Why Apple’s iPad Competitors are Hopelessly Lost

| Editorial

If Apple’s competitors weren’t smart enough to figure out what their customers needed before the iPad came along, why should we believe they know now — even after Apple has shown them the way? Plus, important technical factors weigh against them. There’s no winning.

Apple’s iPad competitors have (and are using) four options. They are not attractive.


The first is to realize that Apple nailed it with the iPad and engage in a “Me too” advertising campaign. Their tablet could be a crude imitation, within the constraints of patents to keep costs down. That will will make their tablet hard to use. Or, to make it easier to use, they could license many of Apple’s patented multi-touch gestures. That’ll drive their costs up.

Picking the right consumer OS for a tablet is tricky. Using Android Honeycomb, which is for geeks, could make it too hard to for beginners. Anything less, and there’s no opportunity to grow with the industry.

Finally no competitor has Apple’s buying power with suppliers, so they end up making compromised tablets based on the parts they can get at the higher cost they must pay. The end product, if it duplicates the iPad specs, is more expensive than the iPad and too hard to use. Lose-lose.

The second option is to say, hey, Apple beat us to the punch. Our only answer is to position ourselves as the new renegade, the new maverick. Position Apple as mainstream and appeal to the anti-establishment crowd. Try to out-tech Apple with, say, USB and HDMI ports, higher resolution camera. Make it independent of a PC or Mac and let the customer figure out back-ups. Motorola is trying this strategy with the Xoom.

The problem there is that Apple’s run as the ultimate anti-establishment company, under Steve Jobs, has a long way to go before it runs its course. A maverick ad campaign just cements Apple in the minds of the customer as the leader, therefore the best. Worse, a strategy like this means that the competitors are limiting themselves to a smaller production run, like the RIM PlayBook, and that just raises costs. Screwed again.

The third recourse is to build cheap, knock-off tablets with poor production quality and try to appeal to masses of people who can’t afford an iPad. The Japanese tried that technique in the middle of last century and had a good run, but that was before credit cards. Nowadays, customers have learned that buying crap, critical for business and education, doesn’t pay off. Everyone wants the best, and a piece of plastic in the wallet gets them that. Plus Internet word of mouth and peer pressure kills a product like that in 2011. Selecting this option means a future of inventory clearance at Wal-Mart.


Courtesy: Scott Adams (03 Feb 2011)

The fourth option is to be from another planet. Try to leap beyond what Apple has done. Envision the next great tablet (or beyond) technology. To do that, you have to have executives with a rare sense of adventure, taste, self-confidence, vision, empowerment and deep wallets. Those guys are rare. Plus, building a next generation tablet OS is expensive and risky. Better to exploit what you have and build on it to buy time, as Steve Jobs did with the original iMac. Hewlett Packard seems to be eyeing that approach, and, imho, only a company like H-P could possibly pull it off. It’s hard.

Conclusion: Apple’s iPad competitors are screwed. Good luck.

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Competitors right now are in a good spot if they have the right product. Apple has paved the way and built a tablet market ripe for selling. If any of these new tablets can outdo the iPad without overdoing then they can give Apple a run for their money. If not it only strengthens Apple as the consumers on the fence will run to iPad to never look back.

It will be interesting.


I agree with you. I think option 4 is the only recourse available for growth and long-term success. HP+PalmOS has the best shot. If the price rumors are right the Moto Xoom is DOA because the argument that Apple stuff is more expensive evaporates with a Xoom at $800 (the mandatory data plan for a month doesn’t help). Playing catchup is a vicious circle; you’ll always be trying to beat the leader’s old product, while they are moving ahead. They are screwed.


Your last paragraph is poignant, JM. The universe is unfolding as it should. With Apple, statements can be made in fact, not just clothed in possibilities and hopes.

Apple plans for the future and spends the dime and time to learn and innovate. The iPod works; it?s growth may be flat but it rules in a market that has seen its heyday of growth; and theirs are sales that are assured.

The iPhone is the star in the smartphone market that is about to explode. The product just works and is elegant and in a banquet hall and Ball filled with wallflowers?its the prom queen everyone wants to dance.

The iPad is inventing a market where there was naught. And it works. And it is elegant. And it awes. How it awes! And it awes in the present and the future. There will be no catchup now. Only ugly dance partners, the tinkers and tailors for that geek market.

The Apple trail is the highway that Apple can ride for a long time, with or without Steve. Yesterday we saw the eXoom advert but I didn?t see the Xoom. I saw desperation. Some things are so obvious. Life is more impatient today. It?s a tiny minority who want to tinker and tweak and wait for things to get better. The majority don?t have the patience for promises and sometime soon. The majority want now.

