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Tablets represent competitive innovation

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad in January 2010, he joked about the following line he read in the Wall Street Journal: “Last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it.”

What many people didn’t know was that the iPad would become the first successful entry in a decade-old tablet market, with Apple having sold at least 15 million iPads to date.

Early Wednesday, Apple sent out e-mails inviting news media and tech bloggers to a media event on March 2. The technology world is already buzzing with excitement and speculation, primarily because the invitation hints at a next generation iPad and features the words “Come see what 2011 will be the year of.”

Other technology companies have in the past unsuccessfully tried to guess what Apple’s next move would be and have introduced products both before and after the launch of Apple’s products, only to fail in stopping Apple in its tracks. Microsoft tried this with its PlaysForSure technology in 2004, with which it failed to kill the iPod.

Microsoft used the technology to launch the Zune, which also failed to steal the iPod’s more than 80 percent portable music player market share.

Today, Samsung, Motorola, Toshiba, Acer and HP, among others, are trying to compete with the iPad. The problem is that they’re competing with last year’s iPad and that their tablets offer an experience comparable to the iPad, though not specifically unique enough to substantially differentiate themselves from either Apple or each other.

A large number of the tablets competing with the iPad run Google’s Android software. These tablet manufacturers are among the popular Android phone manufacturers, such as Samsung and Motorola.

A major problem for these manufacturers has been the marketing of Android phones because of the lack of a unique difference between the different brands, which was one of the reasons cited by Nokia for choosing Symbian, and later Windows Phone, over Android. Now, with the imminent launch of Android tablets, they face the same dilemma 8212; each offers the same set of software capabilities with a comparable set of hardware features.

Another problem for manufacturers of competing tablets is the cost of development and the cost at which they can afford to sell their tablets.

In an October 2010 earnings call with Apple, Jobs commented on the upcoming tablet competitors to the iPad, saying they would be “DOA [dead-on-arrival]” because they couldn’t afford to offer anything larger than a 7-inch screen at the same cost as iPad’s 9.7-inch screen.

Indeed, Samsung chose to use a 7-inch screen for its Galaxy Tab and the Android phone software, while offering its product at a price higher than the iPad, though carrier subsidization lowers the price with a contract. The Galaxy Tab has a return rate of 16 percent while the iPad has a return rate of 2 percent.

Since their introduction, iPads have been deployed in a variety of sectors. Some schools and colleges have begun giving their students iPads or have been requiring students to have them to supplement or compliment their classwork. As the year goes by, we’ll see the introduction of more tablets, including those by RIM and HP that don’t run Android.

In the end, it’s the consumers who benefit, because competition drives innovation.

Varun Pramanik is a sophomore strategic communication major from Mumbai, India.

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