The floodgates have opened. Everybody and their brother is releasing some form of Tablet this month and next in hopes to capture some of your Christmas dollars. Actually that’s not completely true. Some smart players are waiting until next year before getting into the game. But all are playing a very weird game of follow the leader, with the leader obviously being the iPad. The iPad continues to sell and sell and sell. So much so that analysts are dazed and confused. Retail outlets are stocking up and Apple keeps expanding its distribution. We’ve got the iPad, we’ve got Windows 7 based Tablets, and we’ve got Android based Slates shipping. All well and good right? Well, maybe not depending on your point of view.
I’m not trying to be a Scrooge with the headline of this post and after all it is your money. But if you haven’t jumped into the Tablet/Slate game yet there are some legitimate reasons for waiting until 2011. Here are my thoughts.
Why the confusion?
Once the iPad rolled out last spring everyone who was playing wait and see decided to regroup. That game got extended, plans were changed and basically everyone had to rethink anything they had potentially planned. Why? Everyone wanted to see how the market would respond before pulling the trigger and starting up the manufacturing lines. By and large, (with some exceptions) what we’re seeing come on the market right now are attempts at recouping some of the development costs that were already spent. In many ways this reminds me of all of the computers that were shipped “Vista Ready” once Vista finally rolled out. Those first wave of machines were by and large disappointments and manufacturers quickly retooled and came out with better hardware, but unfortunately the “Vista is Bad” ship had already sailed. When those early machines rolled out, the newer machines were already in the pipeline. I believe the same is true of the Tablet/Slate game we’re seeing play out now. What’s on sale today will be outclassed in a few months.
When it comes to Android Tablet/Slates we’re seeing quite a few go on sale. Some, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Viewsonic ViewPad 7 are legitimate contenders. Some I’d classify as knock offs from companies trying to quickly cash in. (I’d include the cheap Android Tablets we’ve seen advertised at KMart and Wal-Mart in that category.) In all cases of those shipping at the moment and those promised to roll out by the end of the year, they are all shipping with Android 2.2 or earlier. The issue here is that Google has said Andorid 3.0 (Honeycomb) will be the first Tablet optimized flavor of its OS. Gingerbread is (2.3) is in the middle somewhere and that’s where the muddle comes in. To my knowledge, Samsung is the only manufacturer who has spoken out and said that its Galaxy Tab will support Gingerbread and Honeycomb. Samsung has also said that it will be releasing newer Tablet/Slate models in 2011 with Android 3.0 and improved hardware. Others offer vague statements about this and that makes me leery. Keep in mind that some of these also don’t have access to the Android Marketplace. If Apps are important to you, it is something to look closely for. From what I’m reading and seeing the Galaxy Tab looks to be a good experience and probably will do quite well this holiday season. It is probably the only legitimate contender out there at present.
Windows 7 Tablets
This morning on Twitter I see that HP is not going to be offering the HP Slate 500 to journalists and bloggers for review beyond the first looks we’ve had so far, because it is “intended for the enterprise.” That’s both surprising and not in the same breath. It is surprising because HP (and others) usually roll out their enterprise machines for reviews on some level. It is not surprising because HP doesn’t want to see negative press about a unit they are going to try and sell to vertical markets and HP doesn’t want to step on what it has planned for next year when it releases a WebOS 2.0 Tablet. Note that other players in the enterprise sector (Lenovo, Toshiba) are talking Windows 7 Tablets. That should tell you something.
We’ve also got the Windows 7/Android Tablets like the Tega v2 and the Viewsonic ViewPad 10. These are great ideas and show promise. (Note that the Tega v2 is also aimed at the Enterprise). But they, and any others that will follow, are hampered by using Windows 7 as the OS. Don’t get me wrong. On a Tablet PC, Windows 7 offers Tablet users some great functionality, but in the Tablet/Slate market these devices become a Netbook without the keyboard at best.
And then there’s the 800 pound gorilla. Apple will sell tons of these things this Christmas to add to the tons they have already sold. It is about to release an updated iOS for the iPad that adds functionality and is long over due. But don’t think Apple is finished. If things hold form, we’ll see a new iPad introduced in Q1 and go on sale in Q2 from Apple. It will offer up the features the first version is missing (cameras mostly) and probably a few new features as well. Other competitors at the moment tout their cameras and FLASH playback as differentiators. But they can’t beat the battery life, the ecosystem, and the retail reach. They also, at the moment, are having a hard time beating the price unless there is some sort of carrier subsidy model attached. The iPad is probably a safe bet this Christmas unless you need a camera on the device. But, if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, or are not in a hurry, it is also a safe bet that there will be something new announced within a few months.
Look. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from jumping onto the Tablet/Slate tsunami. It’s your money and you can do what you want with it. But I do think there is quite a bit of market confusion out there right now that manufacturers, in some cases, are taking advantage of to try and get you to take that jump, even as they prepare to move on. Apple and Google will have the most to say about where Tablets and Slates are heading next year. And, sad to say, I’m betting we’ll be in a similar quandary next year about this time.