As Tablet Shipments Soar, Apple's iPad Faces a Mounting Challenge by Android Army

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Last summer, Apple was far ahead of its would-be competitors: It not only led the tablet pack, it dominated, with 93 percent of the market share for shipments in the third quarter of 2010, according IDC. This summer promises to be a different game, though, with a dramatically different playing field. A flood of competitors to Apple's iPad 2-including the RIM PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Motorola Xoom, and HP TouchPad-will be shipping by then. Apple may still retain its leadership position, but it can expect competition.

Already, in the fourth quarter of 2010, Apple's armor showed a few chinks; Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab finally shipped, and according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Media Tablet and eReader Tracker report, the Tab pushed Apple's share down to 73 percent. Samsung's debut captured 17 percent of the shipments overall--not shabby for a tablet that wasn't quite a direct competitor.

The RIM PlayBook is another 7-inch tablet, while the Xoom, the forthcoming Galaxy Tab 10.1, and TouchPad due this summer all have comparable screen sizes to the iPad 2. Given how the original Tab has already chipped away at Apple's lead, it seems safe to assume that Apple's market stature will face an even stronger challenge this spring and summer as more tablets hit the market.

The iPad 2 does enough to keep Apple in front for now; the company's lead is too great for anyone else to overcome in the immediate future. However, I Apple needs to do more than just what the iPad 2 offers to solidify its position, pull ahead-and stay ahead.

Yes, Apple has 65,000 tablet apps to Google Android 3.0's 100+. But the hardware needs to stand out, too, and while the changes Apple debuted in its iPad 2 make it more usable in some ways, ultimately they amount to merely an incremental, not monumental, push forward. Steve Jobs had a point about tablets needing to be about the integration of the software and hardware experience, but specs play a role, too-if the camera quality is subpar, for example, that's not going to work in Apple's favor in the long run. Likewise, if Apple's iOS doesn't evolve to better functionally embrace the immediacy and fluidity of the Web-connected world, it will be left behind, no matter how visually attractive and elegant the interface may be.

Some other interesting stats from IDC's report: An estimated 50 million tablets will ship in 2011. IDC defines a media tablet as a device with a color display larger than 5 inches and smaller than 14 inches, and running "lightweight operating systems" such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android and either an x86 or ARM processor. IDC distinguishes its media tablet category from tablet PC, which will run a PC operating system and x86 CPU.

Buying a tablet? Join us on Twitter and tell us what you're planning to get.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon