Competition Heating Up in the Tablet Market

- 2012.07.25 (updated) - Tip Jar

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Other than Apple with its iPad, no one has managed to sell very many touchscreen tablets. Models from HP and RIM flew off retailers' shelves - but only when prices were cut to fire sale levels.

Amazon's Kindle Fire had a flurry of sales around the 2011 Christmas season, but sales dropped dramatically in 2012, and it's never been made available in Canada. Samsung's recent 5" Galaxy Note has had respectable sales - but Samsung would like us to believe that it's a large phone, not a small tablet.

Nevertheless, a pair of product announcements in June gives hope that there might be competition to the iPad. Eventually.

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft's Surface tablet comes with a keyboard.

Microsoft showed off two 10.6" tablet models running its touch-friendly Windows 8 operating system. A consumer-focused model running Windows RT is promised at the same time as Windows 8's October release, while the Surface Pro will become available roughly three months later.

The RT model will run on ARM-style processors (like the iPad) for maximum battery life; the Pro model will use an Intel processor like most standard PCs. So, while both will be able to run software designed for the new Windows 8 Metro interface, only the Pro model will be able to run traditional Windows applications. Both models feature sleek styling and a keyboard and trackpad built into the cover.

The keyboard and Windows software-compatibility might make the Pro model attractive to many corporate users.

But questions remain. Microsoft says pricing will be "competitive" but hasn't mentioned specifics. Microsoft isn't primarily a hardware manufacturer, and the Surface announcement seems as much aimed at PC hardware makers as at Apple - and at manufacturers of Ultrabooks as much as of tablets. Acer vice-president Oliver Ahrens suggested that Microsoft will not seriously market the Surface models and will instead use them as a benchmark for hardware makers. However, several traditional PC makers have shelved plans to release their own Windows RT tablets.

Google Nexus 7 tablet
Google Nexus 7 tablet

A week after Microsoft's Surface announcement, Google - also not primarily a hardware maker - announced its own up-and-coming tablet. The Nexus 7, built for Google by Asus, runs Google's Android operating system; it is the first device with the latest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean. Google has previously released several Nexus-branded mobile phones to show off new Android versions.

Unlike Microsoft's tablets, the Nexus 7 will have a 7" screen, with 1280 x 800 pixels giving it a higher resolution than the original iPad or iPad 2 (though not the New iPad), and unlike Microsoft, Google announced pricing: $209 for a version with 8 GB of storage, and $259 for a 16 GB version. The Nexus 7 should be showing up on store shelves (and at the doorsteps of people who pre-ordered them) around the time this column appears.

But there's more.

Samsung has announced updates to its Galaxy Tab Android-powered tablets, with an 8 GB 7" model priced at $249.

And the rumour mill is full of reports that Apple has a 7.8" smaller (and cheaper) iPad model in the works - despite Steve Jobs suggesting that no one really wanted to use a 7" tablet.

It promises to be an interesting season for tablet reviewers. I'm hoping to have the Nexus 7 I ordered any day now. I'll keep you informed. LEM

First published in Business in Vancouver July 24, 2012 issue #1187

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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