The Tablet Market: 15 Vendors Gunning For Apple's iPad Tablet Crown4:00 PM EST Wed. May. 18, 2011
Hurry, hurry. There are already two generations of Apple's iPad tablet and while early sales figures for the iPad 2 may not match the record-setting first-generation figures, you can't win if you don't play. The onslaught of Android devices on display at CES 2011 in January has expanded as vendors re-adjust their strategies and offer various form factors and platforms in order to differentiate their product.
If the scramble to develop competitive tablet PCs resembles a gold rush, that's because the top five global PC vendors HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba have all offered extensive and varied tablet plans, as have other manufacturers, who may be faced with the first great opportunity to expand their market share in a long while.
But is it possible to beat Apple in the tablet market now that its second-generation device is thinner, lighter, cheaper and faster than its first? We take a look at 15 vendors with 15 different answers.
Dell is rumored to be working on two 10-inch tablets for release later this year: the 10-inch Streak Pro and the 7-inch Latitude ST. The Streak Pro runs on Android Honeycomb OS and Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip, as well as Dell's Stage 1.5 user interface. The follow-up to Dell's Streak Pro release, which is expected sometime in the summer, is its Windows 7-based Latitude ST tablet featuring Intel's Oak Trail platform, which is rumored to be scheduled for release in October.
Dell is also planning to launch a convertible 13-inch Latitude XT-3 tablet in July. But while Dell won't comment on any of the recent rumors, leaked Dell roadmaps that show an extensive yet constantly-shifting roadmap keep surfacing on the Web. In February, a leaked Dell slide showed four upcoming Android tablets -- the Dell Gallo, the Dell Sterling, the Dell Opus One and the Dell Silver Oak due for release by the end of next year. In addition, Dell appears to be preparing two Windows 8-based tablets, code-named Rosemont and Peju, due to come to market in 2012.
Asus has begun shipping a Tegra 2-powered, Android Honeycomb OS-based convertible tablet that its Chairman, Jonney Shih, referred to as Asus' "secret weapon" aimed at Apple's iPad tablet line. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is a 0.5 inch-thick, 1.5 pound tablet that targets both consumers and enterprise users, which according to Asus, runs Asus' Waveshare user interface. It also features an optional keyboard docking station with Android Function keys, Adobe Flash 10.2 support, access to mobile apps through the Android Market, and up to 16 hours of battery life.
Originally, Asus said it was preparing a Linux-based tablet-notebook hybrid PC. The company's intention, according to Shih, is to cater to the non-Apple side of the market, where it already has built strong relationships with Google, Intel, and other partners. One area where Asus' Eee Pad Transformer, which launched in North America on April 26, appears to have an advantage over Apple and its cheaper, faster, lighter second-generation tablet is its pricing: $399, compared to Apple's still-reasonable $499.
Lenovo in March launched its LePad tablet in its domestic Chinese market and said the device will be available to international customers starting in June. The Lenovo LePad device features a 10.1-inch screen and a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and was unveiled at a press event that only included Chinese media.
In April, leaked Lenovo product roadmaps emerged online showing Lenovo's intentions to enter the tablet game in the U.S. However, the unfortunately-named LePad device appears to have been replaced with the more recognizable ThinkPad moniker, which currently pervades the enterprise space. Also listed as the Lenovo Think Slate, the 0.55 inch-thick, 1.6 pound device comes with a 10.1-inch IPS capacitive touch-screen display and targets mobile business users -- an end user category where Apple may be vulnerable, given its lack of support for connectivity options such as USB. In addition, Lenovo has its second-generation tablet will be both lighter and thinner compared to the first-generation LePad-- much like Apple's iPad 2 compared to its predecessor.
HP is currently marketing its Windows 7-based Slate 500 tablet after supply line delays last November caused HP to suspend Slate 500 shipments for six weeks. However, in an interview with Fortune on April 24, CEO Leo Apotheker said HP has no plans to launch any new Windows 7 tablets, and that the company will pursue an exclusive WebOS strategy in the near future. Apotheker's WebOS commitment is one of the most significant statements he's made since taking over as HP's chief executive.
Meanwhile, HP in April launched its TouchPad tablet, which runs the WebOS platform HP acquired last year along with handset manufacturer Palm. HP and Apple alone offer devices that run their own operating systems on their own hardware. The HP TouchPad tablet PC features a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 9.7-inch diagonal capacitive multitouch display, Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, Adobe Flash Player support, either 16 GBs or 32 GBs of internal storage, and a single front-facing camera.
Acer has launched a 10-inch, iPad-like Iconia Tab A500 device and, unlike the iPad, supports Adobe Flash although not natively. It includes 16GB of storage, support for up to 32 GB Micro-SD cards, along with 1 GB of RAM for high-definition gaming, 1080p video. In addition, the device is able to run multiple applications at once. The device is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 250 1-GHz dual-core processor alongside an integrated GeForce GPU. The combination of both discrete and integrated graphics gives Acer an advantage with regard to attracting buyers in the gaming segment.
