The tabletwars, are they over without even starting?

A whole bunch of manufacturers are busy trying to create a killer tablet to be able to compete with the iPad. And for many of those manufacturers Google’s Android operating system is the way to go. The hopes are high, since Android already managed to take the leading market share in the smartphone market. A few years ago Apple’s iOS reigned supreme, but was forcefully dethroned by a never-ending series of competitive Android smartphones. But is the tablet business that comparable to the smartphone industry? And shouldn’t we compare it to a much older case, that isn’t that positive for other manufacturers but perhaps fits the bill way better?

The smartphone has existed for a very long time. I’m sure you can remember the first Blackberries, Symbians and Windows Mobile devices? If we look back at those now they seem rather pathetic compared to what we have today but still there was nothing better at that time. The businessmen chose a phone on any of these platforms and the average joe loved his Nokia, Samsung or Motorola dumbphone. And then Apple popped up with once again another smartphone, the iPhone. Initially not a success but it prove to be useful by being easier to work with and after all successful by targeting the right people. Google and other tech companies noticed this and also agreed that the smartphone landscape looked rather dull. So Google conquered many (mainly dumbphone) manufacturers with the open Android operation system and Microsoft completely threw out Windows Mobile and exchanged it for Windows Phone. The manufacturers that produced phones with these systems already proved to be trustworthy by having provided cellphones to the crowd for many years. Together with mainly Android it was a matter of making people dump their old dumbphone for a slightly more expensive smartphone. By creating a plethora of Android devices in all sizes, colors and prices the big manufacturers together with Google managed to launch Android to the top of the smartphone charts.

Since it are once again the same major players which are facing each other, isn’t it logical that the outcome will once again be the same for the tablet market? Not necessarily. Which brings me to that other market, the market of the portable media players.

When the iPod arrived it was revolutionary because it allowed people to store a lot of music on such a small device and take it everywhere with them. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but they were hardly capable of storing twenty tracks and suddenly there’s a device which allows people to take hundreds and later thousands of songs with them. The iPod was there to stay. There was no longer such thing as an MP3 player, there were only iPods. If you didn’t have an iPod you had nothing. This resulted in the competition trying very hard to compete with the iPod with decently working devices, but to no avail. They couldn’t do a thing, everyone wanted an iPod and nothing else. And since the iPod defined the pricing in its field, the steep price of early iPods was not an issue. Before Apple there was no brand which really excelled in this market.

Does this story ring a bell? 2010, Apple launched a wholly “new” device, the iPad. Just as in the Portable Media Player market, there were no real competitors. There were tablets before the iPad, but they were slow, unpractical and didn’t have a dedicated operating system. In addition to the physical flaws, they lacked marketing power to break through. Nowadays nearly everyone wants an iPad, there is no such thing as “a tablet” for the average joe. There are only iPads. Only after a year, the competition decided to wake up and do something about the iPad’s reign. They begin their attempts to launch competitive tablets similar to the iPad, but based on Android or their own OS. Outside the tech world, not a single soul notices. Kids and youngsters still go to the store and either want an iPad or nothing at all. Elder folks get the advice to get an iPad instead of a PC because it’s easier to work with. Where the iPhone was expensive in its segment, the iPad is decisive for the pricing of the entire market and is relatively cheap.
And why would people try a different brand if all of their friends are happy iPad users? Why run the risk of buying something unfamiliar to you and with no guarantee that it will actually work?

The iPad solidifies its position just like the iPod did, as a revolutionary device that succeeded into defining the market. There are no real predecessors and the competition doesn’t seem to get a hold of the market at all, notwithstanding serious marketing- and brand awareness attempts by carriers and manufacturers. The most visible tablet in advertising and promo actions must be the Samsung Galaxy Tab. But the non-tech folks simply don’t care. “What’s that? That’s not an iPad! Who can convince me that it actually works?”. Where the iPhone wasn’t really defining for the smartphone market, the iPad has become one with the tablet market, just like the iPod did when it comes to portable media players.

So is it too little too late for the other manufacturers? Is there still a chance that a killer tablet will beat the iPad? Only time will tell, but if you ask me it’s indeed too late. Just like in the iPod case Apple will maintain the top market share while the competition fruitlessly fights for recognition with highly comparable devices.

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