We’ve been talking about iPad competitors for a couple cycles now and they seem to be growing faster than anyone can keep up with. The latest, the iTablet , is kind of the anti-iPad in that it is a full PC based on Intel’s Atom technology and not simply a large smartphone without the phone bits. The iPad is clearly better-looking, but the iTablet is more capable and has a name that won’t cause snickers. There is little doubt the iPad will outsell the iTablet by a substantial margin, but should it? And what does this say about the gullible part of our nature? Coincidently Guy Kawasaki, the ex-Apple evangelist, posted a warning on gullibility this month – which, especially given the current topic, seems a pertinent thought to keep in mind.
The iPad Falls Short
This isn’t unusual for first-generation products, as they often are needed to define what people will pay, what they want in a product, and in this case even the size and shape of the offering isn’t set in stone. First-generation products almost always fall short of the ideal because it takes a couple of generations to figure out what the ideal even is. This is why a lot of companies sit out the first generation and instead wait until we can better tell what the market wants (and whether there actually is sustainable demand for a new class of product) before shipping any units.
Smaller products like the Dell Mini 5 and Archos 7 are coming, and larger products like this iTablet are coming as well as part of this live experiment to see what folks want from a product in this class. Steve Jobs, at the introduction of the iPad, said up-front what it should be, and that was something that was better than a laptop and a smartphone. But while the iPad does blend features from both, it isn’t really better than either with the Dell Mini likely a better smartphone and the iTablet a potentially better laptop. However, both are worse than the iPad in terms of the other function, making the iPad either nicely balanced in that it kind of sucks in both areas or is just a product that more consistently sucks. It really depends on what you want to do and how the product best fits your needs.
If we went down a list of key iPad shortcomings, you’d find it doesn’t multi-task, it doesn’t run much of the software that exists for products of its size, it lacks common ports, and it doesn’t provide a full Web surfing experience because it won’t render Flash. The iTablet does all of this stuff and it should cost about the same amount of money. Clearly it won’t have Apple’s marketing budget, and it’s not even clear whether the device will be offered in North America. What’s more, it isn’t as attractive either (but could be more durable). I should also point out that instead of 8-64 GB of flash memory, the iTablet comes with a 250GB hard drive which could come in handy for all the videos and TV shows that a device in this class is likely to hold.
Granted, this is a Linux or Windows 7 product which may not be as elegant to use as the iPad, and Apple users in particular will have a big problem with these two choices. But let’s assume you could create a Hackintosh load and get full OS X on this puppy – might the result be better? There is a rumor that Apple is working on one of these themselves that several folks have started to cover, at least suggesting that Apple may also be looking at this alternative.
I’m writing this at an Intel analyst event, and one of the executives stood up and said something to the effect of “I won’t say anything bad about the iPad, it’s pretty and it’s from Apple,” clearly showcasing that they think this thing is crippled, and against a PC it certainly is. Still, this caveat only matters if it doesn’t do something you need done. Before buying this is a question you need to know the answer to, and clearly the iPad will get a lot better over the next several versions.