There is no doubt that Steve Jobs’ iPad is the most hotly anticipated tablet computing device ever, but rein in the Apple hype machine and you will find that there are several more-than-capable competitors waiting in the wings.
Steve Jobs said of his creation: "iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before."
First off – a quick definition of a tablet computing device. It falls between the smart phone and the netbook in terms of computing power, size and portability, and is keyboardless, using touch input instead, similar to the iPhone.
While the iPad will run on a version of the iPhone operating system designed for ultra-mobile devices, several others, including the HP Slate, are designed to work on a scaled-down version of the Windows 7 operating system.
The HP Slate is easily the biggest competitor to Apple’s iPad right now. It was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January of this year by no less than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who demonstrated how well it will work with Windows 7 as well its ability to double as an e-book reader by running the PC version of Amazon’s Kindle software.
This alone is challenging Apple’s notion of revolutionising the publishing industry and, as Ballmer said, it is "almost as powerful as a PC", but crucially Apple has the App Store and the iPhone’s legacy of a huge back catalogue of transferable apps at its fingertips.
The HP Slate
Another heavy hitter with a tablet device all of its own is computing powerhouse Dell. Although the Streak, also demoed at the CES, runs on Google’s Android mobile operating system and includes a 5.0-megapixel camera, Dell is calling this its “tablet concept” but first images show a mobile internet device (MID) that yet again is redefining the boundaries between smart phone and computer, looking smaller than the Slate or iPad but noticeably bigger than the touchscreen mobile handset.
Remember Asus, the company that kick-started the netbook phenomenon with the EEE PC? Unsurprisingly, these guys also have their own tablet device – in concept form – that runs on the Android operating system, so like the Streak it has the advantage of an open developer community, lacking the App Store restrictions that can slow down third-party developers working the iPhone.
The 10-inch Adam tablet device from Indian start-up Notion Ink is probably one of the most tangible of devices on the market right now. It is set to come to market in the second quarter of 2010 – around the same time as the iPad – and will have a price tag anywhere between $300 and $800 but one of the sexiest-looking tablets has got to be the Vega from Innovative Converged Devices: this has a whooping 15.6-inch screen and will be on sale in the UK before the end of the year.
Vive la différence!
By Marie Boran
Topmost photo: The Apple iPad
The Dell Streak