This post (and the following one) attempts to piece together from the media, from blogs and from word-of-mouth the current players in the tablet world and what it will take to build a tablet David to go up against Apple’s Goliath. This will not be a trivial task. To illustrate this point, lets start with the tablet State of the Union.
Long, long ago, Bill Gates believed that tablet PCs were going to be the future. People scoffed at him and due to user apathy and lack of killer applications, that idea got relegated to the occasional Windows laptop being converted to a tablet PC. Along came Steve Jobs who was riding high on the success of the iPod and the iPhone. He believed that there was a viable alternative to netbooks that filled a spot between smartphones and laptops. And the iPad was born. While critics dismissed the iPad as a larger iPod touch, they didnt know the power of Apple’s marketing and the glory of touch. Within a few months, it was evident that the iPad was here to stay and tablet computing was finally getting its share of attention.
The iPad is a showcase of brilliant industrial design with a burgeoning app market that challenges developers to make innovative applications for a well-paying and no longer niche audience topped with the Apple marketing genius. This potent combination has resulted in a multimillion unit selling product which is in a market of one and threatens to remain so for a while, until a meaningful competitor with a better tablet product arrives.
Since the launch of the iPad, every mobile device manufacturer worth their salt has either built or is building a tablet competitor to the iPad. Most of these vendors have favored Google’s Android OS variant for tablets, the Honeycomb. But each of the released products have either fared poorly or have been a poor cousin to the iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab was the first iPad competitor which came out with a smartphone OS (Android 2.2 Froyo) and the experience was decidedly one of a smartphone. Samsung has since announced its next generation of tablets built on Honeycomb and scheduled to release in the coming months. The first tablet that was truly expected to compete with the iPad was the Motorola Xoom. The Xoom was priced too high and with the lack of a WiFi version (initially) and not many tablet specific apps, sold poorly. More on the Xoom missteps here.
Since the Xoom’s launch, LG has launched the LG G-Slate on T-Mobile and RIM launched its Blackberry Playbook. The G-Slate has garnered decent but not spectacular reviews  and the Playbook has had its share of woes. Erstwhile Palm, now HP has a webOS tablet, TouchPad coming up later this summer which looks interesting but then every other tablet looked interesting when announced. Palm’s webOS has been much loved and little adopted. Hopefully the tablet will change the tide.
The next post will identify some of the key factors that will influence the creation of the next big tablet that sells and competes with the iPad.