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January 05, 2011

There Are No iPad Killers, Only iPad Alternatives

Tomorrow I will arrive fashionably late to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Arriving ahead of me have already been a number of tablets, including new additions from Samsung, including a WiFi-only Galaxy Tab, and Motorola's much-anticipated Xoom, running Android 3.0, Honeycomb, designed for tablets, not phones. The new devices, especially the new Xoom are being talked up as serious iPad alternatives, or "killers" if you're crazy. But guess what? None of them are going to kill the iPad. In fact, it's more than probable that Apple is not only going to end 2011 as the unit leader in tablets sold (from any one manufacturer), but will set quarterly sales records for the company - which has been on an incredible roll, potentially poised to be the most valuable company in the world, ranked by market capitalization.

As any tech watcher knows, sheer specifications and feature counts do not "kill" anybody or promise a "win". I personally really enjoy the Samsung Galaxy Tab and have been using it much more than my iPads. I also think Android is great on both phones and tablets, and the Honeycomb preview shown by Google today is impressive. But there's something special about Apple that ensures people remain loyal, and the iPad has defined the market, with others following their lead. John Gruber of Daring Fireball called it "emotion". I simply call it preference. Many people have a very strong preference toward Apple, and this will continue in the face of larger screens, thinner bezels, and faster CPUs.

One of the major features listed regarding the Xoom is its dual-core 1 GHz processor. Do you even think the average iPad user knows the speed of their device?
Despite my public switch to Android, I'm not blind to Apple's continued advantages in some areas and fantastic successes. There's no secret that Apple does some things better than any other company on the planet. One of the most important things they do best is the no-hassle user experience. Apple devices make it incredibly simple to synchronize digital media libraries, including music and photos, address book contacts, Safari bookmarks and much more. When you plug one Apple device into another, you expect it to be recognized, and for the data to be easily accessible. That's one of the benefits of their closed and controlled ecosystem, which doesn't, like alternative platforms, need the carrier and manufacturer to all work together and sing Kumbaya. The simplicity, combined with high quality hardware and software, is extremely compelling to a good portion of the buying population.

Sales reports from the most recent quarter said the Galaxy Tab, with its non tablet optimized OS, sold a solid 1.5 million units. That's pretty good! But analyst predictions are pegging the iPad to sell as many as 30 to 65 million units in 2011, and rumors are already buzzing about the features in iPad 2, which is assumed to trail CES and steal away thunder from this week's announcements.

Here's a fail-safe prediction for 2011. There are no iPad killers, just like there were no iPhone killers or iPod killers before them over the last decade. Apple has carved out an extremely lucrative niche focused on good products. The iPad was required to carve open the market for tablets, which had gone practically nowhere until Apple jumped into the fray. With all the different Android tablets (and yes, some Windows tablets as well) out there, 2011 is going to see a lot of comparisons of market share and unit counts. The iPad will probably see its share eroded significantly, just like iOS has flatlined, under assault from a flotilla of Android phones. But Apple is going to continue selling millions of iPads every quarter, and they are going to be preferred by a ton of people.

I am excited about the innovation in this space, and the speed of which we are seeing the Android-based iPad alternatives compete. I expect to see some fantastic hardware starting tomorrow and Friday at CES that doesn't sport the Apple logo. Competition will absolutely push both sides better and further than they would on their own. But like I said ten days ago, it all comes down to preference, and the specifications of the new devices at CES aren't going to make most iPad owners blink. The war is not to convert those who are already drinking from Cupertino's vat of holy water, but instead, to persuade those who haven't yet adopted tablets to consider something else.

There are no iPad killers, only new choices and choice is a fantastic thing.