Should You Buy A Tablet Now or Cancel That One on Santa’s List?

Crazy. That’s what the Tablet/Slate picture is now. Crazy. I got hit with a question from an old chum on Facebook this morning. Here’s the question.

OK, I was going to get an iPad for my kid for Christmas. Now I see the Samsung Galaxy Tab is selling like hotcakes. You keep saying that the current operating system isn’t designed for Tablets on those. I understand that. Now I see that Google is getting ready to release an operating system designed for Tablets and that the next iPad is around the corner. Should I buy now or wait?

Ah, the technology race. It’s never ending and there are never any clear cut winners because it is never ending. What is hot today is sure to be supplanted to tomorrow. My stock answer is if you want or need it and you have the cash buy it now. You’re never going to be ahead of the game for long no matter when you purchase. That stock answer though can be perceived as tough to swallow given just how fast (or slow) things are moving in this space currently.

The good thing is that sometime next year (double emphasis on sometime) consumers will have a broader range of choices to choose from. But that doesn’t help my bud, or anyone else contemplating a Tablet/Slate purchase this Christmas. Tough to tell your kid to wait until next year on Christmas morning. The problem is what we’re seeing, hearing, and talking about right now are machines with lots of promise and no real specifics. But is that a problem?

What is real right now is that the iPad is still a champion. Apple is selling lots of them. The ecosystem is moving along nicely and the App choices just keep piling up if you can find what you’re looking for. The Samsung Galaxy Tab looks to be a real contender for the moment and probably is so because of the size difference along with other features that the iPad doesn’t have. There are more choices than anyone would care to count on the cheap Android Tablet front. Windows 7 Tablets are just starting to really appear and the fact that most of those focus on the Enterprise market should tell you quite a bit if you’re a consumer.

What we suspect will happen is that Apple will have an iPad 2 come spring beginning its yearly update cycle similar to its other products. Google will eventually release Android 3.0 for Tablets and Slates in 2011. There will be still be a slew of other Android Tablets rolling following this, some with the new operating system, some with older versions. But banking on what either Google or Apple will do right now is nothing short of getting excited about your favorite baseball team during Hot Stove speculation season.

If I had to wager, and I won’t, I’d wager that this time next year we will see a market still being defined but with more choices all around. Heck there might even be a Chrome model or two in there somewhere. Tablets and Slates as we know them are redefining quite a bit of what we think of as computing devices. The endless debates about do they replace a computer or not are becoming meaningless on some levels and full of meaning on others. For some it looks like they certainly could. For others they become an entirely new thing with potential use cases we are just beginning to imagine as we break out of the mode of thinking that in some ways force us to examine them in light of what we have known before.

The bottom line for me is that regardless of what Tablet or Slate someone ultimately chooses, the metaphors are going to be essentially the same. We are still going to be touching, pinching, zooming, scrolling, the screens with our hands and fingers, at least until voice recognition becomes better. Those who play the game now aren’t going to gain any real advantage over those who wait as that UI metaphor is relatively easy to pick up. There’s a reason some call it a Natural User Interface.

With all that said, my answer to my friend changes my stock answer just a bit. Go ahead and make your kid happy on Christmas morning. Waiting for the next great innovation will only yield waiting. Getting in the game now will, in my view, just open up a new frontier that we’re going to continue to be exploring for some time to come.