When Apple introduced the iPad, it came out of left field, much like the iPhone and the iPod before it. Almost nobody believed it would be as successful as it has been and I doubt anyone predicted it would shake up and transform the PC industry in less than two years. But here we are. We’re two years and three iPad’s deep, but where is the competition? BlackBerry, Android, and WebOS have all tried and failed to capture some of the iPad’s momentum. Looking ahead, Microsoft is about to step up to bat with Windows 8, but given its lack of success with Windows Phone, it may have a hard time as well. Why is Apple retaining so much dominance? You can look no further than today’s newly announced iPad.
I don’t currently use iOS for any of my personal devices, but Apple’s perfectly tuned presentations can get almost anybody excited about a new product. Steve Jobs himself fine tuned them for 15 years and Apple doesn’t show any signs of abandoning the winning template, which is full of black shirts, big buzz words, astounding charts, huge numbers, amazing videos, and exciting new features. Watching an Apple press conference (even from home), can be more exciting than a trip to the theater. I can only wonder why they aren’t broadcast live, but after a few pictures and some live blogs, I’m as excited as any Apple fanboy for the new iPad.
Theatrics aside though, the reason these presentations are so successful is because most of the features shown are usually about as awesome as Apple claims they will be. Today, we heard that the new iPad will have a resolution twice as good as the last iPad and with more pixels than any 1080p HDTV (2048x1536px). That’s amazing, but on top of that it will have a competitive new quad-core graphics processor (dual-core main processor) for gaming and visuals, a brand new camera that matches the quality of the iPhone 4S called iSight, and 4G LTE connectivity, if that’s your bag. On top of that, it will get some notable software enhancements with iOS 5.1 and iPhoto, among others. Combine those features with other big projects recently announced, like e-textbooks, and you have a very compelling product to a wide range of people.
Few of these enhancements are surprising. If you know anything about Apple, you could have predicted almost all of the new features in the new iPad; many people did. Yet somehow, no other tablet maker seems close to offering anything close to these apps and hardware features. There are a few quad-core devices, and some high-resolution devices, but no one else is delivering a full product. Even sadder, most manufacturers still can’t seem to match Apple’s $500 price yet unless they skimp on something.
Asus is probably the closest company to offering a truly competitive product with its Transformer Infinity, but it will likely cost somewhere between $700 and $900 if you want to get it with its shining feature, a keyboard (actual pricing not yet announced, but it will be more expensive than the $650 Transformer Prime). The Transformer series offers something that the iPad doesn’t. No other competitor seems able to come up with a valid reason not to choose the iPad. Except, maybe, if you don’t like Apple? Unfortunately, the number of people who dislike Apple is not what it used to be.
Perhaps the problem is with itself. Google’s tablet versions of Android – named Honeycomb and now Ice Cream Sandwich – just aren’t as intuitive or fun to use as other tablets. Given the choice, I’d almost choose a BlackBerry PlayBook or WebOS tablet (assuming there was a good one) over many Android devices. It’s not that Android is bad, it’s just not incredibly compelling either, especially from a software standpoint. The iPad has 200,000 custom apps built for it, but the Android Market (ahem, I mean Google Play) has far far fewer apps designed specifically for tablets.
Later this year, Microsoft will use Windows 8 to mount an invasion into the tablet space, a market it invented, but failed to hold onto a decade ago, much like smartphones. It’s hard to say if Microsoft will see much success, but at least it seems to have some vision and original ideas. Where Android mostly tries to merge a bunch of ideas from iOS, OS X, and older Windows operating systems, Windows 8 is something a bit fresher and more intuitive. It’s Live Tile interface could really take off, if it’s presented correctly. But for any tablet to really challenge the iPad, it first has to get people excited. There has to be something enticing about it and it can’t have any drawbacks, be it on features or price. Amazon got people excited about the Kindle Fire because it presented a complete, unique vision and coupled that vision with an equally exciting price.
The new iPad may not be surprising, but it’s still exciting. Apple is coming close to perfecting the vision it laid out with the first iPad — to delivering on its promise. It may finally look as good and run complex apps and games as quickly as we wished it would. Much like the iPod and iPhone, it has taken a few years, but Apple is somehow already delivering the goods while its competitors struggle to lay out a foundation.
Still, nothing is forever. With the iPad maturing into a solid product, the question is, what’s next? Whichever company answers that question first (or best), will win the next round.