Apple will still dominate media tablet business in 2011

7 Mar 2011

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In his look back on the week, Siliconrepublic.com editor John Kennedy believes Apple will cut through any competition this year and has little to fear. But when the Android ecosystem sorts out its growing pains, 2012 will be the year for equalisation.

I lost count of the number of Android tablets I saw at CES earlier this year – there was a count of 85 that came from Gartner. I don’t fondly remember the press of people at the BlackBerry stand as RIM staff graciously demonstrated the forthcoming PlayBook’s multi-functional powers and promised a 3G version is coming soon. And the Motorola XOOM was impressive but again hard to get near because of the press of people. Let’s not forget the HP TouchPad due out next month.

Last week, as I followed the various live blogs as the iPad 2 was unveiled in San Francisco, I have to be honest I didn’t get the sense of anxiety that usually follows the launch of a new object like the iPad or an iPhone, to get my hands on one. I was thrilled that the device is one-third thinner – slimmer than even an iPhone4 – and came with an A5 dual-core processor. I was also wowed by the slinky new magnetic covers that activate the screen once you peel them back.

But aside from the dual-core processor, the ability to include apps like Photo Booth and Garage Band, the front and rear cameras and the inclusion of iOS 4.3 which will make Safari twice as fast, the usual wow factor wasn’t there for me. Then again, I have yet to hold one …

A few days of calm reflection later and I realise Apple has been more than generous on this latest release. It doesn’t need to use up its ammunition yet because with 93pc of media tablets in the world currently being an iPad and the fact there are 10m apps available on the iTunes App Store, it will easily contain the competition.

Yes, it needed to bring out a device with cameras and the dual-core processor gives it added relevance among the newer rivals, which also will have cameras and dual-core processors. Consider this a holding action.

The real differentiator will continue to be apps. The fact of the matter is Apple sowed the seeds of the app revolution three to four years ago, long before anybody else, and rivals like Google and Microsoft are in catch-up mode and this will be their Achilles heel in the smartphone and tablet market for at least the year ahead.

That figure of 85 Android tablets has since been revised to up to 105 Android tablets and even stand-out products like the XOOM or the RIM PlayBook will struggle in the face of the sheer overwhelming number of apps on the Apple store.

For app creators who struggle with Apple’s stringent policies, this is an unbridled opportunity to get creative and grab some territory because surely – and it will be Android most likely in the lead – alternative app marketplaces will become crowded.

So what this effectively means for now is Apple has the advantage in 2011 – even though many new rivals will and are entering the fray and will knock some of the edge off its lead – a cosy headstart.

This cosy headstart will subside towards the end of the year and that’s why some of the wow-factor innovations I suspect Apple is holding back on will appear in the fabled iPad 3. This device is expected this year but Apple hasn’t commented on it and this could well mean it could be next year before such a device is unveiled. What will these wow-factor innovations be? What shape will the iPad 3 take if last week the iPad 2 was reduced to 8.8mm thickness? Will Apple really bring out a 7-inch device despite slamming them last year?

The danger for Apple is it has set the bar really high and this creates enormous challenges and major expectations. My guess is certainly more innovation in terms of Retina display and certainly agreements to bring FaceTime out of the Wi-Fi-only zone and into the 3G zone. These are only guesses. And Apple loves to keep us guessing.

The beginning of the end for mobile PCs – or the end of the beginning?

The real casualty however, has been the mobile PC. Greater consumer enthusiasm for the multitude of mobile internet devices caused major analyst Gartner to reduce its projected growth for the PC industry this year, from 15.9pc to 10.5pc. This is a seismic development.

Keep an eye on what comes out of Microsoft also in the year ahead. There has been a lot of talk about Windows 7 or Windows 8 being readied for the tablet experience and the emergence of crossover devices that are slim, light tablets one moment and that switch instantly into keyboard computers the next.

Apple learned a lot from the iPad experience and has since begun creating a Mac apps store. Intel already has apps like Angry Birds available in its Intel App Up store for PCs. This is a sure a signal as any where the next design wave is going to go. Could Apple be working on a crossover device? Who knows. But again, when it comes to mobile PC apps, it has already struck out and captured a lead.

There will be many winners and losers in this new battle space but let’s be certain about one thing, computing has entered a dramatic new era.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com