Acer in November 2010 offered plans to enter the increasingly crowded tablet market with three more tablets scheduled for release in early 2011: a 7-inch Android tablet, a 10.1-inch Android tablet, and as a 10.1-inch Windows-based tablet. In March, Acer launched a Windows 7-based dual-screen Iconia Touchbook tablet-notebook hybrid with dual 14-inch displays for pre-order in the U.S. and Canada at a starting price of $1,200.
On April 15, Apple filed a patent infringement suit against Samsung on the grounds that Samsung's Galaxy products which include both tablet and smartphone models resemble Apple's iPhone and iPad devices to the extent that they constitute "blatant copying." Samsung said it will respond by pursuing appropriate legal measures.
Whatever it resembles, Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy tablet, launched last September, has sought to leverage the company's market position with its Galaxy S smartphone (much as Apple's iPad did with the iPhone). The Android 2.2-powered 7-inch Samsung phone comes with T-Mobile's 3G network, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-facing 3 megapixel camera, and a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera, along with up to 7 hours of battery power. The device comes with a range of other consumer features like HD movie and television play, music, e-reading, navigation, video calling, and Swype technology. Samsung last year also released a 4-inch Android Galaxy S smartphone through T-Mobile, which the carrier initially branded as Samsung Vibrant.
HTC on Feb. 15 launched a 7-inch tablet, code-named Flyer, which was among the many mobile consumer devices on display at CES 2011 in January. Then in March, a leaked HTC product document revealed that a 10-inch Android Honeycomb tablet from the mobile device manufacturer was due in the coming months. Most online rumors suggest a release set sometime in the summer, possibly in June.
Rumors also suggest a price tag in the vicinity of $499 which at the time seemed a solid value proposition for price-conscious buyers, but now with the pricing of Apple's iPad 2, and manufacturers like Asus preparing even cheaper devices, time-to-market is of the essence.
The 7-inch Flyer tablet also started at just $499 for the 16 GB model with built-in Wi-Fi. The Flyer's claim to fame is an optional pen -- HTC calls it the "Scribe," that's slightly different from a conventional "stylus" in that it isn't used for note-taking rather than navigation.
RIM at CES unveiled its new PlayBook device, and almost immediately a former RIM employee in attendance at the initial product demonstration said the first Wi-Fi only version of the Playbook due out this summer includes several flaws, and RIM has confirmed one of them. Since then the Blackberry maker has had difficulty positioning the device in the enterprise space as an alternative to the more consumer-oriented iPad, especially with concerns that the device requires connecting to a Blackberry to be fully functional. The 7-inch PlayBook runs on a 1 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor with 1 GB of RAM and symmetric multi-processing.
RIM said that the PlayBook's power-efficient QNX OS will not support the entirety of the Blackberry ecosystem, including several third-party app. Unlike Apple's iPad, however, the PlayBook does support Adobe Flash. RIM rejects the notion that apps are a necessary part of the Web-browsing experience, arguing that mobile device software developers can rely on the existing ecosystem without mobile-specific technology.
After months of anticipation and rumors of a release in March, LG on April 20 launched its G-slate tablet through partner service provider T-Mobile USA, which showed off Dell Streak 7 tablets at CES 2011. But while Dell has struggled to bring a larger form factor device to market, LG's 8.9-inch Android Honeycomb device runs Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 and offers Adobe Flash Player 10.1 -- the key feature in the early struggle for tablet differentiation vis--vis iPad.
The G slate is 4G and Wi-Fi capable, it features a front-facing camera that supports video chat as well as a rear-facing 5MP camera for 3D video capture and HD hide, and offers 32 GB of internal memory. It also supports 3D display, HD video recording and 720p and comes with an accelerometer and a gyroscope. T-Mobile has said LG's G-slate "represents the next chapter in T-Mobile's rich history of Android innovation." With its plethora of entertainment options and wide-ranging capabilities, the G-slate is a plausible contender in the tablet sweepstakes.
Motorola unveiled its Xoom tablet at CES 2011 and launched the device on February 24 for a starting price of $599.99. Unfortunately, though a comparable consumer gadget, with a slightly different, horizontal form factor compared to Apple's iPad, Motorola's Xoom must attract customers willing to pay about $100 more. However, Xoom customers can look forward to a 4G LTE upgrade that Motorola says is coming sometime in Q2.
