Some of us are excited about the iPad. In fact, who are we kidding, MANY of us are excited about the potential application for the iPad in our industry. Latest news is that Apple is selling more iPads in one month than Palm WebOS devices have sold in the past year. But, the iPad isn’t the only tablet game in town. In fact, while it is the first highly advertised device (thanks to Apple’s huge marketing budget and rightfully “cute” ad campaigns), it could be argued that it wasn’t the first to hit the shelves. While not as large, Archos released a MID (Mobile Internet Device) last fall. It runs the Android operating system, features a 5″ touch screen, has WIFI, 3G, games and applications. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. In fact, never heard of Archos either? That wouldn’t surprise me either. Neither Archos or the tablet were advertised and consequently didn’t sell in high volumes. Why?
There are many reason for this.
True, it was not advertised every 30 minutes like I am seeing right now with the iPad, but there are other reasons. It was underpowered. It was not sexy, it did not have all of the apps that iTunes has, runs an outdated version of Android. And finally, it’s not integrated with desktop software (like iTunes) to make audio and video transfer and sharing easy.
So, what’s a person looking for alternatives to the iPad to do? The good news is… there’s A LOT to do.
Here’s a link to an article on Mashable that shows a 9 upcoming tablet alternatives to Apple’s iPad.
and again, seven more iPad alternatives.
and finally… one prime example of a tablet device hitting the market everywhere.
So, what is different now, v.s. last year?
Here’s my take.
- Android has dramatically improved. With version 2.0 and newer of Android, I can finally say that Android is no longer “in-beta”. It has a much more polished look and feel out of the box. anyone running the Froyo release (version 2.2) would have to agree with me.
- The hardware is getting much better. With the 1.0 ghz, “snapdragon” and now 1.0ghz “hummingbird” processors, applications are responsive and actually doing development right on the device is faster, since you can launch and run the application in fraction of the time you could in the past. This follow the “Recursive Awesome Law #3 of software development” – the less pain developers go through, the more applications they will will write.
- The sexy factor has been increased. For better or worse , the iPad has upped the bar and companies are starting to realize they not only need a functional device, but a visually appealing one as well. The new tablet/pad style devices coming out are in my opinion, head and shoulders better than the Archos MID that was released last year.
So what is still outstanding?
The biggest problem is that the Android SDK only supports 480×854, 5.0″-5.8″ as it’s highest resolution display. While the screen can be made larger on the device, support for higher resolutions won’t be coming until the next version of Android 3.0 (aka Gingerbread). That means that the manufactures will need to do some tweaking, or else just leave the default resolution and stretch the display out. The less that device manufactures need to mess with the operating system and its internals, the faster the adoption rates will be.
Another question I think still remains is any type of integration is with desktop software. But, is it really needed? The largest consumer use case that I see for a tablet device is web browsing, reading books, watching videos and listening to music. If the manufactures of these alternatives can create easy ways to either sync with iTunes, Windows Media player or offer some type of desktop client that will allow the user to push their content to the device, then these devices really have chance. The other option that we can see (and the direction the industry is going), is to have all of your digital media stored “in the cloud” and your device accesses those services wirelessly wherever you may be. This is where Google is pushing the market, and something that we will get to someday, but in the mean time, if the Android devices need to synchronize their digital media by digging through folder after folder and user must manually copy and back up their data, this will be a major turn off. Android needs to create some sort of sync utility.
So, there you have it. A basic run down of some devices contending against the iPad. We haven’t discussed the industrial/business usage which actually changes the numbers quiet a bit. In that scenario I can see the alternative to the iPad winning out since Android and other mobile platforms are free and are not restricted by Apple’s hardware or policies.
Will I get one of the these alternatives?
You bet! We already have purchased an iPad at Recursive Awesome and we working to develop a handful of iPad applications for not only ourselves, but our clients as well. But, you never bet on one horse in technology and we are always looking at the alternatives. In this case especially, the alternatives have huge potential and opportunity for those wanting to run Android or another open source operating system.
Let us know you thoughts on any of these devices!
UPDATE: It looks like since I originally wrote this post there have been some setbacks around manufactures bringing their tables to market I’m still convinced that Android tables are going to a major player in the tablet computer arena for years to come.