Seybold's Take: Can anyone outdo Apple when it comes to the iPad?

Andrew SeyboldMany companies are entering the tablet market. Apple, of course, set the bar high with the iPad, and now the race is on to try to unseat its commanding lead in this market segment. By year-end, consumers and business users alike will have a number of different types of tablets and more eReaders to choose from. The question of the day is whether someone can really outdo Apple when it comes to devices.

Apple has blended great devices with a stellar web experience and store, but the iPad is not the world's best business tablet. The consumer market is and will be the main push for tablets as it is for smartphones, but a number of corporations both large and small are considering tablets to replace the notebooks now used by their traveling workforce. It is difficult to build a single world-class product for both market segments simply because it requires enabling corporate applications, syncing with existing email and PIM programs such as Outlook and their Exchange servers, and enabling corporate IT managers to manage these devices while they are in the field.

In reality, it will be a combination that both Research in Motion with its BlackBerry and Apple with its iPhone understand well: building a world-class device that is tightly integrated to content. In the case of the RIM BlackBerry, this integration has focused largely on the corporate and business world while Apple has carved out its leadership in the consumer space. Is there any combination of tablet, operating system, and applications that can provide the best to both worlds for these user groups? We will find out soon.

But there are many questions that need to be resolved including the preferred size of screen, battery life and memory capabilities, and, of course, availability of software applications for both consumers and business users. If we look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab's specs, we see that it has a 7-inch screen, which is smaller than the iPad, it uses a 1-GHz Hummingbird processor, and has two cameras (the current iPad has none), but it only has 16 GB of memory onboard (which can be augmented by a microSD memory card for up to 32 more GB). The battery is rated for seven hours of video playback, and it will be available on the four major wireless networks in the United States: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon (which means there are either multiple versions or it supports both 3G technologies in a single device, at this point this is not clear).

The operating system is Android 2.2 so many of the Android apps should be available for the tablet, but we do not yet know if it can be easily configured and apps can be loaded from a website or if customers will have to use the tablet to poke around and find applications they want. But then, I have not been overly impressed with either the quality or quantity of Android apps even though we are now finally seeing some business-related applications.

Beyond the Samsung is the Dell tablet and there are soon to be several HP tablets, a rumored RIM tablet and a Motorola tablet, and more are coming. This will be a busy market segment and lest I forget, the latest Amazon Kindle has a great new screen and is very thin and easy to carry. In other words, the choices will be many, and their capabilities will be diverse. Add to this that pricing will vary and will come down quickly, and it is easy to see that the next six months or so will be interesting. Buying decisions for both consumers and business customers will be difficult, and I suspect that each of these tablets will be refreshed often over the course of the next year as vendors learn about other devices as well as what customers like and dislike about their first products.

But that is what makes our market-driven economy so much fun to watch. Apple has a commanding lead; any of you who have traveled with an iPad have gone from being the focal point of other travelers with inquires about the iPad to being able to pull out your iPad on a plane without anyone paying attention to it. I really like my iPad but have a number of issues with how it is not business-friendly, and it is a closed environment. I am hoping Apple will continue to relax its ban on Adobe's Flash applications.

Ahead are more tablets, more changes to existing tablets, and major threats to both the notebook and netbook markets. Few realize that this is not the first generation of tablets to hit the market; it is the third. However, these are lighter, more powerful tablets with better screens and battery life than anything that came before them, and these tablets are capable of wireless broadband, which makes all the difference in the world. Tablets are here to stay and we will probably all own one at some point. The question is whether it will replace other computing and wireless devices we are now using or if it will be an adjunct to them, and that will depend on the applications more than the devices.

Andrew M. Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. Join Seybold Oct. 5 for Andrew Seybold University a one-day session held in San Francisco in conjunction with the CTIA Wireless Enterprise & Applications conference. Register here.