Apple doesn?t have to make idle prophecies to mark their words (or mark this post) and come back later, in two month?s time, the next quarter or next year as some do on this forum. Seve’s highway is The Interstate and full of products, off ramps, services and support that work, now.


mhilk: I agree with your comments. The only problem I see is that our favorite analysts always seem to listen to that “tiny minority” and base their forecasts and prophecies on these tinkers. I have nothing against tinkers because a lot of times, they’re the ones who come up with the next revolution but the tinkering has already been done in this arena so the analysts need to stop trying to make money on bad information and start looking at what the buying masses want.

Mike R

prl53, I agree with your comments but they MAY need a bit of a cynical extension…..

Recall that many of these same “analysts”, whether techincal or financial, naysayed the iPad when it was announced typically as pointless or “it’s been tried already but nobody bought them”. One wonders if the financial analysts keep pointing up the avenging competitors to the evil Apple that will put paid to their horrible monopoly to keep commissions from stock trades high in those companies as long as they can.

That’s the BEST scenario I can think of since the alternative is that they honestly believe this trip, really don’t have a clue and don’t even know where to rent one….


Mike R: the stock market is legalized gambling and the worst method to dictate the financial stability of the entire world. My father-in-law is a retired broker and he never played the games the current crop of brokers play. These brokers will do and say anything to make a buck since they get paid by the transaction. Analysts do the same thing. The just say things to stir up the market and get people to buy and sell.

I think your last statement is the right one.


prl53 & Mike R,

For the most part, the “analysts” are multifaceted and have to watch so many programmes they can give a single entity only glancing time, though I’m sure some warrant a longer glance than some. I’m interested, and maybe ye are too, in a single asset that takes up the majority of my leisure time allocated for market and product watch and that, of course, is Apple culture. Some long glancing at the competition is important to be in perspective.

There was a point, short time ago, that Apple was not a sure bet, for most. It danced on the line and some would predict its fall. Some were more in tune to changing times. [Would the MO be here today if it weren’t of the latter cloth.] Today, I doubt we will see the wild swings in Apple’s stock in dollars or comments from the learned who glance without agenda wagging them.

Yest, prl53, your f-i-l comes from a time of prudence but the last ten or fifteen years have been chaotic in the market place and in American’s lives. [I watched an interview of a latin family trying to do well in the US about 8 years ago. They had owned their home, with the usual mortgage for some time. They had just remortgage it, bought a second home, on speculation, to make money. Everyone was doing or had been doing it long enough that the practice had become Everyday. Dad held three jobs, mum two and the kids had paper routes, etc. I remember my dad saying that the market was a bubble that would hurt a lot of people. That was what, six or seven years before the crash? I worry about that family today.] In times of chaos, one has to know when to get out. Anytime there is drastic change, there is chaos?in finance or innovation.

Apple’s innovation, for the moment, is over. [Excluding any little surprises in new gizmos they might be springing upon us or the tweaking of what they’ve got.] But the iFamilies of present are done deals. They own the knowledge, the map, the patents, the blue prints the concrete and the crystal ball, lock stock and barrel. Few of the analysts knew this short time ago. Today they are getting the drift.

Only some have the sight to recognize genius. Shakespeare, Mozart and Steve were appreciated by the common, long before any credence was given by the Establishment. I think they will enjoy the ride.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Using Android Honeycomb, which is for geeks, could make it too hard to for beginners.

Apple’s new slogan: If you’re too stupid for Android, we’ve got you covered.

Nothing sums up the Apple iOS approach better. It’s as if Apple made a black diamond ski run that was entirely accessible to blind quadriplegics. Of course, in doing so, they made the run entirely un-fun and found a way to charge everyone for their improvements at every high bank turn and mogul.

I guess I’m a geek, just like the other 85% - 90% of tablet users will be when this market sector sorts out.


There will always be some people who will be interested in a more “open,” hacking-friendly tablet, but I agree that this is a niche market.

There might also be an opening for a Blackberry tablet that works together with Blackberry handhelds.

And there will be a low-end market for people who can’t afford the iPad, and are willing to sacrifice features to get something they can afford.


Sometimes one has to see the disadvantaged to appreciate what he has. My, the iFamily looks good viewed amongst its neighbours.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This is how Moto connects and the effort they put into the Super Bowl on the ground last week. I like it. You may or may not find it instructive.

