The iPad is a first-generation product, and will likely advance significantly, as the iPhone did, over the next two or more generations. That is a fact of life, and no real reason to delay buying something. But there is a chance a different device might fit your needs better than the iPad does as this market matures. That certainly is still the case with the iPhone for most of us. Let’s look at four products that should be in market the same time the iPad is, and walk through what makes each better in some way than the iPad initially, or ever, will be.
Before we start, I think we should refresh on what the iPad is. I’m going to pick the configuration I think is best. That is the 32GB model at $729 with the $30 per month unlimited data plan (some think these prices will need to change). This gives a benchmark cost of around $1,450 over two years, with data. First-generation shortcomings are a lack of multi-tasking (limits productivity work), LCD screen (not great for reading particularly outdoors), 4:3 rather than 16:9 screen, no phone features, AT&T data network only, limited ports, limited memory, and a lack of initial iPad-size applications. Recall that the first-generation iPhone was very limited, and initially widely panned, but eventually successful. Many of these shortcomings will be corrected or otherwise addressed in the next two product generations.
Now let’s look at some contenders.
The Kindle should continue to have an advantage with reading, particularly outside. It remains cheaper, as the total price includes lifetime wireless connectivity, and the books, for a time, may be cheaper as well. This last is already changing as book publishers shift to Apple’s model, causing book prices to increase (at least for new, popular titles). The positive to this is books we couldn’t previously get on the Kindle are now showing up; The negative is they are about $5 more expensive. Strangely enough, right now, I just want the book, and it hasn’t sunk in that I’ll likely be paying $5 more now for books I would have paid $9.99 for earlier. The Kindle won’t replace your iPhone or laptop, but then neither will the first-generation iPad. Note that the Kindle should get an update before year’s end that should close the functional gap with the iPad; you may want to wait for it. Price is currently $259 for the small one or $489 for the big one. When you factor in data costs, the Kindle is effectively $1,200 cheaper than the iPad over 2 years. (So for folks on a budget…)
If you want to actually have the possibility of leaving your Windows laptop at home, the HP Tablet will be better. It should have a dual-core processor and multi-tasking will be turned on (important for a productivity product). You’ll likely give up some battery life – likely about half. The tablet is estimated to cost about $600. Adding $60 a month for two years of data puts total cost at $2,040, but this configuration should do all of what the iPad does, plus Microsoft Office and the full suite of Windows applications. It will also run the better Blio reader (which should also run on the iPad), or the Kindle Reader (already on the iPhone) software as well (so if you currently use a Kindle you can migrate to this). However, it will have the same indoor-only reading shortcomings that the iPad has. It’s basically a netbook in slate form.
This is very close to what I think the second-gen iPad will look like, in terms of hardware, and some prominent folks are waiting for what may be called the DroidPad. A transflective Pixel Qi screen should give it both iPad-like media features (color and motion) and Kindle-like text capabilities (outdoor readability), plus potentially better battery life. It will also better Nvidia Tegra graphics, HDMI output, an iPad-like data plan. It will use Android store (Google Reader, TomeRaider eBook Reader, FBReaderJ etc.), but this product is a little geeky at the moment. Libraries are limited, but better readers may be available at launch. This product should support multi-tasking, which should make this politician happy. With an iTunes backend or a better reader right now, the Adam could actually be a better choice than the iPad is. For folks that like to get next-generation products early and are willing to put up with the related shortcomings, (like an eco system that isn’t ready yet) it should make a fine choice. Price over two years should be at or under $1,450.
This is basically the other side of the HP Tablet: Rather than replacing your laptop, it replaces your smartphone with full phone features and a carry size that you can put on your belt. It’s also Android-based, with the same book-reader limitations. The five-inch screen, while similar to the smaller Kindle, has an aspect ratio better for movies then for books. It has two cameras: the back one is 5 megapixels, and a bright LED light source. Battery life should be in line with an Android phone, but less than the iPad. The rumored Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset should make it capable of operating on multiple networks, but with a battery life that could be significantly less than the iPad, due to the always-on network capability.
It will likely come with Exchange support, and Dell will likely have partners who will provide better e-book readers and content then most Android based products. If you want to replace your smartphone and like Android, this is likely a better choice than the initial iPad. Cost should be in line with an Android phone, or around $1,700 over two years, but you can get rid of your similarly priced existing smartphone service. Delta over your existing smartphone cost is likely to be below $500 for the new device.
No matter how popular a product is, be it a car, music player, or phone, one size does not fit all, and we generally have a choice. In this case, there are clearly a number of folks who really don’t like the iPad. I’ve listed a few of the more interesting products based on what we know of them at this moment, and suggested each may be better at one or more things than the iPad is. None of them appear to beat the iPad in terms of integrated solution, and only the HP Tablet comes close in terms of initial potential breadth. However, in targeted areas, each of these products has advantages that may make them better for you, and given it is months before you’ll even be able to buy any of these things, now is a good time to think about what is important to you. We’ll have a better sense of final specifications when many of these products (the HP and Dell are largely speculative) actually show up.
The Kindle is a better reader, the HP Tablet a better laptop replacement, the Notion Ink more advanced and capable, and the Dell Mini 5 a better replacement for your smartphone, and more portable than the iPad. While the iPad is nicely balanced, it doesn’t yet do what Steve Jobs suggested it needed to do (despite what he said in his opening comments, it really isn’t a better laptop or smartphone yet). None of these products, including the iPad, is a better laptop and smartphone. If that is what you want, you may want to wait until someone builds this flexible screen device.
Let us know if any of these products seem to fit your needs better than the iPad and, should you buy one, what your initial experiences are.
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