The iPad Stands Alone

Where is the iPad's competition?

By this time, I'd expected to see some real comers gunning for Apple's iPad tablet. Hasn't happened.

You want to talk about HP's just-released Slate 500 ? It has a starting list price of $799. An iPad can cost that much, but the price starts at $499, and people have demonstrated that they're willing to pay that much and more. Are people going to feel the same way about the Slate 500? Highly doubtful.

The Slate has an 8.9-in. screen, compared to iPad's 9.7 in., and it runs Windows 7. Now, tell me, how many Windows 7 apps are there for a pure touch-screen tablet? The iPad boasts over 5,000. And get this: For your 800 bucks, you get a Wi-Fi-only device. Makes you wonder whether HP's goal is to see whether it can ship a product that can die even faster than Microsoft's Kin did .

Some people would tell you that since Windows is under the hood, the Slate is going to get snapped up by business users who wouldn't touch an Apple product. Really? Thousands of people are already buying iPads for business use .

It's not just HP, though. HP just stands out for having the dumbest iPad-rival launch to date. Anyone paying attention knows that iPads are selling faster than hotcakes on a cold Vermont morning. So, where are the iPad's rivals?

The first problem was that everyone underestimated just how popular the iPad would be. There was a sense it was going to be big, but who knew that almost 7.5 million iPads would be sold in the device's first two quarters of existence? Suddenly, tablets went from being a niche market for companies like Fujitsu to being big, big business.

The result? Almost no one had their manufacturing ducks in a row. Even now you can see OEMs struggling with basic design issues. Will tablets with 7-in. displays sell? Maybe. Maybe not.

When it first became apparent that the iPad was going to turn the tablet PC from a niche product into a best-seller, I predicted that Linux-based tablets would quickly give the iPad a run for its money. I was wrong. I still think it will happen, just not as soon as I thought.

Linux-powered tablets like the Dell Streak, which is due to get upgraded to Android 2.2 , are finally making their way into the marketplace, but there won't be a flood of them out by the holidays.

It turns out that while Android 2.0 and 2.2 make killer smartphone operating systems, they're not quite ready for tablets. The problem that many would-be Android tablet builders, such as Archos, Toshiba and ViewSonic, have encountered is that the current generations of Android don't do such a great job with a tablet's larger interface.

The other Linux contenders, such as MeeGo -- the embedded Linux with the best chance to rival Android -- won't be rolling out until 2011. The Google Chrome operating system , due out real soon now, is well, still due out real soon now.

I predicted that Linux-based tablets would quickly give the iPad a run for its money. I was wrong.

Windows 7 ? Oh, I guess it could be a competitor, but historically Microsoft has always flopped with mobile phones and other embedded devices. The folks in Redmond have also done a lousy job of competing head-to-head with Apple in this arena. I can make my point with one word: Zune.

So, for the time being, or at least through the 2010 holiday season, the iPad rules. Sometime in 2011, we'll start seeing real competition, but not this year. I still think that the Android Linux models will be the first to give the iPad a real race. Unlike the other possible contenders, the Android Linux community already has a large group of application programmers ready and able to develop tablet apps, just as Apple does. But for now, it's still an iPad world.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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