With the holiday season fast approaching, tablet computers are likely to be on a lot of gift lists. Up till now, the tablet market has been a one-horse (one-tab?) race, with Apple’s iPad almost exclusively dominating sales – even though the iPad is just a little too big to fit in most Christmas stockings. But there are a few new tablet contenders this season, from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, that might be a better choice for some users.
When it comes to giving a tablet this holiday season, should you stick with the iPad or go with a Fire or NOOK Tablet – or something even more different? That’s the question, and the answer is forthcoming.
A Quick Update on the Tablet Wars
The market for tablet computers (let’s just call them tablets) was all but nonexistent two years ago. Then, in April of 2010, came the Apple iPad, and a new consumer electronics category was born.
The original iPad didn’t do much that hadn’t been done before. There had been touch-screen tablet computers on the market since 1989, including Apple’s own Newton, which launched in 1993 (and was discontinued five years later). However, none of these proto-tablets hit the sweet spot, functionality mirroring traditional personal computers rather than creating a new post-PC user experience.
Then came the iPad. Apple eschewed traditional PC operation and applications, creating a new tablet operating system (iOS) and tablet-specific apps. Even though it was priced the same as (if not higher than) competing netbook PCs, the iPad was an immediate hit; Apple sold more than 3 million iPads in the first 80 days of release.
The iPad went on to sell more than 15 million units to date. Today, Apple owns more than 83% share of the tablet market; its sales dwarf all of its competitors, combined.
And just who have been Apple’s competitors in the tablet market? It’s a ragtag bunch, with sub-performing models from a variety of major and minor manufacturers. Hewlett Packard introduced its TouchPad tablet on July 1, 2011, and discontinued it just seven weeks later. Blackberry’s PlayBook tablet was launched a little earlier and is still available, although sales have been a tad on the anemic side (fewer than 200,000 units to date). Acer offers a series of Iconia TAB models, but they haven’t met with much success, either. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab met with some critical interest when it was released in September 2010, and Samsung claimed some large initial sales (which were later revealed to be sell-in to dealers, not sell-through to consumers); over time, however, the Tab’s impact on the marketplace has been minimal. And there are numerous other tablets from numerous other manufacturers, including Archos and Asus, that don’t show up on many radar screens, but are still available for your consideration. Honestly, they don’t factor into too many people’s buying decisions.
That said, the tablet market is about to get some interesting competition, in the form of smaller tablets that focus more on media consumption than creation, from retailers Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And next year, expect Microsoft to finally enter the tablet market with Windows 8-based models. Apple may dominate the tablet market now – but will it be able to maintain its lead?