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War of the pads

Sep 27 2010 20:37 Simon Dingle

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IT has taken months for competitors to catch up to Apple, but we are finally seeing the first compelling answers to the iPad, which sold 1 million units in 28 days after launch and tripled that number in the second month.

This week we are set to learn more about one of its fiercest potential competitors - expected from Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM), which develops the BlackBerry smartphone platform.

The iPad, which is yet to launch officially in South Africa but is expected in the next couple of weeks, has set the global standard for touch-based internet tablet computers - not to be confused with the tablet-slash-laptops that have been on the market for some time.

I am writing this from San Francisco where in a couple of hours the joint CEO of RIM, Mike Lazaridis, is expected to unveil his company’s answer to the iPad.

The rumoured "BlackPad" - the nickname given to the BlackBerry tablet computer project - has been all but confirmed as in the works and by the time you read this we're likely to have all the details about it.

The announcement is being made at the Moscone centre in San Francisco - the same venue where Apple unveiled the iPad and rather symbolic in terms of where BlackBerry sees itself in relation to the market.

Whether or not the announcement happens this week it is certain that we will see the BlackPad - or whatever it ends up being called - soon. And it's a bold move for the Canadian company that until now has focused on smartphones.

It won't be alone in tackling the iPad, however.

Samsung's new Galaxy S Tab was one of the first decent competitors we've seen, running Google's Android operating system and with a slightly smaller screen than the iPad. It's also much more expensive - and this is something Apple's competitors are going to have a tough time with.

For all of Samsung's resources - which are far more substantive than most of its competitors - it has a real challenge in competing with Apple's mastery in terms of vertical integration.

Apple owns the whole equation when it comes to its products - from design and manufacturing to software and retail distribution.

Samsung has to deal with a more disparate design process and runs a third-party platform with Android.

This all makes it hard to compete in terms of things like battery life - which is an important part of the iPad's success.
Samsung also doesn't control retail or even its own distribution in the way Apple does.

For these and other reasons the Galaxy S Tab can't compete for price. And, all other features aside, the price of the iPad has been its most important characteristic.

Apple knew that it had to break the $500 mark if it was going to own this market and by entering at that price it has guaranteed sales from consumers who are willing to take a gamble on an unproven product.

This was new territory after all, and Apple had to ensure that people would test the waters.

Now, after a few months and several million sales, the market has been established and consumers are willing to pay considerably more for tablet computers of this nature - but price is still important and has been established.

Why would you buy a smaller, less appealing tablet for more than the iPad's price? You wouldn't unless you're one of those defiantly anti-Apple types.

Enter BlackBerry.

The Canadian company has a similar grip on vertical design processes as Apple does. It might not own the manufacturing chain as decisively or exercise as much control over distribution as Apple - but it has the design mettle and software legacy to deliver a device as integrated as the iPad.

I won't venture guesses as to what exactly the BlackPad will comprise of in terms of features, but I'm certain that it will bring a more compelling fight to Apple than what the likes of Samsung, HP and Dell have come up with so far.

And when this happens we'll finally see serious traction in a competitive internet tablet market.

Then it's on like Donkey Kong.

-    Fin24.com

 
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