iPad vs. the World: Tablet Market Gets Weird

The iPad will soon face a tsunami of competing tablets. Get ready for mass confusion in formats and feature sets.
Posted December 15, 2010

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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It's no secret that Apple enjoys an unprecedented lead in the touch tablet market. The last major accounting put Apple at an incredible 95% market share.

Until the iPad's first real competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which shipped late in the year, Apple pretty much had 2010 all to itself. Next year will be different.

In fact, the tablet market is about to get very crowded – and very weird.

It all starts January 6. On that day, CES 2011 begins. The show will be a tablet-fest unlike anything we've ever seen.

The generally expected outcome for the market is that the coming flood of tablets will usher in a new range of choice for tablet buyers, and Apple will be forced to share the market with competitors who offer pretty much the same functionality at a lower price, or more and better features at pretty much the same price.

The market should settle, with Apple's share declining to a low, two-digit number with the "open" and cheaper alternatives, especially Google Android devices, taking the lion's share.

I don't think that's going to happen. I believe Apple will remain the dominant player indefinitely. Apple's incredible lead, plus unexpected craziness in the rest of the market will favor Apple in the mind of consumers.

Here's what I'm talking about.

The Tablet Tsunami

The New York Times this week reported that, according to anonymous sources, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is planning to announce several iPad competitors made by Samsung, Dell and others.

The Samsung device, called Gloria, will be about the same size as an iPad, but thicker and with a slide-out physical keyboard. It will run Windows 7 with a special "layered interface" that will appear when the keyboard is hidden.

Even more interesting, another Times source said Ballmer might also show Windows 8 devices, including a tablet.

As I've said before ship a tablet OS based on the Windows Phone 7 platform . The only question is: When? If they can't or choose not to do it soon, they could be hopelessly cut out of the mobile tablet market, which is shaping up to be the future of computing.

The best guess for Windows-based tablets is that next year, tablets will ship running Windows 7, possibly Windows 8 and probably Windows Phone 7.

The Microsoft-based tablets are just the beginning. RIM may be planning to ship its Blackberry PlayBook tablet as early as February.

Motorola is rumored to be working on a touch-tablet called Stingray that will run the upcoming 3.0 "Honeycomb" version of Google Android.

Creative is working on an Android tablet called the Creative Ziio, which will feature its own ZiiStore app store. We're probably going to see a lot of spin-off stores like this from both device makers and from carriers.

Another plausible-but-unconfirmed report has HP shipping in March a new touch tablet based on the webOS platform. If you recall, webOS is the operating system that runs the multi-touch Palm Pre phone, which HP acquired when it bought Palm.

Acer is working on both 7-inch and 10-inch Windows and Android tablets, which are expected in the spring.

China's top PC maker, Lenovo, announced this week that the company would announce a new LePad tablet within the coming weeks.

And a host of companies less familiar to consumers are also expected to ship tablets in the first half of next year, companies like Notion Ink, ViewSonic, MSI and others, plus a potentially enormous number of budget-focused Chinese companies.

When the Going Gets Weird…

Market watchers are increasingly coming to terms with the impact of touch tablets on the netbook and notebook market. Goldman Sachs predicts that Apple will sell 37.2 million iPads by the end of the year, replacing one-third of PCs and tripling Apple's PC market share (assuming that iPads are "PCs").

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