Motorola's Xoom device runs Android 3.0 and Nvidia Tegra 2 and comes with 32 GB of storage and 1 GB of memory. It features a 10.1-inch screen, making it an early entrant in the 10-inch space, where Apple has launched two iPad generations while waiting for competitors to arrive. Motorola's partnership with Google provides the software environment and diversity of apps allowing Motorola to capitalize on the Xoom's position as the first Android device to take on the iPad with a comparable form factor. Motorola's Xoom features a 1280 x 800 capacitive display and 3G connectivity. It comes with a front-facing 2MP Webcam and a rear-facing 5MP Webcam.
Sony on April 26 entered the tablet market with a slightly different approach, launching its S1 and S2 devices that run on Android Honeycomb and differencing itself by offering a distinctive form factor.
Sony's tablet products have yet to receive official names, but the manufacturer's 9.4-inch wedge-shaped S1 device and it's clamshell-shaped 5.5-inch S2 product might not need one to grab the attention of potential buyers. The S1 features an off-center design that Sony says improves reliability and ease of grip. The S1 includes two displays held together by a vertical wedge and can function separately or as one display. Aside from their respective design considerations, Sony's tablet products include most of the same specifications as other first-generation Android tablets. In addition to running the Android Honeycomb platform designed specifically for tablets, Sony's S1 and S2 devices feature Nvidia Tegra 2 chips and support Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networking. They have access to apps on the Android Market as well as Sony's cloud-based services.
Cisco last June unveiled a business-oriented Cius tablet device that attaches to a stationary enterprise, aimed at Cisco's current extensive enterprise hardware customer base. It's a testament to the explosion of Android mobile devices that even an early, enterprise-specific tablet runs on Android a platform associated with consumer features. At CES 2011, Cisco confirmed that service provider Verizon will be the first to support Cius on a 4G network.
Earlier this month, Cisco said it will sell its Cius device through channel partners, and said its Wi-Fi model was made available to partners on March 31. Cisco's Cius is available from Cisco Master and Advanced Unified Communications partners. The Cisco Cius weighs 1.5 pounds, includes a front-mounted 720p HD camera, a 7-inch VGA touch-target display, and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. It's supported by Cisco's UC Manager and supports Cisco's Quad, WebEx and Presence products as well as Wi-Fi and Virtual Desktop client. It comes with an HD media station that supports Bluetooth and USB peripherals, and HD audio with wideband support.
Portland, Ore.-based vendor CTL in October launched its 2go Pad SL10, which runs on an Intel Atom N450 processor paired with Intel's Pine Trail operating system. The 2goPad includes up to 2 GB of RAM and 250 GB of hard disk drive storage capacity, a 10.1-inch screen with 1,024 x 600 pixels of resolution an SD Card Reader and 10/100 LAN. It offers support for HTML5 video and a fully-functional Adobe Flash video player.
The device came to market at the starting price of $499 although now that Apple has matched that price with its second-generation iPad, an upgraded 2goPad may need to offer even better pricing to get noticed in a much more crowded field. Another area of differentiation: for users looking to access Microsoft Windows 7 on their tablets, rather than the Android or Apple markets, CTL's 2goPad may be the way to go.
CTL's 2goPad SL10 comes with four batteries that last up to five hours each, a 1.3MP webcam, as well as integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
Silicon Valley-based education software and hardware vendor Kno in November launched two tablets aimed at the education market: an $899 dual-screen version and a $599 single-screen version.
The single-screen device offers a 14.1-inch display, a departure from general-purpose tablet form factors, and is nearly twice the size of an iPad. The Kno tablet features a color touch-screen and learning apps and, unfortunately for Kno, competes with Amazon's $379 Kindle DX device in the e-reader market. The company is seeking to position itself in the education market by offering as many textbook titles as possible, at a competitive price.
Intel earlier this month said it will invest $30 million in Kno as part of its plan to develop Atom-based purpose-built tablets for various verticals markets. Intel is looking to optimize its Atom platform for the mobile market -- a task that has proven difficult for the chipmaker.
Since it's fitting to end at the beginning, and since Viewsonic was one of the earliest companies to begin producing tablets a decade ago, it's worth listing the Walnut, Calif.-based solution provider's multiple tablet products. First, Viewsonic has launched a 10.1-inch Android 2.2 device known as the G-Tablet, which includes built-in speakers and Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processor. In addition, the device offers the best pricing of any tablet in the 10-inch space at $280 and can be overclocked to 1.4 GHz speed. The ViewPad 10 is priced between $560 and $580.
Viewsonic also launched the 7-inch ViewPad 7 device as well as the 10-inch ViewPad 10, a dual-boot tablet that allows for working in either Windows 7 or Android operating systems. The $425 ViewPad 7, which comes with a slot for a SIM card, can double as either a smart phone or a mobile handheld PC. Viewsonic's ViewPad 7 weighs less than 13 ounces, measures 7 inches-by-4.5 inches-by a half-inch thick, and includes 600 MB of storage.