John Martellaro

John:  In what world in your first alternative, supra, do you ever see Steve Jobs or any of Apple’s current senior executives licensing any of Apple’s fundamental multi-touch IP to anyone?


What can I say, Mr. M.?  You covered all the bases and left nothing more to be said by anyone else.  Could it be that the iPad, like the iPod, is in a market with no viable low-end?  In that the only way a competitor can sell it cheaper is by building unmitigated crap that nobody is willing to buy at any price.  In which case, it’s game over for anyone but the MS’s and HPs of the world and only if they are willing to follow the XBox way and shovel billions upon billions of dollars down a hole in the hope that their iPad alternative, as you said, somehow catches on.

A couple of years ago, I had been posting that when Apple finally pushes MS of its perch it will not be with any of Apple’s then existing products but with a totally new product category that no one else would have imagined.  I suppose that day is upon us.

Happy day to all those who bought AAPL before iPhone and iPad (and held on to them).

John Martellaro

Nemo: seems to me, every time I see an ad for a competing tablet or smartphone, it’s showcasing a gesture I’d swear Apple invented.  I’d love to see a table of all Apple multi-touch gestures and patents, which ones the competitors are using, and which ones are the subject of current litigation!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Perhaps the 1 month Verizon minimum gets some of Verizon’s skin in the game. Do you think there will be a different arrangement if/when Apple ships a CDMA or LTE iPad, John?

The hypocrisy of whining about multitouch as Apple continues to ship millions of iPhones with unlicensed Nokia 3G technology is telling. There are no saints in this game, especially not Apple.


The area where Apple is weak is that every single iPhone and iPad are chained to the apple store and are effectively individual, tiny walled gardens with no enterprise administrative management or control.

ya,  every one of the 4 people who bought Galaxy tabs was thinking that their tab had enterprise administrative management and control?????

and the 2 people who didn’t return the Galaxy tab were thinking that hey that darned walled garden would be getting in my way,  there isn’t anything in the itunes store,  how can i find some actual apps for my tablet?????  you know all three galaxy native apps…  as opposed to the 60,000 to 70,000 native iPad apps in that darned walled garden,  so walled,  only 350,000 apps,  how can you get anything done there….

geez…  when you get back from your fantasy let us know,  maybe we will give you a stock tip that will answer your question for you.


There’s a large untapped market for people who would like to use the iPad as their primary computer, but can’t because it still needs to connect to the mother ship for a some basic functions. I’m sure Apple is working at cutting that dependency, but for now there is an opportunity.

Similarly, the home screen is also a bit lame. While I don’t much like what I’ve seen of honeycomb, a big grid of icons isn’t nearly as useful as a configurable widget screen could be. 

I agree with the author that HP is uniquely positioned to compete with Apple. Web-OS is a great piece of technology, and a good fit for tablet computing. Web OS doesn’t need a host computer to function, and AFAIK is capable of hosting widgets on the home screen.

However the ultimate advantage that Apple has at this point is the large number of apps that are available for iOS. Its going to take any competitor years to catch up on that front.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

However the ultimate advantage that Apple has at this point is the large number of apps that are available for iOS. Its going to take any competitor years to catch up on that front.

Google I/O (Google’s equivalent of WWDC) sold out in 59 minutes today.


You?re a f*** idiot;

To whom are you referring? At first I thought you were referring to Bosco and for once I was going to stand up for him. Besides, you’d only have to wait a few months for my ebook “Tent Thousand Quips to Clip Bosco?s Tail” to come out for more interesting insults than the f word.

Inappropriate, phlux.


Ok, I?ll type this VERY slowly so you can understand it:

phlux, I’m going to type this very fast because I can.

The game is over. Take up knitting.

John Martellaro

Just so everyone is clear, the iPhone Configuration Utility allows IT administrators to provision, manage, set policy, control accounts, etc on ALL iOS devices.

http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/navigation/index.html#filter=Enterprise Deployment


“Configuration profiles are XML files that contain device security policies and restrictions, VPN configuration information, Wi-Fi settings, email and calendar accounts, and authentication credentials that permit iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad to work with your enterprise systems.”

John Martellaro

Brad forgot to mention that Google I/O is two days and $450. WWDC is five days and $1,600.


Also of interest:

Developers may also have caught on to Google?s habit of handing out new Android phones at such events (everyone received an Evo 4G last year), which makes the $450 ticket price seem even more reasonable.

WWDC handed out the future and complimentary coffee.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

graxspoo seems to think it will take Android developers years to ship 60,000 tablet apps, as if there is no interest in developing for the platform. Just pointing out that there seems to be a little interest.

