UK Tablet War Breaks Out In April: iPad v Xoom

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Apple’s iPad and Motorola’s Xoom are launching at the same time, at virtually the same price – let battle commence

The battleground is being prepared for Motorola to slug it out with Apple in the tablet arena at the beginning of next month.

UK technology goods chain PC World is taking pre-orders for the Motorola Xoom and has said delivery is expected in the first week of April – just after the Apple iPad 2 appears on March 25. The difference in price will be a mere 99p in Apple’s favour: The iPad 2, WiFi-only, 32GB model costing £499 and the 32GB Xoom at £499.99.

Appearances Can Be Deceptive

There are differences between the two combatants but not many. The Motorola (pictured) has a 10.1 inch screen compared to Apple’s 9.7 inch, which is no more worth mentioning than the price differential. Both have HDMI output but the Xoom has an SD memory card slot, which is lacking on the iPad.

The front and rear facing camera situation is harder to decide because Apple has not released detailed specs, but it looks as if Apple has the edge.

Apple claims that the front-facing camera is VGA quality which implies a 0.3 megapixel unit compared to Xoom’s two megapixels. For its rear-facing camera, Apple claims HD 720p standard and Motorola’s HD camera is five megapixels. The maximum spec for HD is 2.1 megapixels so it may be that Xoom easily has the edge

The big question is how important this difference will be. Apple’s cameras will be sufficient for FaceTime video conferencing and Xoom will mainly use services like Skype. How many people will use a cumbersome tablet as a camera , expecting good pictures, is debatable.

Pricing: A Complex Issue

There are three tablets in this barrage, however, because of the original iPad – stocks of which are starting to be heavily discounted. PC World has the old iPad Wi-Fi 32MB at £399 and Comet has matched this. As March 25 draws nearer, these prices are likely to crumble and spread to more shopping outlets trying to add sufficient space between their prices and the competition.

After March 25, prospective tablet owners may shift their attention to auction sites, such as eBay, which will have a flood of old second-hand iPads placed there by new iPad 2 owners. First-generation iPads currently listed on eBay tend to be priced higher than the discounted models in the shops.

Already eBay is doing a healthy trade in iPad boxes (no iPad included) which are selling for up to £20 possibly in preparation for reselling an old iPad under the banner of  “boxed – hardly been used”.

The Chips Are Down

The real battle will be a specification war pivoting around the performance of the Apple A5 chip versus the dual-core Tegra 2 Arm in the Xoom. The interface battle is probably less important as people tend to adapt to the systems they use, as the iPhone and Android phone world has proved.

Apple’s new proprietary processor for the iPad 2 could ratchet up the microprocessor competition partially kicked off by its A4 chip, according to analyst firm IHS iSuppli. Wayne Lam, a senior analyst at IHS iSuppli, believes the  new chip will certainly help the iPad 2 match the competitive threat offered by Motorola’s.

“In the new design paradigm of smartphones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power,” wrote Lam in his research note. “Designs like the iPad demand highly integrated microprocessors that emphasise graphics performance, lower power consumption and small space usage.”

Apple claims the A5 will offer radically faster performance than the A4, which is not only present in the iPad, but also in the iPhone 4, Apple TV and iPod Touch.

Successful iPad Launch Event

Other analysts seemed pleased with the iPad 2’s rollout. “Given the increased competition in the tablet market and the growing importance of the iPad to Apple’s future growth prospects, yesterday was a crucial product launch event for Apple,” Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities, wrote in a March 3 research note, “and the day could not have gone better, in our view.”

White cited the iPad 2’s quick rollout schedule – the tablet is slated to hit store shelves March 11 – and upgraded features as chief reasons for why he believes the iPad 2 will build on its predecessor’s momentum. The appearance of Apple CEO Steve Jobs got a big thumbs-up.

“In light of growing market concerns surrounding Steve Jobs’ health, his presence at the launch and animated delivery of the iPad 2 were a pleasant surprise,” he wrote.

Apple formally announced the iPad 2 in a March 2 event in San Francisco, ending months of speculation over how the company would advance its popular tablet franchise. Jobs stepped onstage, breaking his own self-imposed hiatus from Apple for undisclosed health reasons, in order to introduce his company’s great touch-screen hope to the world. “I didn’t want to miss it,” he told the audience.

In keeping with his combative stance toward other competitors in the tablet space, Jobs took some swipes at the Motorola Xoom. Ultimately, however, Apple seems to be betting that the iPad 2’s increased speed and tweaked software will give it the proverbial leg up in the fight against Android-based tablets.

Google Android 3.0, codenamed Honeycomb, has been optimised for the tablet form-factor but only comparative tests will see which manufacturer squeezes out the best performance.

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