Over the last few months, a whole new type of computer has emerged. The tablet computer has taken off with a gusto that no one expected, filling a hole that no one knew even existed. How should you shop for a tablet?
There have been a number of attempts in the past to popularize the tablet computer. Although a few units were sold, the market never really took off, and the tablet never became a popular consumer item except with a small group of nerds. Then, in 2009 and early 2010, rumors began to circulate about a tablet computer that Apple was working on. The buildup was tremendous in the tech press, though Apple said almost nothing officially about the device.
The rumors almost always made reference to “an iPod Touch on steroids” and when Apple finally revealed their iPad tablet early in 2010, that turned out to be true. The iPad, when finally announced, turned out to be a 9.7 inch touch-screen powered device, run by the same operating system as the iPhone and iPod Touch and containing a 1 GHz processor designed by Apple. Slightly larger than an average e-reader but slightly smaller than most netbooks, it took the world by storm.
It truly is neither fish nor fowl. Much larger than a smart phone, the display makes this groundbreaking tablet (and surely many that will follow) a device that you can use in the real world and be very productive, as long as you are not charged with creating complex content. If what you need can be done with email, VOIP messaging, simple word processing, and inside a browser, a tablet could be for you. These are machines that were built with media and the cloud in mind. They are small and light enough to carry easily and make marvelous traveling companions.
The competition was slow to react to this new computer genre pioneered by Apple, having waited to see what the iPad was all about before finalizing designs for their own tablet computers. This left the field for Apple to play in alone, and they have sold millions of iPads before any serious competition emerged. There were a number of tablet announcements even before the iPad was shipped, but they were never serious contenders.
Now, with the run-up to the holiday season upon us, some of the big players in the industry are beginning to introduce the first serious competition that the iPad has faced. Samsung and Toshiba have finally announced plans for competitive tablets, with the Samsung device due out before the end of September. Motorola is reportedly working with Google on a tablet. Most of the iPad competition will probably run Google’s Android operating system, but a very serious bid is expected to come from Hewlett-Packard using the Palm WebOS system they acquired when they bought Palm. Windows-powered tablets are also expected.
For now, the Apple tablet is almost the only game in town. Everyone else is playing catch-up. But, given a couple of months (especially in the run up to the holiday season) and there will be a lot more choices available. There will be tablets from a variety of manufacturers, running a variety of operating systems, in a variety of sizes and prices. And don’t forget that Apple is rumored to have the second-generation iPad ready to go for a release during the first quarter of 2011.
So, unless you know you want an iPad (a good choice regardless) this might not be the best time to buy a tablet. You will have a lot more choices towards the end of 2010 and a new and improved second-generation iPad shortly thereafter. And remember, second-generation products are generally much improved over their earlier ancestors. Waiting just a couple of months will give you a lot more choices, and probably more for your money than buying now. Of course, it’s difficult to say that all those iPad early adopters were wrong.