Matt Burns at Crunchgear seems to think that there is a real possibility that the iPad may have preemptively killed the US Tablet market. I have to say I agree with him and also disagree. Here’s why.
Flash back to CES2010 and “The Year of the Tablet/Slate.” Everyone and their second cousin was coming out with a Tablet. No one wanted to be left out of the race that Apple was going to kickstart. The same happened at other trade shows throughout the year. I said back in January of 2010, and I still stand by it today, that 2011 was a more likely target. Even so, there was great hope and great promise and then something happened. Apple’s iPad succeeded in the marketplace beyond even Apple’s wildest imaginings. As everybody and their second cousin took stock and thought twice about going forward, Android became the new hope and banners were unfurled promising a slew of Android Tablets due out in Q4 of this year. That still may come to be, but I think we’re headed to more disappointment than joy in the remaining days of 2010 and it all boils down to timing.
Timing is everything. Apple’s iPad announcement and release this year came at just the right point to make a Q4 entry by any other manufacturer a risky proposition. If things aren’t well enough along in the pipeline come March and April, making the trains run on time in the fall becomes a trickier prospect. We heard an awful lot of gear grinding this spring as manufacturers came to abrupt halts and changed directions in a hurry.
Timing will also play a part in what happens after 2010 is in the history books. Delivering a Tablet/Slate of any stripe in December might yield a quick hit and generate sales, but Apple will again dominate the news (either positively or negatively) at CES 2011 and into the first quarter of 2011 the way they have the last several years. No one has figured out how to stop this, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Even if it is bad news, Apple wins the PR game. Any new Tablet/Slate has to have a feature set that will compare favorably with what Apple may or may not release in iPad v2. Chances are good here for those who want to get into the game, but they are still chances.
Steve Ballmer let slip last week that Intel’s new processors will be a boost to Microsoft and its partner’s hopes for Tablets and Slates. The only problem there is these are scheduled to roll out until the Q1 of 2011, so devices featuring those new processors won’t hit consumers (or anyone else’s) hands until late Q3 2011 at the earliest. By the time (timing again) that rolls around, Apple will be well into planning for v3 of its iPad. In my opinion, we’re looking at a repeat of what happened to the Wintel empire when Vista rolled out. Intel wasn’t ready, with chips that could really support Vista, but everything rolled on anyway. Vista had its own problems, no doubt, but Vista running on machines that choked and sputtered helped turn that messy situation into a disaster. Microsoft and its partners who hope to work on a Tablet face that same prospect if they roll out a Win 7 Tablet or Slate. But then, we’re hearing dwindling reports of that, now aren’t we.
And then there’s HP sitting with some Tablet envy in the Palm of its hand. Will we see a PalmPad or whatever it will be called this year? Or will it get announced at CES 2011. (That’s my bet.) Again, timing is everything, and it were my money, I’d take the extra time and not rush anything onto the shelves in 2010.
So, as far as 2010 goes, I’d agree with Matt. But looking ahead, I think there is still room for others to get into the game and have an impact beginning in 2011 and into 2012. Apple’s iPad is an incredible device and its adoption rate is an incredible story. But there is still room for competition. We’re seeing that play out in the smart/super phone segment now, and think how much time has passed since the first iPhone was released. So, history could repeat here, but those who want to get into the game have to start with a bar that’s been set pretty high, and a price point that is pretty low if they want to compete.