2011 has already been dubbed “The year of the tablet.” And with a bevy of iPad competitors poised to hit store shelves in the coming months, “The year of the wannabe tablets” might be a bit more apropos. Or, as Steve Jobs snidely remarked, 2011 is poised to be the “year of the copycats.”
As tends to be the case, manufacturers are following Apple’s lead in the tablet space and are looking to capitalize on the massive success Apple has enjoyed with the iPad. WIth over 15 million units sold in 2010 (with an April release, mind you), the iPad exceeded the expectations of even the most ardent and optimistic of Apple enthusiasts. With all the money Apple is making with the iPad, you can can bet your bottom dollar that companies will be putting their best foot forward to try and compete with Apple. Indeed, Android tablets keep sprouting up by the day, and let’s not forget that both HP and RIM are trying to get into the tablet space in a big way.
But at the end of the day, it’ll all be for naught because these iPad competitors simply can’t match the resources Apple has at its disposal.
Marco Arment hits the nail on the head in this late December 2010 piece on the state of the tablet market where he describes, in part, why UI design on rival tablets simply can’t match the iPad.
These manufacturers aren’t software companies: they’re hardware companies that write software out of necessity. Apple is a software company that makes hardware out of necessity. The software side of a modern computing platform is far more difficult and expensive to create and maintain than the hardware. Anyone can cobble together the same processors, DRAM, flash, and radios as Apple, put them into a plastic case, and run a commodity OS on them with slight front-end customizations. But not everyone can create an entire software platform.
It’s not just a matter of interface design. Apple has built an entire ecosystem to support and enrich the iPad for both customers and developers. To be competitive, a newcomer to the tablet software market needs to replicate or sidestep the need for nearly all of Apple’s major efforts, including synchronization of media and data with Windows PCs and Macs, integration with popular web services, an integrated payment system that customers will actually use at a reasonable rate, a well-stocked music and video storefront, plenty of high-quality third-party apps and fun games, a sophisticated SDK and development environment, widespread retail availability and customer support, and an assortment of good first- and third-party accessories to fulfill common needs (cases, chargers, docks, screen protectors, extended batteries) and give the device new uses (tripods, speakers, styluses, input and output adapters, wall and car mounts).
That’s a tall order, and the lengths to which Palm went to try and enable iTunes synchronization with the Pre helps illustrate the built-in advantage Apple enjoys on account of its vertical integration strategy.