By Greg Mills
Remember all the breathless “iPad killers” announced a year ago? Seems like it was over 100 different prototypes shown. Well, Apple’s iPad is still over a year ahead of the strongest competitor and gaining traction in the market place. The problem for competitors is that the hardware of iPad is pretty awesome, and Apple has bought up so much of the touch screen production even finding parts to build competitive pads is hard.
When you build a device you want uniformity in the parts to prevent problems in quality control and parts compatibility nightmares. When Apple buys up touch screens with cash a year in advance, manufacturers would be foolish to not play ball with them.
Apple is either first or second in total electronic parts purchases around the world and approaching US$70 billion cash in the bank, so they call the shots on whatver they want to buy. They even loan money to touch screen manufacturers to build new plants to satisfy the demand for Apple devices. How do competitors compete with them? They can’t. Table scraps from Apple’s table is all that is left.
HP has just launched its new iPad killer they call “TouchPad” and I don’t think anyone at Apple lost any sleep over it. About a year ago HP bought Palm, the failed PDA maker for its patents and software called webOS. Once you find the scarce parts needed to build an iPad killer, you need to either buy rights to or create an OS to run on the darn thing. Most hardware companies just belly up to Google and use an off-the-shelf tablet OS.
Since the “off the shelf OS company” called Microsoft screwed up in projecting the market for tablet computers, Android’s tablet OS and other marginal software platforms are all there is to choose from. Once you choose a platform OS the issue is then providing apps. RIM’s PlayBook met with yawns for both stupid technical issues such as requiring a BlackBerry Phone to sync with, and it launched with very few apps.
When Apple created the iOS developer program they really didn’t know the magnitude of what they had done. Now, the iOS platform has such a lead on the competition, starting from scratch in developing an app store is very hard. Even though the webOS is a pretty good platform, with the Apple store boasting over 500,000 apps that will run on iOS devices, Google at about 200,000 apps for Android devices, RIM with maybe 1500 apps, Windows 7 with 2000 apps or so, who is going to go to all the trouble to support another platform? App developers like to make money, and it costs money to create an app.
More importantly for Palm, who is going to buy its new tablet that’s priced exactly the same as an iPad? The market is already saturated with tablet platforms and people are wise enough to not buy a “Kin smartphone” that might be abandoned, leaving people with an expensive paperweight. Kins won’t even run Windows 7, so Kin early adopters got burned by Microsoft. People who buy smartphones and tablet computers want to know the platform isn’t going south for the winter anytime soon.
In competition sailing, a tactic used by the leader of a group of sailboats is to maneuver into the wind in such a way that they steal the bulk of the wind from ever getting to the boats in their wake. Apple is doing that with hardware parts monopolization, market share and iOS development.
The year headstart is now more like an 18 month headstart. By the time the competition catches up with Apple’s software and hardware with new competitive devices, Apple leapfrogs ahead with the newer version of the device. Demand for Apple devices is viral in emerging markets.
Those of us who have hitched our wagons to iOS have seen so many of the problems that plague the Android market dodged by Apple’s wise management of the Apple App Store.
Reviews of the new Palm Tablet are mixed, giving their OS some praise, but noting pretty serious problems with apps crashing, features not working all the time and the lack of cellular radios in the current models being shipped. HP expects to launch a radio equipped tablet in a few months, but Wi-Fi is all you can get right now. The market for “me too” iPad killers isn’t great when the prices are identical with the real thing.
Hey, that’s Greg’s Bite for today.
(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He’s also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustrySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg’s art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )