The State of the Tablet Market: Q1 2011

Since the launch of the iPad in 2010 the tablet market has been developing in an interesting way. Apple had been ingenious in the years leading up to the iPad with iPhone sales consistently breaking records and defining the industry standard for the last few years. As hardware and software makers began to keep stride with the iPhones and release plethoras of Android phones along with a smattering of new BlackBerries, WebOS phones, and Windows 7 Phones Apple was able to rush the iPad to the market with a tried and tested software interface.

The iPad was a logical step that hardly anyone saw coming and even fewer people imagined could be successful. Steve Jobs recently revealed that the iPad was the idea in the first place and he rushed to make a phone out of it. The timing of the entire thing was gorgeous – not only was it able to beat the JooJoo to market (which many people thought would be a real contender) it became the clear choice for a tablet. To this day the only other real contenders are Linux or Android tablets or Windows 7 tablets. The Windows 7 tablets are a mess because, as touch friendly as that OS is, it’s not good enough to be thrown on a tablet willy nilly. The Android tablets suffer from the reverse issue – an inappropriate upscaling of a mobile OS.

Some may argue the iPad suffers from this same problem but the truth is the iPad is an entirely different experience than the iPhone. Things will start to get interesting as we see how Chrome OS might adapt on a tablet and what HP can do with WebOS (I predict a change reminiscent of iOS -> iPad OS) to make it work on a tablet.

The iPad 2 will be coming out soon likely with two cameras and the highest resolution screen on a tablet device which will push the market further in Apple’s direction and force some much needed innovation. We’re not far at all from components powerful enough that a MacBook Air-esque device will be able to boot into a more iPad-esque OS (if Apple pulls this off they’ll probably manage it without a noticeable reboot time… very doable with solid state storage) to be used as a more mobile tablet while retaining the full power of OS X either when in a docking station or on your lap as a laptop rather than in your palm as a tablet.

As it stands things are going to get very interesting in the next year and the trend shows no sign of slowing. If it doesn’t go without saying I would definitely recommend waiting until the iPad 2 at the very earliest for those of you in the market for a tablet. If you don’t like the direction Apple is heading the next best thing (disregarding any CES hooplah) is the Color Nook which runs a crippled version of Android but, in my opinion, has the right idea on the hardware front (at least until color e-ink becomes a reality).

I’ll also mention that the software developers of tablet and phone operating systems alike have to do some serious work on the notifications front before Apple plugs their obvious hole. Right now Android does it best with the pull down bar (and I think WebOS did pretty good) but there is a fine balance between user control, automation, intrusiveness, and unobtrusiveness that Apple has been searching for behind the scenes for the last few years (and slowly working towards – multitasking implementation, anyone?) and they’re bound to stumble upon it soon.

Apologies for the rough article, I’m not in a proofreading mood.