With huge Christmas sales predicted, Apple's plotting a course for the release of iPad 2.0, perhaps even in time for Valentine's Day, (February) today's hot rumor claims, but there are some signs Apple plans a massacre as it prepares the ground for 2011's expected battle with tablets powered by Android's more tablet-friendly "Honeycomb" software.
A quick recap: Digitimes this morning claims Foxconn to be manufacturing next-gen iPads in order to ship the product "as soon as the end of February".
Previously I've speculated the next-gen lighter, thinner iPad will boast faster processor, more memory, FaceTime support, camera, a 3-axis gyroscope (a la iPhone 4) and, potentially, a mini-USB connection.
There's lots of speculation it may feature a new high-res 'Retina Display', but there's many who reject this idea, pointing to production and supply constraints. iPad 2.0 may include multimode CDMA-GSM chips in some configurations.
Game on Google
Google meanwhile is beginning to talk up for Android-powered tablet devices. Google Android boss Andy Rubin showed an Android Honeycomb Motorola Tablet at the All Things D Dive Into Mobile conference last night, saying this product would ship next year.
With a nod to mobile payment systems and other implementations of NFC technology ('iWallet'), Rubin also confirmed Android will support NFC on devices which carry the relevant hardware. (ie. Not all Android devices are as equal as others).
NXP Semiconductors is working with Google to provide a complete open source NFC software stack which will be fully integrated within Gingerbread, the latest version of Android. NFC support is already built-into the Nexus S, which Google announced yesterday.
Google appears to have beaten Apple to the punch on NFC.
Some predict Apple will face challenges maintaining its 95 percent grip on the tablet market when new tablets running Android appear on the market next year.
Strategy Analytics expects Apple will face a "pricing challenge," suggesting "competitors may gain tablet market share by targeting consumers' price expectations, and that Apple will eventually be forced to offer lower priced iPads."
"Apple has had a clear run at the tablet market for the last few months," said David Mercer, Principal Analyst and the report's author. "As tablets from other major brands begin to arrive we expect price competition to heat up, and many consumers tell us they are waiting for lower-priced devices."
That lower-cost tablets may reach market is possible, but it is unlikely they will be as well-equipped technologically as the iPad.
Because Apple has already said it has done its best to bring its product to market at as approachable a price as possible.
Evidence for this is visible in the non-subsidized price of the Samsung Tab, the latest pretender to the iPad throne. This 7-inch tablet costs more (without subsidy) than Apple's 10-inch tablet.
As I've said before, I suspect competitors will be challenged matching Apple's prices, based at least on component shortages and supply, and Apple's large and consistent orders.
Apple's strategy doesn't need to stop at product improvement and market share.
The company also offers a powerful ecosystem for app developers. While Android has 100,000 apps, there's some dispute as to exactly how easy it is to develop for the fragmented platform. The big money remains found in iOS development, at least at present.
A thriving third party app market's only part of the story. There's another string to Apple's bow.