Apple may have invented the tablet computer market with the iPad, but that doesn't mean it will be the biggest beneficiary. At last week's IFA 2010 consumer electronics show in Berlin, Samsung unveiled its soon-to-be released iPad competitor - the Galaxy Tab. Although it's just one of many iPad competitors in the pipeline (see PhoneDog's excellent compendium here), there are several reasons Samsung's new device could launch a serious challenge to Apple in this new market:
- Android OS: The iOS/Android battle is continuing in the tablet space, as we all knew it would. The most significant benefit of Apple's iOS is that it provides a smooth and easy user experience and is seamlessly integrated into all of the other Apple products. But this seamless integration (of course, "seamless" from a user's perspective, NOT a developer's) is also a drawback - because iOS is a closed and proprietary system. When it comes to entertainment, users are stuck with the Apple version of e-books, mp3s, videos, etc.
- The Developer's Problem: Developers who want to design applications for the iPad must resubmit their applications to the App Store for approval - even if the app is already available on the iPhone/iTouch. This takes time, and costs money. On the other hand, most of the applications already built for an Android device will work automatically on the new tablets.
- Size and Weight: At 7 inches, the Galaxy Tab is smaller than the 9-inch iPad - which means it's easier to hold and carry, to use on the go, to be ... mobile. Plus, it weighs a lot less. It's almost half the weight of the iPad - 380g vs 730g, another feature that makes it easier to use on the go. But the Galaxy's smaller size doesn't equate to diminished screen resolution - iPad 1024x768 vs. Galaxy Tab 1024x600. One of the complaints from iPad users has been the weight while trying to prop up the device and view the screen for extended periods of time.
- Peripherals: The Galaxy Tab has really tried to push the "kitchen sink" into a small device. It comes with two cameras, a 3 MP camera with auto-focus and LED flash, plus a 1.3 MP front-facing camera for video telephony. It has an SD slot. It also comes with a ton of sensors - gyroscope, geo-magnetic, accelerometer and light sensor. These sensors will prove to be a breeding ground for exciting new apps that can extend the usefulness of the Galaxy Tab.
- Adobe Flash: As most people know by now, Flash is banned on Apple's mobile devices: the iPhone, iTouch and iPad. Although the debate is still ongoing about the virtue of Flash on a constrained mobile device with limited battery life, the fact remains that consumers and developers like Flash. It's a big part of the user experience. The Galaxy Tab has Flash 10.1 installed, which means users can still enjoy those Facebook games, and websites and videos that have yet to make the HTML5 transition.
- Price: According to The Wall Street Journal's Sept. 3rd interview of Samsung executive Hankil Yoon, the Galaxy Tab could retail in the U.S. for between $200-$300 - on contract with a wireless carrier. At that price range, it will be roughly half the price of the iPad ($499), which is obviously a huge selling point for the device.
Considering all of the competitive features that Samsung has endowed its new device with, will it be enough to rival the iPad?
Only time will tell. But given the Galaxy Tab's more open Android OS, more user-friendly mobile design and cheaper price point, my money is on Samsung - or better yet, Android. A new Piper Jaffray report this month predicts Android will take 23.2-percent of the smartphone market by 2012, compared with the iPhone's 17.6-percent. By 2015, the market will be divided roughly 50-percent to 20- or 30-percent, Android and iPhone, respectively, the report says. The main reason for Android's rising dominance in the smartphone market, according to Piper Jaffray: Google's strategy of working with multiple device makers and service providers (in contrast to Apple).
Since Google is following this same strategy into the tablet market - it has Android tablets in the pipeline with Samsung, Dell, Notion Ink, Motorola, Best Buy and Asus - we can anticipate a similar result from about 12 to 24 months after the Android tablets hit the market.
But business strategy aside, the Galaxy Tab might prove to be a hit with consumers simply because it "feels" better. After all, its form factor can actually be held in one hand comfortably. As the shakeout continues in this new tablet form factor, we are sure to see competing designs from the various Android devices, as well as RIM, WebOS and Windows Mobile. Regardless of which device "wins," this first set of products will continue to change our perception of mobile computing, perhaps even more than notebook computers have done for the last 20-plus years.
Eric Chan is a consultant and advisor to established and emerging companies in the mobile market and specializes in product strategy (defining mobile products and services) and business development. He also prepares startups for formal venture capital investment. He is an adjunct lecturer at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science and head blogger at Mobileslate.com.