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Despite the emergence of a range of tablet devices in the market, and the expected release this year of several more tablets from various manufacturers, Apple resellers say the iPad 2 has a significant head start in the category.
Apple unveiled its iPad 2 tablet on Wednesday, featuring a thinner and lighter form factor, running on Apple's latest dual-core ARM-based A5 processor. At the presentation of the iPad 2 in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, present despite rumors concerning his health , presented a slide titled "2011: The Year of the Copycats?" with the logos of Samsung, HP, Motorola, BlackBerry and Android. Apple's channel partners said that may very well be the case.
"This will be the year where there are actually a few contenders in the tablet market shipping items that are potentially worthy of comparison to the iPad," said Nick Gold, director of business development at Chesapeake Systems, a Baltimore-Md. based system builder who partners with Apple. "However, it seems that with the iPad 2, Apple is still far beyond the other manufacturers, and it's difficult to imagine HP's WebOS offering, or Blackberry's Playbook, making serious inroads into the market in the way that the iPad has. We'll see about Android Honeycomb, but it too seems unlikely to achieve mass appeal in the way the iPad has."
Gold said the primary advantage Apple's tablets maintain is the sheer number of apps developed for the mobile Mac platform. "iPad has, after all, 65,000 applications that are optimized for it," Gold said. "It's this entire 'ecosystem' for the platform, in addition to the high quality of the device itself, that makes it so much more compelling than the alternatives, who will likely be in catch-up mode for some time, if not forever."
However, Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Fresno, Calif.-based Apple partner, said he found the comment to be ironic given that Apple entered the tablet market well after other companies, even though Duffy said he considers the iPad to be a great product. "HP/Compaq was doing tablets years ago," he said. "Granted the technology was not what it is today, but Apple had nothing until a couple of years ago so they are very late to the game."
Michael Oh, president of Boston, Mass.-based Apple partner Tech Superpowers, took issue with that account of the emergence of tablets, saying the category didn't exist until Apple came around. "You could say they copied the previous tablet PCs," Oh said. "But from a technical standpoint they threw out all the 'features' of other tablet PCs and went with what they thought were the best features to add to the tablet."
In particular, Oh said Apple's touchscreen user interface brought a unique experience which other vendors are now trying to replicate on their systems. "Apple's touch interface is really what the tablet is about," he said. "And everyone copied that, from RIM to HTC to Samsung. The tablet has defined the user's interaction between the device and their fingertips and that's what other people are copying."