The iPad Competitors Will Think Different

Specific design principles and strategic thinking will be used by Apple’s competitors in the design of their own tablets. It may not be what you expect.

Companies that are currently developing products that will compete with the iPad, Hewlett Packard, Google (rumored), RIM, Dell, Samsung and Acer, may not have the technical vision and experience that Apple does with Cocoa touch and other related technologies. On the other hand, they are smart enough to know that they can still compete, acquire customers, and make money with a certain segment of the market.

Dell Streak

The Dell Streak (Credit: Dell)

Fans of Apple feel smug that Apple has an unsurmountable technical and sales lead with the iPad. In fact, all that Apple has done is whet the appetite of those who, for whatever reason, don’t want to buy Apple products. That could be, to some extent, in the U.S., but certainly in other countries.

The Standard Approach

The companies I mentioned above know that there is a hunger for a geekier tablet that can tout some features the iPad doesn’t have. USB ports built-in, a screen with more resolution, perhaps a sleeker 16:10 aspect ratio, maybe an HDMI port, a terminal window (as applicable) and so on. The key, as usual, will be to sacrifice quality, just a bit, to get to a price point below the iPad so that those customers who don’t like the iPad proposition and constraints can feel a special conceit that they have a more accessible, technical device.

Of course, that drags the product down a rabbit hole. Just like the Android-based smartphones, these new tablets won’t have the security, ease of use, and large application selection. However, with clever marketing, these companies know that they can still appeal to a wide audience. In essence, the challenge won’t (and can’t) be to duplicate and surpass the iPad. It will be to figure out a product design that appeals to the rest of the consumer and enterprise market on a broad scale.

Apple enthusiasts will, of course, point to the weaknesses of these new tablets. Because they won’t have the same advanced technologies that Apple has been nursing along for a decade (unnoticed), the feeling will be that the competition has produced inferior, indeed crappy, products. However, they’ll also be annoyed that these competing tablets will sell by the millions to customers with a different mindset. The PC world is highly experienced in understanding that PC mindset, but never mind. The Apple Web will stubbornly refuse to get it.

A Snag

There is one big, unavoidable problem, however, that the competition will have. Right now, companies that produce video, book, and news related apps for the iPad have a single platform to target. For example, Netflix, ABC Player, the Wall Street Journal, E*TRADE, Star Walk, and so on have not had to worry about eleventy-seven different tablets. In 2011, Apple’s competition will have to figure out how to make their own offerings attractive to these developers who, as we know, hate having to develop for multiple platforms. How each player deals with that will determine its success in the tablet space.

Business as Usual

Aside from that, it will be business as usual. A certain segment of the population will be very proud of their, say, new Hewlett Packard/WebOS tablet with all its gizmos. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer will continue to huff and puff about Windows 7 tablets. Writers fond of Apple will keep on blasting anything that does’t seem to exceed the iPad’s overall quality and usability. And iPad competitors will stumble along, some making money and some falling by the wayside.

And so it goes.