After nearly a year of having the market pretty much to itself, Apple's iPad finally has some serious competition. The first Android-based tablets are starting to ship, and they will soon be followed by a wide variety of portable devices, some of which should give the iPad a run for its money.
To see how the first Android slates stack up against each other, I looked at four tablets: three with 7-in. screens -- the Archos 70 Internet Tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the ViewSonic ViewPad 7 -- and the 10-inch Archos 101 Internet Tablet. I also checked out HP's PhotoSmart eStation C510, an inkjet printer with a Zeen wireless Android tablet included.
Over two weeks, I had at least one of them with me for most of the day. I used each to write, read e-books, collect my e-mail and bounce between Web sites. I listened to Internet radio stations, played games and watched videos. I also ran a number of tests on each.
The Androids are coming -- finally
By next year, there could be as many as 15 different Android slates available, according to Anna Hunt, principal analyst at IMS Research. She forecasts sales of 36 million Android tablets by 2015, accounting for roughly 28% of the market. "With a variety of Android slates on the way," she says, "this market will grow and grow. This is just the start."
Hunt points out that the potential weak point of the new Android tablets might be software. At last count, Apple's App Store had 300,000 iPad programs available for download; users had downloaded 35 billion copies as of mid-October.
In contrast, the Android Market for downloading software has just over 100,000 programs available, and 2.3 billion copies were downloaded by the end of October, according to AndroLib, which tracks Android apps.
Once things really start moving, buyers should have more to choose from than just the iPad and Android devices. For example, as this was being written, there were rumors that new Windows-based tablets would be announced at the CES trade show in January, and RIM is touting its upcoming PlayBook, which will run on a Blackberry tablet operating system.
With all of those options to choose from, 2011 might end up being the year of the slate. The hardest part might be picking just one.