We debated whether to call this piece "iPad vs. Motorola Xoom" or "iPad vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1" or whatever the Android tablet du jour is. But really it's still "iPad vs Everything Else."
And some of the others are taking a beating. HP threw in the towel on its webOS-based TouchPad barely month after it was introduced last summer, kissing goodbye to its one billion dollar buyout of Palm, the webOS creator. RIM's PlayBook hasn't played well to critics or to end users. And the Android tablets?
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IPAD 2: Still the Champ (an Insider Content collection of coverage; free registration required to read)
No one seems to know just how many have actually been sold since the first ones began to appear in 2010 and especially in 2011 after Google released its tablet-optimized Android 3.0 (dubbed Honeycomb). Strategy Analytics reported in early October that 4.5 million Android tablets had shipped (not actually sold to end users) in the most recent quarter, counting all Android OS versions and including devices such as the Amazon Kindle ereader. But GigaOm's Kevin Tofel, who picked up that report, used his own formula to calculate a figure that was about 25% lower, 3.4 million Android 3.0 tablets actually sold.
No matter what the figure, it's far, far less than those for the iPad, which we don't have to estimate. Apple sold 11.1 million of the tablets in its just-ended fourth quarter, a record; and Apple executives said they expect another record in the final calendar quarter of this year. Altogether, according to an Apple spokesman, over 40 million iPads have been sold since the original model was released in 2010, barely 18 months ago.
"Apple's iPad 2 is the one to beat," writes Network World Clear Choice Tester Tom Henderson in a recent review of 10 tablets, including iPad2, to see how they fit enterprise requirements. "The subjective look and feel are strong, and mobile device management controls can contain iPad 2 use through pushed, authenticated policy control." [See "iPad 2 vs. business class tablets". You may need to go through a quick, simple registration to see this "Insider Content."]
Depending on your specific enterprise requirements, the iPad may come up short compared to rivals. For example, the GammaTech Durabook U12C is a ruggedized hybrid notebook-tablet, running a nicely-adapted version of Windows 7. It can endure drops, poundings, kicks, spills, and temperature extremes. But those virtues come at a price: it weighs 5.5 pounds, and has a $1,400-plus price tag. Henderson and others also like the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550, another Windows 7 tablet with a 1280x800, 10-inch anti-glare screen, powered by an Intel Atom chip. But it, too, is somewhat pricey: $729 for the 32GB model, and $849 for the 64GB model.
Even well-reviewed tablets like the Motorola Xoom ["Hands-on review: Xoom battles iPad 2 to a draw"] struggle. In July, Motorola said it sold 400,000 Xooms; Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the same period.
What accounts for the iPad's success, especially, and astonishingly, in the enterprise, where according to Apple over 90% of the Fortune 500 are deploying or piloting the tablet?
In Network World's case studies, what emerges as key are not technical features such as the CPU, RAM and storage. Rather, it's the fundamental simplicity of the "iPad experience." And that experience is a combination of the 9.7-inch screen, the touch interface combined with the Safari Web browser, the instant-on capability and never having to worry about battery life.
Township High School District 214, located in Cook County, Illinois, is almost a "poster child" for the tablet as a "content consuming device," which is how many have pigeon-holed the iPad. This year, the district bought 850 Apple tablets for incoming freshman, who use the device in place of paper notebooks, calendars and text books. But "consumption" is being extended into collaboration and creation through cloud services and server virtualization, trends that are spreading in more traditional enterprise sites as well.
At MicroStrategy, a vendor of business intelligence software, iPads are leading to unexpected changes in the way people work, and work together.
About 2,300 employees now have an Apple iPad, usually an iPad 2, and many also have an iPhone 4. [For the MicroStrategy's iPad deployment challenges, see the related story "iPads power productivity gains at MicroStrategy."] The tablets provide access to some existing Web applications, originally created for the laptops, to current business data via the MicroStrategy business intelligence suite, and to a fast-growing array of PDF-based documents, and watch or show corporate videos. The company is creating an expanding group of internal iOS applications for the tablets, including one that lets employees and managers quickly file and approve expense reports, time-off requests and other internal house-keeping tasks.
Tech argument: Tablet vs. smartphone vs. laptop
In all of these, the iPad's ease of use, coupled with its size and light weight, and its long battery life for the first time let a mass audience easily connect to accessible, easily used data resources and services.
Many rivals have been struggling to replicate that experience. "Apple's iOS offers remarkably consistent interface, even across many third-party apps, where Android continues to be a mishmash of styles and metaphors, and often labors under third-party patinas that make matters even more confusing for everyday users," writes Geoff Duncan, in a recent assessment of the tablet market at DigitalTrends.com. "In short, iOS was tuned for the iPad when it debuted, but with Android 3.0 Google struggled to shoehorn a smartphone operating system into tablets, and is still sweating many of the details."
But after failures and disappointments, Apple's rivals may be starting to find their feet. Informa Telecoms & Media in late July forecast the tablet market will surge from less than 20 million units in 2010 to over 230 million in 2015; and better and cheaper Android devices will reach 87 million in that year, just below a projected 90 million iPads. Amazon's new Kindle Fire, one of new breed of 7-inch tablets, has been winning good grades for its affordable price, and integrated services. Others are becoming thinner and lighter, better performing and more affordable.
But Apple is unlikely to rest in shaping the market it created. IPad is still the tablet to beat.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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