Why Apple’s iPad Competitors are Hopelessly Lost

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.

HP SlateHP’s ill-fated (Windows 7) Slate