Apple iPad: Savior of the Tablet PC?

tablets-ipad-u1-archos

Now that Apple had laid bare its plans for the ultimate tablet PC, competing offerings from HP, Lenovo, Archos and a host of other PC manufacturers look a little, well, drab. That’s par for the course for an Apple announcement, but one standout product doesn’t have to spell disaster for the rest of the bunch. The iPad could be the best news out there for tablet PCs , putting them collectively in the spotlight that has eluded them for so long.

Apple iPadSpecifically, we could witness the same kind of phenomenon we saw with the iPhone: Apple’s flagship product will inject interest into a whole class of product people previously struggled to understand or had no interest in.

“The iPhone is a real point of reference for people understanding that range of tasks, and abilities you can have with a smartphone,” says Playboy’s Scott Alexander. “The iPad will do the same thing.”

It had better. As Laptop Magazine’s Mark Spoonauer pointed out in the wake of CES 2010, not even the manufacturers of some other tablets are completely sure what they should be used for.

Even in the hands of Apple’s crack marketing team, tablets could be a tough sell. “I don’t necessarily know if the tablet category is going to be a blockbuster category,” says Alexander. “I don’t think it’s as compelling of a product [as the iPhone].”

Of course, the effect works both ways. If Apple’s iPad fails to take off as anticipated, the copycat tablets planted to collect the spillover of attention from it might find themselves starving for sales in a market that failed to materialize.

apple-tvApple TV, after all, didn’t manage to light a fire under anyone to run out and buy a streaming media box. You’ve probably never heard of MovieBeam’s MB2160, RCA’s Akimbo Video On Demand Player, or Buffalo’s LinkTheater PC-P4LWAG – all 2007-era devices that went nowhere just as fast as Apple did.

Will the Apple iPad spark a fury of interest in tablets like the Archos 9 and Lenovo U1 Hybrid? Or will it fizzle on the launchpad? As the wave of post-announcement enthusiasm subsides, we’ll find out for sure in 60 days.

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