Why Apple still lead the tablet pack 16 months after the launch of the iPad

Posted on by Mike Evans

Looking back to early 2010, there's no doubt that Apple stunned the computer world with the iPad and the aggressive pricing. We didn't realise it at the time, but competitors would be unable to field a true competitor despite their optimistic advance pronouncements. Nothing, so far, has come near to toppling the iPad. John Biggs writing in CrunchGear analyses the netbook craze of the '00s and draws parallels with what is happening at the moment in the tablet world:

I also posit that manufacturers are social animals. They see what their peers are doing in the space and then head over to Asia to have it manufactured. There are only a few major manufacturers and these factories offer fairly limited configurations from which OEMs can choose. Sure, guys like Dell and HP can order up their own silicon but they didn’t get their laptops below $500 by customizing the motherboard. They bought some standard boards, slapped in some chips, and created permutations of the same thing in different trade dress. As it once was with stereos – manufacturers would hide the extra features like EQ sliders inside the case and simply charge a premium to expose them – you were basically buying the same laptop with a different name....

But manufacturers can’t “beat” the iPad because they’re still playing by netbook rules. As Stephen Elop said, there will soon be “200 tablets” on the market and only one clear winner. But hardware manufacturers are like sharks – they can’t sit still. They need to produce products constantly, no matter the popularity, and as a result, on the aggregate, no one device they produce out of the other 199 can touch the reigning king. It may sound hyperbolic but it’s true. However, they’ve been surprisingly reticent to produce many tablets. I’ve heard it said over and over: “If RIM had released the Playbook a year earlier, they would have owned the space.” Instead they announced early and hemmed and hawed and then released a device that is potentially superior to the iPad but, in practice, little more than a smooshed out Blackberry smartphone.

So far we have had gusts of hot air and the arrival of some reasonably competent tablets, such as the BlackBerry PlayBook. But nothing, nothing has caught the imagination like the iPad. With Apple there was no long wait between launch and delivery. Steve Jobs stunned us with the announcement and a few weeks later the iPad was in our hands. There appear to have been no teething problems; it just works. At the same time, the App Store has gone forth to become the best ecosystem in the world of smartphones and tablets. Above all, though, Apple is now an aspirational brand. Why choose a lesser brand when you can get a Porsche for the same price?

When a tablet comes along to unseat the iPad it will have to be a very special beast at a very attractive price.

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