Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why round 2 of the tablet wars are over even before they began

Last year, Apple put together their next gen iPhone hardware and software in a 1.5 pound case with a 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 resolution screen, opened a section in their App Store for their new creation, christened it the iPad, and in April 2010, set the mobile world on fire. It did not take long for challengers to appear. A motley crew of poor tablets running the  Android operating system appeared. These were no match for the iPad. 

By September  2010, Samsung came out with a true contender. It repackage it Samsung Galaxy S in a 7-inch model with a 1024 x 600 screen, sans AMOLED technology, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab was born. Samsung modified some of the apps, the memo pad, email client and calendar to take advantage of the larger higher resolution screen. At this point, Google could have opened a tablet section in its App store and a battle royale would have commenced.

Instead Google's "but Hugo Barra, Google’s Director of products for mobile says that Froyo is not designed for tablets and some apps won’t run correctly and won’t be accessible from the Android Market on tablet devices. He said it's unit specific, but nothing concrete about the Tab"(Source GSM Arena). In a flash, the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab was, dead on arrival.

In many ways, the Galaxy Tab was better than the iPad. It had double the memory of the iPad. The Galaxy Tab's smaller 7-inch screen had a higher pixel density than the iPad. The Galaxy Tab was half the size and almost half the weight of the iPad. The Galaxy Tab did not compete directly with the iPad, but provided a viable alternative to those wanting a smaller more portable package. But without official Google support it would languish in the cellars. 

Instead of building a Google version of the iPad, Google sought to change the dynamic. In the Apple line-up, the iPhone is the premium handheld mobile product. Google created it Honeycomb and Motorola built their Xoom around it. In the Android world, the tablet would be the premiere platform. Google and Motorola threw down the gauntlet, with a dual core Tegra 2 based platform, a 10.1 inch  HD (1280 x 800) screen, dual cameras, 1080p playback and 720p video recording, HDMI out and a new tablet optimized operating system. At it February 2011 launch, the Xoom's US$799 price for the 3G model, and US$599 price for the WiFi only model raised some eyebrows, but naysayers waited is hushed silence to see what Apple would do.


Less than three weeks later, Apple accepted the challenge and launched its dual core A5 based iPad 2 at the same price points as the original iPad. On paper the Xoom has better specs. Double the RAM, a faster clocked processors, a higher resolution screen and higher megapixel camera's. In the future 4G and a functional card reader.

But as Apple is apt to to do, it surprises.  Apple slimmed down the iPad by 33% and cut down weight by 15%. Basically, Apple came out with the MacBook Air of tablets, while its competitors where preparing to do battle with a MacBook Pro. The iPad 2 at 0.34 inches thick and starting at 1.34 pounds in weight is making the Xoom look like a overpriced fat 2010 model released a year late. Backing the iPad is a App store 65,000 apps strong, while Xoom buyers will have to wait for the Honeycomb app store to develop.

Round two is over as quick as round one. Time for the Honeycomb tablet builders to go back to the drawing boards and come up with lower spec'ed lower cost tablets.

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