The New iPad: Has The King Returned?

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The new iPad looks set to further establish Apple’s tablet rule. Can rivals usurp the king?

Tablet wars

Consequently, the pressure is once again on Apple’s competitors, who must try to do what the first iPad did and give consumers something they did not know they needed.

Carolina Milanesi, research vice president of Gartner’s consumer technologies and markets division, said competitors have to challenge Apple at the app ecosystem level to have a chance of upsetting the Cupertino company’s dominance of the market.

“[Competitors] need to focus on the ecosystem. Their hardware is great – look at Asus, Samsung – but the lack of dedicated apps limits the relevance of the tablets for consumers,” she said. “Why would I want to buy a tablet and then just do email and watch videos? I might do that if the tablet costs $99 but not if it costs $500.”

However, apps are not the only way to make a splash in the tablet market. As Milanesi suggests, and as Amazon’s Kindle Fire proved last year, pricing can also be a factor. Marketed as a cheap tablet optimised for media consumption rather than creation, the Fire sold very well and analysts forecasted six million would be sold by the end of Q4.

Apple’s emphasis on the iPad’s Retina Display during the March announcement shows how much the company values media consumption as an aspect of a tablet’s appeal. Therefore, if a consumer is looking only to watch films, listen to music and read magazines, an enhanced display should logically not be the deciding factor between an iPad and a much less costly Kindle Fire. Yet Apple still wins. Why?

“[The iPad] still has the aura around it – it is Apple, it is fashion, it is the one to have,” said Quocirca’s Clive Longbottom. “The key for the non-Apple companies is to create something that competes on ‘bling’ factor while still giving users what they want.”

Longbottom believes Apple is not particularly concerned by the technical efforts of Android and Windows 8 tablet manufacturers (unless they infringe on Apple’s patents), because the iPad is revered for its design and simple functionality. Indeed, if Samsung wanted to compete on a technical basis, it could match or beat the quality of the Retina Display. The Korean company currently leads the OLED display market and in a teardown of the new iPad by iFixit, it was revealed that the LCD used was manufactured by Samsung.

Based on the company’s existing and developing technology, Samsung, or any other tech giant for that matter, could certainly produce a higher spec tablet, but it would not guarantee success.

“The mass buyer doesn’t give a toss if the new Microsoft tablets have 40-core graphics capability with 1PB of memory,” said Longbottom. “It is whether the device looks the part and does – to an extent required by the buyer – what they need.” Android device manufacturers “would be better served in employing some world-class designers rather than technologists just now,” he added.

The same could also be applied to Lenovo, Asus and Nokia, who are just a few of the big names set to join in the Windows 8 tablet push. All are expected to launch devices later this year, but there is a danger that Windows 8 tablets, despite featuring a mainstream desktop OS, will struggle to make any impact.

“Windows 8 needs to prove that its multi-screen approach works,” said Milanesi. “It is coming late to the party and will have to work to convince consumers it has the best platform. In our forecast Windows 8 still has limited appeal as it will only ship at the end of the year.”

As it will be the first time any manufacturer will use the Windows 8 operating system for a tablet, there is a good chance that unknown bugs and other issues may creep through quality control, damaging the user experience for early adopters. The original iPad succeeded in part because it was the first well-marketed tablet, but more importantly because it arrived without a hitch.

The Apple reign continues

It is hard to imagine how any Android or Windows 8 tablet will upset the status quo, especially considering the number of flops that have emerged over the years. The Motorola Xoom proved too expensive for most when it came out and lacked a rich Honeycomb ecosystem. The BlackBerry Playbook similarly suffered because it came without many important features found in RIM’s smartphones, most notably a native email app and BlackBerry Messenger.

Even if Nokia or Asus emerged with a technically and artistically perfect Windows 8 device, the difficulty would lie in trying to convince app developers and consumers to switch from the iPad.

Makers of Android tablets are better poised to tackle the new iPad due to a larger existing smartphone base from which to draw potential tablet customers. Yet in the immediate future, it’s unlikely the impartial electronics consumer will be more inclined to pick an Android device over an iPad. Apple produces one precision-crafted product – albeit with slightly different specs – whereas there are many top-end Android tabs to choose from at prices that are not always competitive.

Homogeneity is Apple’s strength and fragmentation its rivals’ weakness. Until a single defining Android or Windows 8 tablet emerges, which might never happen, Apple will continue to rule the market.

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