Tablets

I own an iPad 1. I love it. I love it because of three main reasons:

  1. Fantastic battery life: I don’t really have to worry about plugging it in for an entire day’s use. I really exceeds its rated battery life.
  2. iOS apps, specifically iPad apps: I used to own an iPhone. I bought several apps then. And since I have bought my iPad, I bought several apps which were specifically made for the iPad. My kids love their two pages full of games/apps.
  3. Form factor: Right, it is not a 7-incher that you can put in your jacket pocket or even back pocket of your pants, but it certainly is not as big as a laptop even a thin-and-light version. The iPad is thin enough and light enough to allow me to do casual computing tasks like looking up stuff on the internet (via browser or apps), checking and quick responding to emails, looking at my work calendar, etc.

There is another feature which is huge for the iPad: its price. Having the lowest capacity iPad start at $500 has now become essentially unbeatable at the moment.

Which brings me to iPad alternatives. Today I see virtually no company which can deliver a tablet with the price, the ecosystem and the battery life which will make me reconsider my iPad purchase.

  • Android tablets at the very low end: There have been several no-name tablets in the $150-$200 range which are good on one point (price) but horrible on the others like battery life or even Google’s official support (lack thereof, of course, seen by the absence of Android Market in some cases).
  • Android tablets at the top: The Galaxy Tab launched via the carriers and required data contract with the purchase. Tablets are essentially not a giant phone despite what the form factor might suggest. Tablets are smaller computing devices which should be available more at stores like Best Buy and Fry’s than at at&t or Verizon stores. The XOOM had promise with its super-awesome specs, but it was priced too high and again, launched by carrier. Both of these have now WiFi-only versions now, but even with the price being slightly above or about the same as the iPad, the Android ecosystem is pathetic. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of Android apps but there are no tablet apps (or to be correct, less than 100 or so). Also, Android out of the box is pathetic for media purchase/rent capabilities. Yes, there is amazon mp3 app and maybe the Samsung Media app may do something but there is no coherent message from Android about the media experience. Maybe the upcoming Google Music initiative will help, but what about TV and movies? What about sports? As a result, Android tablets have a very very long way to go to catch up with the iTunes store.
  • HP/Palm: I have not seen this thing in person, it has not launched yet and we don’t know what it is going to be priced at or what kind of battery life we can expect. Of course webOS app and media ecosystem is also a huge unknown at this point. So I am not going to consider this device in the conversation at all.
  • RIM Playbook: This one sounds promising at the moment and with their strange move to include a way to run Android apps, they can at least claim the same depth and breadth of the available app catalog as Android does. But again, I am not sure if developers have a clear understanding of what the heck they are going to develop for. There are so many environments to possibly program for the Playbook. Also, the battery life is unknown at this point.
  • Any Windows 7 tablet: I actually don’t mind the full-blown Windows 7 on a tablet but the problem is none of the tablets I have seen are light (3lbs may be light for a laptop but not for a tablet. I am looking at you, Asus EE Slate) and none have the battery life even close to the iPad’s. Sure, they can run the full version of Microsoft Office but I don’t need that in a tablet 😉
  • The mythical Amazon tablet: This to me seems like the big unknown, but the one with the best position to attack the iOS platform. Amazon has been making devices so it knows manufacturing. Amazon recently added the Appstore for Android which from most reviews seems to be a delightful experience (minus the initial setup). Considering they have a large mp3 music store, video on demand and now subscription-style instant streaming of movies and shows, I think they have a decent competitor to the iTunes store. Since we have absolutely no idea on the type of tablet, I cannot comment on the battery life or the price. But Amazon knows retail and it has an ecosystem to support a tablet-like device. Should be interesting. It’s not if, it’s when.

What about the next Windows (Windows 8 for this post)? Some leaks have started coming out, and there were some rumblings earlier about the platform and the application model earlier.

I must say, I am just a little bit excited about how things seem to be shaping up for Windows 8. As I understand, Windows 8 will be running on all platforms (well, just exclude Embedded, Compact, etc.) including phones and tablets along with "normal" PC’s. The core will be shared and most of the stuff will be modularized and will be included or excluded in the install based on the device. And most importantly, the UI will be different based on the device on which Windows is installed. The leaks show Metro-inspired tile-based UI for touch-centric devices like phones and tablets and a standard Windows UI for PC’s. In this way they have taken the beauty of the Windows Phone UI and put it on core Windows which is good news for people like me who love Metro.

The common core and split UI makes a lot of sense – combine this with the fact that Windows 8 will run on low-power Intel CPU’s like Sandy Bridge series and Oak Trail along with the newly announced ARM-based architecture support, it promises better battery life on Windows 8 devices. Already, my 3-year old PC can do instant on when I replaced my hard drive with an SSD drive. So tablets with Windows 8 and flash/SSD storage will have a decent form factor, good battery life and will not take 30+ seconds to boot up. So far, all awesome.

What about the ecosystem? Here’s where it gets very very interesting. Windows Phone already has about 12,000 apps and the developer interest is increasing (maybe the Nokia deal has increased the interest, maybe not) and the Marketplace is adding apps at a pretty decent clip. All these apps are written in Silverlight so they should run on Windows 8 with minor adjustments rather than complete re-build.

At the same time, Microsoft is pushing extremely hard (esp. since the availability of Internet Explorer 9 with HTML5 and other modern web standards support) the concept of rich apps in the browser without plugins, even their own Silverlight. This push should ultimately result in a lot of apps that rely mostly on the cloud or webservices to be web apps rather than native apps.

And one last point re:app ecosystem – it would be reasonable to assume Microsoft will have a bridge for their existing Windows developers to port their apps to Windows 8 including enabling those apps to run on devices like tablets and where applicable, on phones. This is an if at the moment but safe to assume that there will be some path provided and enough time given to developers to prepare for the new Windows.

That was just app ecosystem. What about the media ecosystem? Well, they do have (in some countries at least) the much-underrated Zune Marketplace which has a pretty rich catalog of music, music videos, tv shows and movies. That marketplace, under whichever name it takes, should be a huge boost to the Windows 8 platform compared to its non-iOS competition. A media market owned by and fully supported by the platform maker goes a long way in creating a singular identity for the platform rather than having disparate music and movie stores from different providers.

What the big unknown (to me at least) is, is the price. Apple has a lock on some of the crucial components which go into making a tablet. This lock not only ensures that Apple gets a great deal on prices for those components for its own devices but it also puts a squeeze on the market supply, creating a spike in the cost for the same components for the other manufacturers. As a result, I am not sure anyone can truly compete with the iPad on price, given the current supply-demand situation.

Regardless, I feel there is more to be excited about a non-existent Windows 8 tablet than say the webOS Touchpad if it has no app support or a RIM Playbook if there is no music/movie store or an Android tablet because there is no such thing (there is a Motorola XOOM or a Samsung Tab or an HTC Flyer, but not an "Android tablet").

What do you think? @ me on twitter or put your comments here. Would love to discuss this fascinating period in our lives as we move from full-blown laptop PC’s to more thin-and-light tablet type computing devices.

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