The Apple iPad may have been the breakthrough tech product of 2010 -- with an estimated 10 million units sold to both consumers and businesses alike -- but a flood of new tablet competitors will attempt to get a piece of the action in 2011.
While a few Android-based devices are already out of the gate, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak, dozens of entrants will debut over the coming months –- including the hotly anticipated BlackBerry PlayBook from smartphone leaders Research in Motion (RIM).
Slated for a March launch for about $500, the BlackBerry PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet (opposed to the iPad's nearly 10-inch size), with a WSVGA (1024 x 600 resolution) touchscreen. The .9-pound PlayBook offers a few features not found in the iPad. It's got a dual-core processor for speedy performance and smooth multitasking. The PlayBook also features two HD cameras -- one is a 5-megapixel camera facing outwards, and the other is a 3-megapixel camera facing the user for video conferencing, The browser supports Adobe Flash-based websites. And it's got a micro-HDMI port to connect the PlayBook to a high-definition source, such as a HDTV or projector.
Like the iPad, the PlayBook's memory isn't expandable. And while it offers integrated Wi-Fi access, to get online via 3G (cellular) connectivity you need a nearby BlackBerry. This Bluetooth tethering option lets the user access the Internet anywhere you've got cell phone reception.
Content is king?
There's room for multiple competitors in the tablet space -- and with many different operating systems powering them, including Google's Android, Windows, and BlackBerry, to name a few -- but Apple's iPad has nothing to worry about in the near future, says Scott Steinberg, CEO and lead technology analyst for TechSavvy Global in Seattle.
"No device will eclipse the iPad because Apple is a juggernaut not just for churning out superior hardware but perhaps more importantly, content, too, so you're not going to see people abandon [the iPad] on masse," says Steinberg.
Supporting Steinberg's prediction is the fact Apple's App Store has well over 300,000 downloads -- many of which for free or close to it -- which is at least 200,000 more than its closest competitor, the Android Market. BlackBerry App World has roughly 10,000 apps, but they're generally more expensive.
Making a Play(Book)
"An iPad killer? No, but there's enough room for everyone to carve out comfortable market," Steinberg says. "That said, the PlayBook might do well, especially for businesses, as it offers enterprise-level support, support for Flash, multitasking and the beauty of multiple cameras which makes video conferencing casual and convenient."
And don't forget: Apple is already working hard on iPad 2. Apple isn't giving up without a fight.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner in Stamford, Conn., agrees with Steinberg: "Companies have been experimenting on tablets for more than a decade and the iPad was the first device to crack the market for consumers and businesses -- in 2011, no one will concede that market to Apple," predicts Gartenberg. "We'll see a lot of effort by RIM, Android devices and others, but not only does Apple have more than a year head-start, but all those competitors will also be going up against the iPad 2."
Apple doesn't only have a commanding market share but a commanding mindshare, as well, adds Gartenberg. On the PlayBook, Gartenberg says RIM has a "home court advantage" with businesses because of the popularity of BlackBerry smartphones in this space -- but there are too many "unknowns" for a product that's around the corner. "It looks good, but until they have final product, we don't know how it'll run, what apps will be for it, the cost, distribution and carrier support, as you need a BlackBerry to get online via 3G."
"It's hard to say how well it'll do because RIM hasn't said enough about the device," says Gartenberg.
But there are already some well-reported disadvantages. On needing a nearby BlackBerry smartphone to get online via 3G, Steinberg calls this requirement "awkward, restrictive and less convenient than built-in 3G connectivity."
What about Google?
Both Steinberg and Gartenberg agree a tablet used for business must also offer a consumer experience, too, as our professional and personal lives are increasingly woven together. "RIM's PlayBook might be geared more towards businesses but remember they're bought by individuals...you can't overlook the personal factor, such as games, media and other apps," says Gartenberg. "RIM feels like it needs to be in this tablet space but not sure if it know why it needs to be there."
Both the PlayBook and Android devices could be heavyweights in the tablet space if the category continues to grow, says Steinberg. "While it doesn't seem to have as much buzz as the PlayBook, Android makes good use of all the [Android] Market apps, Google's programs and solid hardware – plus there will be many different models, prices, carriers and form factors to choose from," he says.