tablet Exception
The exceptions are the HP and Acer Windows 7 tablets, which do have the horsepower to live off of but sacrifice battery life and portability in order to get it. They are also more secure and compliant with IT standards, which have made them a favorite product for IT managers to offer employees who want to carry iPads -- which aren't considered secure enough for business yet.
Unfortunately HP, which could have cornered this market, under-forecast this year and will be sold out until after the holidays. Consequently, it won't do as well as it otherwise would have, but it might make up some of its losses next year, before Acer and others ship similar products.
With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy tablet, most of the Android Tablets brought out this year have been little more than junk. They have been aggressively priced but generally feel like they weren't well thought out, and the experience with them significantly lags that of the iPad.
The Samsung Galaxy Tablet is the exception, in that it comes close to the iPad in both hardware and software quality -- but it costs about the same and has a smaller screen, which means most will likely still prefer the iPad.
Notion Ink Adam: First Second-Generation Tablet
Last week, the website for the Notion Ink Adam went up, and it is close to what I think the second-generation iPad and other second- generation tablets will look like.
It has an outdoor-viewable hybrid Pixel Qi display; it has a 3.2 megabyte swivel camera so users can, when video conferencing, switch from a view of themselves to a view of what they're looking at; it has removable storage; it has an HDMI port (no dongle or dock required); and it has the Nvidia Tegra graphics system, which provides more performance headroom than most current-generation tablets provide. The only problem with this product is that it isn't actually out yet, but it is supposed to be launched on December 9, or in just a few days.
The real question with this product is the back end of services, applications and connectivity options. This is what really sets the iPad apart, and this is where the Notion Ink Adam will either surprise or disappoint -- but if it hits, it could have the only product that is actually significantly better than the iPad in market this year. We'll see, as that's a lot of "ifs."
Wrapping Up: Second Generation Is Worth Waiting For
The Notion Ink Adam is only the first in what will likely be a wave of second- generation products launched next year, including one from Amazon to replace or augment my personal favorite product, the Kindle. Which, by the way, likely means I'll still prefer the Kindle over the iPad this year, because I love to read outside as well as inside and can't live without my Kindle. I've read four books on it in the last week.
This is what makes the second generation interesting, because it won't require the sacrifices of the first. You had to pick a good multimedia experience or a good read -- you couldn't just say you wanted both in one device and not get laughed at. Next year, the laughter stops and the Notion Ink Adam is the first product to stop it. 2011 will be the year of tablet wars, and we haven't seen anything yet.
Product of the Week: Apple iPad
While the iPad isn't for me yet, there is no product people around me rave about more than their iPads, and I even include their iPhones. This thing has captured the imaginations of millions of people who are using it regularly -- often instead of their laptops.
Even if I don't name it product of the year next month, it will be in the top three easily -- and my money would be on at least second place. I'm afraid nothing is going to beat the Kindle in my head, but I have a number of friends who would likely disagree with me -- near violently -- on this point.
The iPad is one of the best products Apple has ever brought out, and Apple brings out some of the best products in the world, so the iPad is my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.