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This Year’s Tablet Derby Entries Are At The Starting Gate

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Trumpets blare. And they’re off. Well, not quite. Like the last couple of years we now have almost all of the entrants announced for this year’s Great Tablet Holiday Sweepstakes. It will be a different field than in past years. Different because some of the big players (Microsoft and Google) have decided to field their own entrants, leaving their previous surrogates handicapped before they even come out of the paddock. Last year’s new entrant, Amazon, hasn’t announced its contender yet, but that news is rumored to be expected shortly. While OEMs who stable and train in the fields of Google and Microsoft will certainly still try to compete, the way it looks at trackside is that the Great Tablet Holiday Sweepstakes is shaping to be a four horse race.

Apple remains the presumptive favorite with its current iPad entry. Call it good breeding, if you will, but there’s no question that the newest iPad is still a handsome thoroughbred with advantages that allow it to stand a hand or two above the competition.  Since a close race is what everyone wants, Microsoft’s Surface entries are generating a lot of noise, but are unproven challengers given that they haven’t even been walked around the track yet. Google is trying to duplicate Apple and Amazon’s approach and offering its own entrant after watching, like Microsoft, its surrogates muck things up in the last couple of races. Google’s trainer, Asus, called the process of creating the Nexus Tablet torture, so we’ll see if a rigorous training regime to produce a low cost entry will pay off. Amazon will probably remain content to simply “show” in this field, or possibly even finish out of the running, continuing to be content with the stud fees it garners simply by having its entrant appear in the race.

So, will there be a different winner this year? Probably not. The new entrants will certainly disrupt the field a little bit and cause some bumpy rides around the backstretch. But in the case of Microsoft and Google, their new Tablet efforts can be looked at as being reactionary (both to their own miscalculations as well as market forces) instead of  visionary. Amazon, Google and Microsoft will do everything they can do to hang on to their current business models, while spending a bunch of money outfitting these new entrants to the field. But these Winner’s Circles wanna-be’s look to be positioning themselves for races to be run further down the road. But, in the case of Microsoft and Google, they will have to prove that they’ve learned from their past missteps before the betters get really interested and the tote board starts to change.

Microsoft is hoping that its strategy of fielding its own entrant as well as licensing to other OEMs will probably junk up the field a bit out of the gate, perhaps causing the leaders to stumble trying to keep clear of the pack. Of course the congestion of the pack could impede its path around the track as well. Google on the other hand appears to be hampering its partners by hanging stingily on to its own Jelly Bean OS secrets until the competitors are lining up at the gate this fall, if then.

There will certainly be excitement in the run up to the race beginning. Astute observers will look for signs of weakness in the leader as well as signs of future potential from the contenders. Long shots will garner attention. Fans of each of the entrants will exhibit passion beyond reason. But the odds of anything close to a photo-finish are pretty low. This year’s race will more than likely be more of the same.

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+

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