It looks like Apple bought itself a bit more time atop the market with the announcement of the iPad 2. With Android tablets coming on strong and competitors like HP’s webOS and Microsoft’s Windows 7 waiting in the ranks, all eyes were on Apple March 2. The company delivered an impressive device that shrunk the form factor, increased the processing power, maintained the battery life, and according to numerous unconfirmed reports, will double the amount of RAM to 512 MB.
The iterative hardware improvements weren’t much of a surprise to the electronics industry. What seemed to take them aback was the form factor. Lee Don-Joo, executive vice president of mobile devices at South Korean device maker Samsung told South Korea’s publicly funded Yonhap News Agency, “We will have to improve the parts that are inadequate [in our tablets]. Apple made it very thin.”
The iPad 2 is an incredible .35 inches thin — approximately a third of an inch. That’s approximately 33 percent thinner than the first-gen thickness of 0.5 inch and thinner even than the 0.472 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab was the first major Android tablet to be billed as a possible “iPad slayer”. However, the device was quite different from Apple’s in its strengths and weaknesses. While packing superior hardware, it featured a smaller 7.0-inch (diagonal) LCD screen and debuted at nearly $900 USD without contract. Those factors caused many tablet buyers to stick with the iPad, which had an entry level Wi-Fi-only price of $499 and 9.7-inch screen.
Today Motorola has taken up the Mantle of “iPad killer” with its new Xoom dual-core Android “Honeycomb” tablet. But Samsung is hungry for mores success of its own, and will soon release a new Honeycomb 10.1-inch tablet of its own, pricing on which hasn’t been confirmed.
Mr. Lee comments, “The 10-inch (tablet) was to be priced higher than the seven-inch but we will have to think that over.”
To put things in perspective, between October and December Samsung sold 2 million Galaxy Tab devices, while Apple sold 15 million iPads between April and December. That gap becomes more noticeable when you consider how far behind Android devices have left the iPhone in the mobile market.
The iPad 2, like the first generation model, doesn’t exactly pack the most incredible hardware in the world. What it does do, however, is offer an impressive form factor and equally noteworthy battery life. Both of those marks were complaints about the recent Xoom — it was too bulky/heavy and the battery life fell short of promised figures.
Both metrics are even more critical to tablets than they are to some other mobile devices like laptops. While you can always plug in a laptop, you seldom run a tablet plugged in, so battery life is essential. And while your notebook computer rests comfortably on a table or your lap, you actually hold the tablet, so weight becomes a major issue.
And what is equally surprising is that price may be the key thing keeping the iPad as the top selling tablets. Apple has a long-standing reputation of delivering high-end gadgets, which — according to some — are more than a bit overpriced. But with the iPad it has delivered a more minimalistic hardware set and a remarkably low hardware price.
When it comes to tablets, it’s still Apple’s game to lose. If it can maintain its mobility edge (battery life, form factor) and price edge it may be able to hold on to its lead even as Android brings out the big guns processing power-wise.