Bonus iPad 3 Speculation Inside!
You can't browse the tech section of Google News for more than a few minutes without coming upon an article about some new tablet. Whether it runs on Android, Windows 7, webOS or iOS, it has a legion of dedicated fans jumping at the bit any leaked news, no matter how petty. When you look at all the hype surrounding a product like the iPad 2, it is easy to forget how young tablets are as a device category.
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Which is why the success- or failure, of the iPad 2 is so crucial for this emerging market. Analysts already expect tablets to be a 35 billion dollar market by 2012. A third of those sales are expected to cannibalize from sales of netbooks and notebooks.
So will they?
This is where things get tricky. Think back to early 2009. Netbooks had just broken out into the public consciousness. They were in every ad, on every shelf, and featured on the front page of every gadget news site. Over the course of 2009, netbook sales leapt from 7.5 million to an astonishing 34 million.
In other words, netbooks in 2009 were in exactly the same position as tablets in 2011. But netbooks never broke past that high water mark. Last Christmas season, sales fell by 38%. The market isn't dead, but people aren't talking about how netbooks will redefine personal computing anymore either.
But didn't the tablet kill the netbook?
That's a common misconception. But no, netbooks were on their way out before the iPad showed up. Netbooks stopped being the industry golden boy when customers realized they didn't really want an underpowered PC to replace their laptop.
Are tablets destined for the same road?
The best answer to this question is...maybe. Tablets have a few things going for them. For one, they're much more focused devices. A tablet won't do all the things a netbook can do, but it does what it does quickly and efficiently. Mobile operating systems draw less power and accomplish a limited set of tasks with more speed.
Your iPad won't run Photoshop, but it'll boot up and have you in your email while your desktop is still powering on.
But on the other hand, tablets still represent a compromise. Power for convenience. Ease of transport for ease-of-typing. Full HD video for more comfortable, 720p video. So far, consumers seem eager to make those compromises. But the night is young.
How the iPad 2 Can Keep the Pressure Up:
The continued momentum of the tablet market will hang entirely upon the iPad 2. Apple has a few things they must deliver on.
1. Multimedia: The iPad 2 must be able to handle 1080p video with no starts, stutters or jitters. The Xoom is more than capable of this, so I don't anticipate the iPad 2 falling short. But the iPad 2 will also need to deliver superior connectivity- either through Verizon's 3G network or, ideally, LTE. Streaming media is a key part of the tablet's attraction.
2. Cost. The Xoom may have made a major miscalculation here. Tablets are much less attractive when they compare in cost to a high-end laptop. If the iPad 2 wants to maintain its momentum, that $499 price-point is utterly critical.
3. Longevity. Laptops don't get long battery life unless you spend a lot of money, or go for something like a netbook with vastly reduced functionality. The iPad's 10 hour battery was a big part of its 'wow' factor. Expect the iPad 2 to improve on this.
...And the iPad 3?
Analysts and reporters had an easy time predicting the iPad 2. Cameras were a given. A thinner frame was a given. A better processor was a given. Apple won't take any risks with this new slate...but the iPad 3 is a different matter. The iPad 2 has to solidify Apple's place in the tablet market. The iPad 3 has to push the boundaries of what a tablet can do. Expect...
NFC capability. This is a big one, and I expect it to be in every new Apple mobile device past the iPhone 5.
A new form-factor. Right now, most of the non-iOS slates out there are, physically, rip-offs of the iPad. Apple's going to want to differentiate their product line from the pack, again. We can expect the third generation iPad to look very different from the prior iterations.
3D? This one is more speculative. But if 3D does take off in homes across America, Apple would be insane to ignore it on the iPad. This is a content consumption device, first and foremost. Apple wants to stay on the cutting edge of keeping you fat, happy and in your couch.