There are products that hope to Beat the iPad

Posted by Rob Enderle

The iPad has entered the market and it actually isn’t the perfect product that folks expected it to be, but then given the out of control hype that's surrounding it.

 if Moses himself had presented it and it was powered by divine angel light it still would have likely fallen short of expectations.   Realistically it is a good first generation offering but it should be easily eclipsed by generation 2 and 3 products much like the iPhone was eclipsed by the Apple offerings leading up to the iPhone GS.    The question is will it be eclipsed by a product from one of the known contenders first.   Of course with rumors   of a larger full OSX based Apple tablet just hitting one wonders whether Apple will quickly eclipse their own iPad. 

Let’s take a quick look at the technologies that have the most potential and then drop down into the individual products. 

Chip-Chipset
QUALCOMM Snapdragon:  Very successful in phones like the Nexus One this platform is designed to support a broad variety of carriers suggesting devices made with this part would be more able to move from carrier to carrier more seamlessly.  One of the iPad’s biggest weaknesses is seen as the AT&T network which the iPhone has consistently been bringing to its knees.  Verizon has the better network for a data centric device like this in the US.

NVIDIA Tegra :  Graphics centric solution which should outperform most other platforms in multi-media and games.   Since it is multi-core it should especially shine with multi-tasking.  Two of the primary functions for this class are multi-media enjoyment and games.   In augmented reality may also a major differentiator on these devices and Tegra lends itself to this area as well.  

Intel Atom:  X86 based this platform can leverage the existing WinTel eco-system and is unmatched by ARM in terms of web compatibility particularly with older versions of Flash and legacy applications.   This should have compatibility advantages over Apple’s custom ARM part and rumored to be at the center of Apple’s next tablet.   

OSAndroid is multi-product and has multi-tasking turned on.   Better variety of tablet offerings in terms of both vendor and size.  This is expected to eventually be replaced by ChromeOS (mock ups are already showing up  in this segment.  Application store second to Apple’s, few games, Google Books effort but currently lacks the richness  in a dedicated service.  

Windows 7 is very successful in the PC space but Windows historically has been unable to successfully break tablet products out of business verticals like healthcare and insurance.   Microsoft did create Origami to compete in this area but it was never completed and failed in market.  It has more breadth but lacks the polish and ease of use many think define this new category. 

Products
Given the differences between processors and platforms I’m going simply point out where each will likely be better than the iPad and where they will be worse.  The iPad is a balanced product but shortcomings are a lack of multi-tasking, lack of a camera, no phone features, relatively closed eco-system (expensive accessories and poor carrier choice) and single core ARM implementation. 

Archos 9  Windows 7 Atom based so more complex and with less battery life (3 vs. 10 hours).  No iTunes but Blio, Rhapsody, Zune etc.  Heavier by .25 pounds.  Better interfaces (USB, HDMI/VGA dongle), no 3G, one configuration 60 GB HD.  1.3 MP camera.  $500 compares well to cheapest iPad (also no 2G but with 8GB storage) no monthly connect charge.  In market and has a kickstand so you can watch it like a TV. 
Dell Mini with Android and based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon should have better carrier coverage comparable performance but multi-tasking is turned on.  Full phone stack (more like a large iPhone). 

Battery life in line with Google phone likely 5-7 hours, base memory expected to be in the 8 to 16GB range with at least one micro SD expansions slot, two cameras (one front and one 5MP back), flash light source for camera, 5” screen (pocket able but substantially smaller than iPad).  Weight likely under a pound.  USB interface.  Sub $500 price estimated but requires full phone service (more expensive monthly charge).

JooJoo custom OS 1.6 GHz Atom NVIDIA Ion potentially better graphics performance, multi-tasking, very limited content.   Big 12.1 “ display.  One of the prettiest products.  WebKit based browser.  No 3G.  4GB storage capacity.  Heavy at 2.4 lbs.  USB interface.  5HR battery life.   $500 price with no monthly charge. 

HP Tablet – Little known should be similar to the Archos 9 but with better touch application support and interface (HP TouchSmart) and a 10” screen.  Likely will have a faster (newer) Atom processor than the Archos as well but fewer external ports (prototype showed only USB).   Price sub $600.  They may havel a better Android based tablet coming

Lenovo eems to have unique dual processor dual OS hybrid configuration based on Linux and Windows.   Tablet docks into PC base.   Like having a tablet and a netbook in a single device.  Estimated price in the $1,000 range.  Not yet clear whether it will come to market in this form.   Prototype had 1.3MP camera and a bigger 11.6 inch display make this a product that would do the best job of replacing a laptop computer. 

Notion Ink’s Adam  with the Nvidia Tegra 2 and Android has better performance, dual core, multi-tasking turned on.  Vastly better screen in the Pixel Qi hybrid (both ePaper and LCD capabilities and outdoor viewable) lower resolution at 1024x600.  Android eco-system (not as good as iTunes).  3MP camera.   Full 3G support.  Battery life between 8 (video) and 16 (web only) estimated to be better than iPad due to screen.  16 to 32 GB memory with SD expansion.  Slightly heavier at 1.7 LBS.  Better port out with HDMI and USB. 

Which Stands Out?
The Dell is more of a large Smartphone and likely would position better against the iPhone than the iPad at launch arguing that it is large enough to not require both a Smartphone and a tablet.   It is the least capable for eBooks or Web browsing then the iPad but arguably better then the iPhone.   Display size is in line with the small Kindle and better than the iPhone for reading.  This would be for someone who didn’t want both a Smartphone and a tablet but a single portable device that bridged both. 

Rob EnderleNotion Ink Adam is, from a hardware perspective, closer to what the iPad will likely be in its next generation.  The screen, multi-core, graphics, and multi-tasking capabilities really make this product stand out.   The vendor is clearly not yet known and the Android market isn’t in the iTunes class but in terms of hardware this is much more advanced against the iPad initial weaknesses than any other product on this list.  Price, which is unknown, will be critical but for those that like to live on the technology edge, this will be a better offering.

The Lenovo UI is clearly the most interesting from a design perspective, wedding a Netbook and a tablet into a single device is fascinating but one wonders how many people actually would want both?   This is a hybrid device but price and complexity would likely scare off many buyers.   Still, in terms of wow factor, it is hard to top it and the 11.6” display makes this the best product for someone looking to leave their laptop at home permanently. 

Wrapping Up:  Apple is a Bitch to Beat
The key challenge with all products is matching Apple’s massive ecosystem of accessories, applications, games and media while assuring an Apple like customer experience.  In hardware the iPad is actually not that hard to beat the Notion Ink Adam actually appears to do it handily and the Dell Mini 5 appears to be a better value but in terms of the entire package Apple doesn’t seem to have a peer.  Now if Notion Ink or Dell partnered with Blio, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble things could get a lot more interesting.  Another challenge is Apple’s superior management of coverage for instance they currently have about 90%  of the high margin PC sales over $1,000 which instead of driving stores that they are way over priced is instead showcasing them as vastly more successful.   Matching that kind of media manipulation is currently unmatched outside of politics.  

This all goes into saying, while it is possible to beat Apple, actually doing it will require an effort beyond what we have ever seen from any of the competing vendors yet.   Then again, we didn’t see this kind of effort from Apple either in the 90s which means just because they aren’t doing it doesn’t mean they can’t.   Which one of these products is the most attractive to you?