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Speculation Hints that iPad 2 Will Be Incremental Change. So What Actually Can Be The Big Changes for the Tablet/Slate Form Factor?

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The speculation about Apple’s iPad 2 announcement today is that what we’re going to see is incremental change. A supposed Apple employee has leaked info that we should all ratchet back expectations for iPad 2 and wait for iPad 3 if we want something more revolutionary. I’m not sure what revolutionary could be when it comes to the Tablet/Slate form factor.  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in this rebooted Year of the Tablet. When it comes to Tablet/Slate hardware what will be the big new innovation, the big new differentiator, the next big thing on Apple’s or anybody else’s Tablet going forward?

Cameras, memory increases, incremental processing bumps, higher res displays? Yeah, we’ll see them all at various points on various Tablets and Slates. We’ll salivated over some of that. FLASH? Well, if Adobe ever gets its act together, maybe. What a shame and an embarrassment that the Xoom went on the market without that supposed tent pole feature ready to go. Will size matter? Samsung made a splash with its 7 inch Galaxy Tab and has now said that a larger model is in the works and the 7 inch form factor isn’t really a Tablet. Motorola is promising a 7 inch version of the Xoom that just got released. Some money is being bet that Apple will do for its iPad line what it did for the iPod line eventually and create various sizes. So, size will matter but if everyone has multiple size Tablets on the market within the next 18 months it will all seem, well, ho hum.

In my view, all of that matters, but in the long run not so much. Once all of the promised new Tablets get sorted out and the market becomes more than a mixture of promises and hopes most will look and perform the same from a hardware perspective.

So does that make software and operating system the big differentiator? Absolutely, but not completely. I mean really how much difference can there be in flicking, pinching, and zooming? Multi-tasking looks like a possible differenitator, but eventually all Tablets will do the same thing on that front. Notifications? Apple’s suck. But I’m sure that will change. If you choose iOS, Android, or WebOS, or RIM’s OS you’re locking yourself in and in the case of the latter three hoping the developers really do want to spread things around when it comes to creating Apps. Apps will indeed matter. So will services. But that’s all still getting sorted out. Apple is succeeding both in quantity and quality and in garnering complaints, but Google’s Android Market is drawing some fire as well.

But the real keys are not going to be broad selling points that we’ll see on fancy slides or commercials. The winners in the chaotic race are going to be the ones who control the Tablet/Slate biz from top to bottom. That puts Apple in the lead currently, but Samsung has a shot on the hardware front given that they manufacture chips, screens, and other aspects of the hardware. HP has a shot as well due to its WebOS, but it will still have to depend on other parts suppliers for some of its hardware. Call this premature but I count RIM out given what I’ve heard from its management team so far. And as for Android? Well, there will be a ton of those Android Tablets out there without a doubt. Will it make a difference? It will in the same way Microsoft dominated and still dominates the PC sector  with Windows. Keep in mind, Google has interests way beyond selling Tablets. Google wants you using its software and service products to push ads, so the more Tablets whether they be good ones or mediocre ones the better.

Apple seems to also be dominating from a supply chain standpoint and that’s a big key as well. Getting these devices into customers hands once all the sexy announcements are over is always going to be a key to market penetration. And given that we’re still looking at summer for some of the big guns to finally have devices ready to go, it raises all sorts of questions on this front.

So, Apple will announce a newer version of the iPad 2 today. I guess what I’m saying here is that the hardware won’t matter in that announcement or in the ones to come.

Am I wrong here? What are you thoughts? What can possibly change on the hardware front to make one Tablet/Slate stand out from another? Love to know your thoughts?

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

9 Comments

  1. Carlos

    03/02/2011 at 2:44 pm

    Whith existing technology, it will be cool to see a tablet with a integrated keyboard, the one that is prjected with laser over any surface.

  2. Bazza

    03/02/2011 at 5:21 pm

    Screen, price & usability. Meaning ergonomically pleasant. I’ve got a Sony Viao PC with all the USB ports on the right hand side, which stinks if you want to plug in a mouse dongle – even the tiny ones protude enough to irritate. Quality of manufacturing, reliability too. But who cares about 3G/4G ? Such waste of money with wi-fi everywhere in my house & region.

  3. Brucewilsonpa

    03/02/2011 at 7:29 pm

    I agree completely — Steve Jobs “sold” the ipad as a “new user experience” and he was proven correct. Although Lenovo and HP had (have) excellent windows-based tablets, they’re aimed at a different market so Apple’s concept of a very simple, easy-to-use “computer” in a lightweight “tablet” (slate?) form factor seemed appealing. Of course the ipad’s success is largely the result of excellent marketing and the perennial hype from the fanboys for whom all Apple products are “the best”. Nevertheless (as a former “Apple hater”) the ipad proved to be exactly what Steve claimed…. a “new experience” — and, thanks to the existing Apple Marketplace, there were lots of apps to use with it — albeit when the ipad first came out there were very few actual ipad apps (something the fanboys forget when they frequently criticize the Android 3.0 tablets for lack of apps). But…. as many of us early purchasers discovered…. the ipad is great for media stuff but very hard to make into a true productivity device. Although some, like Warner, have had success in this area, most users are apparently satisfied to use their ipad for media apps (including some great games) but fall back on their pc/mac when they need to do “real work”. So the challenge to all of the would-be ipad competitors is whether they’ll offer enough of a “new experience” to offset the Apple steamroller marketing. I have a Motorola Xoom, having sold my ipad(s), and I believe there’s a chance — the new ipad 2 is nice but at best only “the same” as Xoom (actually Xoom specs are better in several categories) — so it comes down to whether the user experience in Android 3.0 (once it gets rolling with comparable apps) is better than ipad in IOS 4.3. We’ll see.

  4. lexuk

    03/02/2011 at 7:54 pm

    The ipad is a backwards move for tablets in many ways, so the ‘big’ changes would be to get back tablet functionality that many of us are used to (inking, convertible, small form factor, much larger hard drive capacity, more connections) and also to get the true electronic notebook that so many of us have been so patiently waiting (pining? surely not) for. Business applications would be multiple but for me to buy one of the new style tablets for personal use it would need to be a very different beast.

  5. Reuben Mezrich

    03/03/2011 at 2:29 am

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have a convertible tablet (remember those) that was a marriage of the Macbook Air and the iPad? Thin and light, built in keyboard, slate when you want it (reading books, watching movies, reading and annotating PDF’s) and a laptop when you need it (some of us really need a keyboard that touches back)

  6. Dave_in_MI

    03/03/2011 at 5:35 am

    Real innovation is going to come from creative users adapting existing devices for a myriad other tasks, i.e. art, animation, music, engineering, home improvement, clothing design (Project Runway), and more. It’d be nice if Linux could get it’s act together with regards to the touch/pen input, so we could have a small, fully-functional distro for tablets.

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