While launching the iPad2, Steve Jobs trotted out a barrage of figures. In the nine months since the iPad's initial launch, Apple had sold 15 million of them, he said. With net sales totalling $9.5 billion (Rs 41,400 crore), iPads accounted for 90 per cent of the tablet market. Speaking as one who has been using the iPad a lot over the past few weeks, its stellar success has not really surprised me. It is an excellent, user-friendly device. But will Google's Android operating system prove a spoiler for the iPad 2, just as it has been for Apple's earlier, much-lauded iPhone?
Apple still rakes in handsome profits from its iPhone. But there is no doubt that Android is a dominant player in the smartphone space too. By volume, Android devices have overtaken Apple's in smartphones. However, the sheer variety of devices running Android has created its own problems. Most manufacturers of Android devices have put their own "skin" on top of the Google developed operating system, but other than HTC's "Sense", few improve the experience.
It won't be long before there are a host of iPad competitors out there running a version of Android specifically developed for tablets, the Android 3.0 "Honeycomb". The first of these tablets, the Motorola Xoom, was unveiled in the US just ahead of the iPad 2. Samsung, which made the Galaxy Tab - whose small seveninch screen and dated Android build has been criticised - will also introduce a 10-inch screen model with Honeycomb as well.
Many of these machines, while not as thin or light as the iPad 2, will have far more impressive hardware specifications. Apple's critics have been pointing this out in blogs and forums across the Internet. But while your columnist is not exactly a diehard Apple fanboy - as his Symbian and Android mobile devices bear testimony - he finds Apple's rebuttal to these critics compelling. The company's guiding principle seems to be that a computer's quality is not really about its hardware but what you can do with it. It is the software and services around it that matter.
If you are looking at a tablet to mainly surf the Internet and watch video, an Android tablet will do fine. But don't imagine, just because Android provides open source software, that its tablets will be cheaper than iPads. Thanks to Apple's control of the supply chain and retail distribution, specification-for-specification, most Android tablets are a lot more expensive than comparable iPads, especially with first-generation iPads becoming $100 cheaper in the US. In India too, the price dropped by Rs 3,000.
As Android tablets are mass-marketed later this year, their prices will fall. They will always, however, be like the standard Windows laptops: nothing to crow about. Crucially, Android needs more applications. Not mobile applications that are scaled up for tablets, but proper tablet applications. At present, developers seem to prefer Apple's iTunes store. There is an Angry Birds for Android phones, but nothing that replicates Angry Birds HD for the iPad on an Android tablet. If Android fails to develop more applications, 2011 could well become the Year of the iPad 2.