Happy New Year to everyone, first of all. And second, I hope you managed to get your hands on an iPad in the past 6 months because if you haven’t, you’re going to want one.
Why? Because 2011 is definitely going to be the Year of the iPad. Not by an inch, more like a mile. Let me explain why…
Now that I own an iPad, I finally get the hoopla over these devices. I wasn’t impressed when they came out and wasn’t really planning on getting one for the holidays. Thanks to a generous visit from Santa, who despite my best efforts to the contrary with acerbic blog posts considered me worthy of one under the tree, I now own one along with my wife. And I’m impressed. Very impressed.
iPad: The Must-Have Intermediate Computing Device
I’ll coin a new term for tablets: intermediate computing devices, although I’m hoping someone comes up with a better one in the future. To me, the tablet represents a new class of device that isn’t quite in the same class as netbooks and mobile PCs, although categorically they tend to be lumped together. These devices fill a gap where a PC is too cumbersome, but a smartphone isn’t powerful enough, or even large enough. The iPad is clearly king of the tablets right now. I say that, not as an Apple Fanboi, but as a solid convert to the notion this device does actually have a place in your house when you already own a desktop, laptop, media computer (e.g. AppleTV), and smartphone.
Each platform has tremendous utility within its own domain (smartphones are great for keeping in touch on the go, but lousy for typing blog posts, and the laptop is strong where the smartphone is weak, etc). It wasn’t until I actually owned the iPad that I suddenly found places where I really wanted more than my smartphone but much less than my laptop.
Let’s look at a specific example: my wife and I both love Rummy Tile. Getting the boxed game out after the kids are in bed is a bit of a hassle, and we can’t play on anything except a very flat and hard surface. Enter the iPad: each of us downloaded an iPad version and can play against each other sitting in bed via Bluetooth. Comfort and convenience, meet marital competition (For the record, my wife continues to beat me overall, even at the electronic version).
Not satisfied with that? How about this: I leave my email open on my laptop downstairs all the time. Doing so prevents my iPhone from getting email, so I find myself having to run down 2 levels at night to shut down Outlook so I can see email in the morning when I get up. Not with my iPad! I installed Team Viewer and can now remotely login to my laptop, shut it down, or do anything I need on the computer (like grab an attachment from an old email, which I frequently need as well).
Of course, don’t forget the real estate improvement over the smartphone genre: web browsing is a treat by comparison. My wife and I need to lookup things all the time, and the iPad is the perfect device for on-demand, quick-and-easy web surfing. No waiting for boot time of the laptop, no struggle to read the data displayed on the smartphone.
And…The Competition Sucks
After I got the iPad, I thought I’d check out the competition and see how the lay of the land was looking by comparison. It’s not good for the Android folks right now:
- The Dell Streak requires a data plan from, yep, you guessed it, AT&T. It’s cheap if you get the two year data-only plan at $30/month, but as pricey as the iPad otherwise.
- The Google Android tablet has very mediocre reviews to date on Amazon. When the “best helpful review” for it says, “For the price it’s not bad…”, you know you’re in trouble.
- Two of the most promising contenders that generated huge buzz (Notion Ink and the Kno (aimed at college students)) just made the Wired Vaporware 2010 list. Oops.
- The Maylong $99 tablet sold at Walgreens got scathing reviews earlier this year, and continues to hold the distinction of “worst gadget ever“.
- Viewsonic’s G-tablet isn’t exactly burning up sales with comments like “With some sweat equity, you can get it to work…”, and “Next gen hardware, but software needs improvement”. At it’s current price, you can get a 3G iPad, and save on your Advil bills to offset the pain.
- And other low-end competitors are getting smacked around too, like the Augen NBA7800ATP.
- EDIT: For those wondering why I omitted the Samsung Galaxy, see the comments.
Out of the box, the iPad just works, which isn’t something you can say of most tablets mentioned above. At the current prices and capabilities, the Android tablets aren’t a clear win as a lower-end device. The experience is often so poor as to be unusable, and the higher end models are not significantly better than the iPad for nearly the same cash outlay. Never mind that engineers looking at the Android have discovered major issues with the compositing and view system which are primarily software-based, giving extremely poor responsiveness in the touch interface and the animation rates. Android has a ways to go here–either due to hubris or lack of experience.
And while Windows 7 mobile at least got that part right, they are still lagging heavily in this market and will likely remain so for the balance of the year. The market trends clearly favor Apple’s iPad as the hottest “mobile PC device” available, for 3 quarters running.
In short, no one else has a good handle on the market and user experience aside from Apple.
The Golden Last Frontier of Mobile App Development
Lastly, what about the developer community? Well, you can complain about the App Store all you want, but the Android Marketplace still isn’t a whole lot better than when I last wrote about it. Furthermore, the app selection for Android is still considerably worse than than for iPad.
But the real reason you want to get in on the action is that iPad apps aren’t cheap, and therefore command higher revenues from the App Store. The iPad versions of apps are often selling for several multiples (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) over their iPhone counterparts. Even though the average across all apps is only $1 higher for iPad apps, my experience looking at the top-selling apps is somewhat different. Here are a few examples that clearly show a difference if you get in the good graces of the world:
|Plants vs. Zombies
|Cut the Rope
Some are the same in both (SlingPlayer, LogMeIn) but clearly the experience is vastly different.
In addition to the gaming possibilities of the device, the iPad opens up a whole new world for application development where the increased screen real estate makes a big difference (Netflix avoided the iPhone app for a long time and rightly so until the iPad came along…now it’s one of the top rated iPad apps in the store, and for good reason). And there are precious few decent iPad utility applications out there, making a rich market for those who have the know-how and willingness to surf the treacherous waters of Jobs & Co.
Unless a miracle happens, it looks like Apple has the tablet world by the tail for at least this year. In 2012, assuming the Mayan gods don’t come to punish all of us for bad John Cusack movies, the landscape may change dramatically but for now it’s Steve’s world and we’re just computing in it.