Like it or not John, but there is real and growing sentiment in the computing devices and content industries that the Apple way is wonderful for Apple and not as wonderful for many others, including end-users. When evaluating the plentitude of tablet devices coming forth, the correct first question to ask, while Apple still has a majority (or even plurality) of sales, is “what weaknesses in iOS or what common gripes about iOS does this device address?”

I also forgot to mention that Google tends to give out great gear at I/O. Have a look at today’s comScore numbers and let me know if you think that isn’t effective marketing on Google’s part.

John Martellaro

Also, forgot to mention,  there are robust 3rd party systems for deploying iOS devices in the enterprise.

AirWatch, Boxtone and Mobile Iron.

John Martellaro

Brad: Let’s see how the Verizon iPhone affects the numbers in a few months.


You might be stuck in the 90’s if you think:

. . . the majority of computer buyers are tech geeks like you who like to tinker, root, customize, pleasure themselves with their devices.

. . . enterprises are the tech pacesetters in computer purchases buying the most advanced technology and consumers just follow along with what their employers make them use at the workplace and buy similar machines for personal use.

. . . enterprise computer purchases far outnumber consumer purchases.

When in fact, the trend in personal computers, smart phones and tablets is that non-geek consumer will become, if he isn’t already, the overwhelmingly dominant buyer.

If you want to know what the landscape will be like for PCs, smart phones and tablets, I direct your attention to something more familiar: automobiles.  The predominant customer is NOT the grease monkey.  Most sales are to consumers not enterprises.  And when enterprises do buy cars, they buy the most economical, most utilitarian, least sexy models.  Meanwhile, the most technically advanced and most expensive models are bought by consumers.

The people who disagree with this article do not see this and so they issue forth silly utterances that sound as if they fell into a deep slumber back in the early 90’s and just woke up today.


It saddens me that some posters have to use coarse imagery to reinforce their arguments. Our society is in a state of flux.


pleasure themselves with their devices.

Sorry, but that made me giggle. And excellent piece, Mr. Martellaro. smile



Not only are you rude and your language inappropriate, but you are also wrong. Enterprises can deploy applications without using the Apple app store.

Try a little research sometime.It’s good for you. Might also help with your communication skills.

John Keogh

All these competitors are not really competitors, just followers. Will they also be copying whatever Apple launches next? What the other companies should be doing is to use Apple’s design methods and define new classes of products and bring them to market first without puffing them up in advance.


What the other companies should be doing is to use Apple?s design methods and define new classes of products and bring them to market first without puffing them up in advance.

Well said JK. The problem is that great innovators like Edison and Jobs come round about once a generation or two. But that doesn’t stop others from studying their methods and then to at least strive to do better. The problem here is that the market place has become so fixed on immediate profits for their next quarter, they play blindfold darts with a speck of hope and pray.

JM, this article is so important. With all the Apple misinformation and Android hoopla about, it is good to have such a succinct and intelligent analysis on this subject. I would suggest a monthly revision of your article be reposted once a month.

I took a look at Wikipedia on the iPad and could not believe the bias comments and pseudo evaluation of the iPad. I could understand a “Criticism” section in the iPad page, but unsupported comparisons and negative (or positive) opinions throughout are uncalled for.


I think the competitor will catch up pretty fast. We have to look at the big picture.

The biggest app store with games and RIA is the internet. It’s been a while that RIA exist on proprietary platform (flash, silverlight & javaFx) The problem with the internet is that there’s no centralization of those applications and that’s what google and adobe are working on right now.

Also, it’s a pain in the ass to put an application on ios, you have to pay a fee of 100$ per year to put it on the apple store. On the other hand, there’s only a 25$ one time registration fee with android.

Supporting only HTML5 at the moment is not a good thing if you talk about video’s. Google has drop the h.264 codec because it’s not royalty free compare to vp8 that is royalty free and completely open. Also, with flash 10.2, it’s now 34 times more efficient than before because it can take full advantage of hardware acceleration! It use 80% less CPU for 1080p video.

With adobe AIR everywhere it will be tough for apple exterminate flash (pc, mac, linux, netbook, smartphone, tablet, TV and even on hospital touch screen machine)
With the new native 3d API for adobe flash and new technology around it, it’s also another attractive option for a developer. The native 3d API believe it or not, at adobe max, they showed that it use only between 0% and 1% of the CPU!

By the way chinese android (tapas and OMS) are taking the lead right now in the chinese market, they concentrate more on Microsoft product.

read this

Apple strategy can work for a while but it will come back on them one day.

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