Sunday, 9 September 2012

Heating Up The Battle of the Tablets

This fall we are going to see the next wave of strikes in what has been coined "The Tablet Wars". As the battles rage on, competition will only be good for consumers as we see prices drop and tablet options increase during the fall holiday season and into the new year. Anyone who is looking to add a tablet to their shopping list would be wise to wait and see where things go over the next few months.

Looking at the current landscape, we have no less than 5 major players all fighting to take a bite out of Apple's too-long-dominated market. There is Google's Nexus 7 which is a powerful $199 Android tablet. Anyone using Google's services for their main daily activities would do well with this choice as it provides excellent integration with Google's online ecosystem (Gmail, Google Docs, Blogging, Youtube, Google Maps, and others). It also gives unrestricted access to the full range of Android marketplace (now called Google Play).

Another great choice (which will likely out-sell Google) is Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which is now being released in 2 size versions. The biggest advantage of the Kindle Fire seems to be the more controlled environment, easier interface, and stream-lining of the experience for users who consume Amazon content such as ebooks and videos. There are many Android apps and ways to get even non-Amazon-market apps through work-arounds, but for the average non-technical user the tablet is a great choice for entertainment. Versions come in at $199 for the smaller model and $299 for the larger one (putting the iPad at a huge price disadvantage).

The Surface is Microsoft's first entry into the tablet market. It appears to be a very sleek looking tablet poised to give the iPad a serious kick in the marketplace, especially when it comes to enterprise use. Not only an iPad competitor, but also an ultra-book competitor with the Surface Pro. It will come in 2 flavours... The RT edition running on an ARM processor and running mobile Windows 8 apps, and the Surface Pro which is based on Intel and runs a full Windows 8 that will be able to function and run the same apps as your laptop. Windows has a huge application history and there are more PC's running Windows than any other operating system. Depending on the pricing, Microsoft may gain considerable market share.

The Blackberry Playbook, now more than 1.5 years old, still is excellent value for the money. Recent sale of the device in the $150 range make it an obvious choice for a cheap well-built device that speeds through websites, has some nice 3D games and lots of apps coming. Although it lags behind iOS and Android in terms of apps, all the main bases are covered and a well-stocked variety of applications exists. Playbook buyers will get an added bonus in early 2013 when RIM releases the first Blackberry 10 platform phones, and soon after the Playbook will receive a BB10 software update! For these prices it is a really good purchase, especially when you have seen the impressive BB10 interface.

Other major hardware manufacturers are releasing cheap tablets, mostly in the Android space. Samsung already has its Galaxy series and ASUS is pushing the Transformer series of tablets. There are countless others, but it will be important to see which ones are able to deliver a quality Android 4.0+ device. Many cheap tablets have poor quality construction, low resolution screens and still run on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

Finally, Apple is releasing the iPad Mini in order to try and get a bite of the smaller-format tablet space. While this may make many other tablet-makers fearful, Apple will also need to watch its back as the Microsoft Surface, Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and larger Samsung and ASUS tablets (and a rumoured larger Blackberry Playbook) nip at its heals in the larger format iPad space.

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