Last year, as the pre-release hype around the iPad was reaching its peak, dozens of companies announced their own tablet computers or “pads”. Some predicted doom for Apple’s device even before it was released. After all, how could premium-priced Apple compete with the volume PC makers and all the factories in China?
Pretty well, it turns out. Almost a year later, no tablet has even come close to Apple’s mighty iPad, and it currently boasts 95% market share. Where are the iPad killers?
Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts
The iPad has succeeded beyond the imaginings of even the most wild-eyed Apple fanboy. Seriously. No sane person (or cracked fanboy) would have guessed that the iPad alone would be a $7 billion business of that Apple would sell over 10 million of them in the first year. But the company is on track to exceed both of these numbers, selling over 4 million iPads (worth $2.7 billion) in their fourth fiscal quarter. And this doesn’t include the holiday season!
What’s so great about the iPad? It’s not the basic components. The “Apple-designed” A4 CPU turned out not to be the game-changer we thought it might be; the internal storage (16, 32, or 64 GB of it) are merely fine; even the excellent IPS screen offers middling 1024×768 resolution. The lack of a camera for FaceTime, pathetic 256 MB of RAM, and long wait for iOS 4 further detract from the device, in theory at least.
The amazing thing about the iPad is that it’s such an excellent overall device built from such ordinary components. About the only really extraordinary elements in the iPad spec sheet are its solid build quality and excellent battery life. Yet the iPad continues to delight its users, inspiring word-of-mouth marketing like no product before it – even beating the buzz around Apple’s iPhone!
Apple just took these simple components and mixed them together into an excellent overall experience. My household includes literally dozens of computers, including three Macs and five iPhones, and yet the iPad is all anyone wants to use. I am often summoned by the children to settle “iPad time” disputes, even as two perfectly-fine (though Wi-Fi only) iPhones sit idle. Not to mention the TiVo, Mac Mini, Wii, and assorted GameBoys.
Where Are The iPad Killers?
We like to break the ice at the Tech Field Day events I organize for Gestalt IT with a fun gift exchange. Since the iPad was introduced the week before, buying one as the grand prize for our April event was a no-brainer. Then came July, and iPad mania was strong enough to demand another iPad. In September, I hunted high and low for something more-compelling but settled on an iPad again.
Now here we are November and I have another event coming up. I made a real effort, shopping the various Android tablets against the now-dated iPad. Yet nothing comes close even now:
The Dell Streak isn’t a bad device, but it’s way too small to compete with the iPad. I’d get an iPhone or Droid if I wanted a tiny “tablet”. It’s also encumbered with a 2-year wireless contract or a high price: I’d get an iPad if I had to spend over $500 anyway.
- Archos was early with an Android tablet, but their chintzy offerings didn’t seem worth a few hundred dollars, especially with a $499 iPad on offer. The limited software and tiny size were really off-putting.
- The newer Archos tablets like the Archos 70 and Archos 101 are much nicer, with capacitive touch screens and modern Android builds. But their plasticky build quality and phone-based OS didn’t leave me with a great feeling. I’d still happily spend $200 more for an iPad.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is probably the best 7-inch Android tablet out there, but the cartoony interface screamed “not ready for prime time” to me. Plus, I’ve only seen the 3G versions for sale, and it’s crazy expensive. Seriously – $100 more than an iPad WITH a contract from Verizon or Sprint. An unlocked 16 GB Galaxy Tab is an astonishing $1,000.
- The new Huawei S7 is an alternative to the Archos 70, but isn’t really an iPad competitor. It’s a junky-feeling plastic device with a mediocre screen for $200 less than an iPad. Just like the Archos.
- The HP Slate 500 is definitely the coolest Windows 7 machine out there, but the proliferation of cut-priced netbooks cuts it off at the knees. The tablet form factor is nice, but is it worth more than two similar-spec netbooks?
Probably the best value in an Android tablet comes with a free HP PhotoSmart printer attached. The $399 eStation C510 printer comes with a 7-inch wireless Android tablet every bit as good as the Archos or Huawei for around-the-house use. Sure it doesn’t have 3G or GPS, but who cares at this price?
- The bad mojo around the JooJoo eliminates it from consideration.
- The random Android-powered “xPad” devices (iRobot aPad? Seriously?) are total junk, with non-responsive resistive screens, crappy build quality, outdated software (Android 1.6?!?) and horrible batteries. About the only thing they have going for them is a proliferation of USB ports and SD slots.
The new Barnes & Noble Nook Color looks cool but isn’t shipping yet. When it does we’ll have another 7″ Android-powered tablet for a nice $50 less than the Archos or Huawei, and Barnes & Noble is thankfully stripping it down to focus on core e-reader features. If you just want an iPad as an e-book reader and occasional browser, this looks like a good alternative.
Have I missed something? Is there some awesome iPad alternative I haven’t listed here? I’m sure there are dozens more, but none can hold a candle to Apple’s aluminum wonder in terms of usability, build quality, or (gasp) price.
I guess I’ll just buy another iPad for Tech Field Day San Jose 2010. Some may call me an Apple fanboy, but I’m failing in a serious attempt not to give money to Steve Jobs and company. I really wish I could give an HP PhotoSmart eStation C510 or HP Slate 500, but the former is too big and the latter is too expensive to justify. The Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak are great, but both are way too expensive and chained to wireless contracts to boot.
It amazes me to say this, but apart from the Amazon Kindle, the Apple iPad remains the only really compelling portable electronics buy this year. It’s nicely integrated, well-built, reasonably inexpensive, and universally desirable enough to be given as a (very nice) gifts. Nothing else really comes close. I guess Apple will have no trouble selling another 5 million iPads while the rest of the industry tries to get their products in order. But by that time, the next-generation iPad will launch.
Note: Of course the Cisco Cius looks great, too. And Cisco’s relationship with Apple suggests it might interoperate with FaceTime. But it’s not released yet, so it didn’t make this list.