Should Apple's rivals give in to the pressure from the new iPad?
If there's one thing we can agree on, it's that Apple's slate-style tablet computer is highly disruptive.
And according to a New York Times report, Apple's rivals -- everyone from mobile competitors Google and Nokia to traditional adversaries HP and Microsoft -- are so disrupted that they are preparing their own flavors of a slate tablet computing device.
The question: should they even bother?
It goes without saying that these companies must eventually field a competing device to battle Apple's iPad on store shelves. If we are to believe even a tiny piece of the fluff Apple PR is peddling ("A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price" -- surely you must be kidding, right?), an iPad-like device could very well shift the development trajectory of personal computing devices.
After all, if most people use computers to "check e-mail," "look at pictures" and "surf the web," is all that other stuff really necessary?
Compared to an iPad, a laptop is starting to feel a bit like a desktop -- great for us productive worker bees but less so for those of us who don't need to type out 400-page dissertations, edit high-resolution photos in Adobe Photoshop or pen op-ed blog posts about the iPad on ZDNet.
That's what Apple's betting on, at least. The question is whether the world is ready for such a thing as a primary computing device. (I think they are, and they just don't know it yet.)
But my point is that I don't think HP, Google et. al. should go rushing into this with a "me-too" product -- even if their product has been on the drawing board for longer than the iPad has.
I think it's time to rethink the approach to hardware (portability is critical), connectivity (Wi-Fi? 3G?) and software (ask yourself: is Windows or Android really optimized for this use case?) before pushing a product out onto the market.
Apple has already beat them all to the punch on store shelves. I think its rivals should acknowledge this fact and work on a product that could compete with iPad 2.0 (not to mention that Apple is surely already working on this) -- not what's already out there.
For HP, I think the Slate could be a compelling piece of hardware (I haven't seen it in person), but its use of Windows will surely over-complicate it both in performance and usability.
For Google, I think Android is a compelling platform on which to build a slate tablet device -- more compelling than Chrome OS, I'd wager -- but it must consider how to wrap the device into a broader ecosystem to make it worth purchase.
For Microsoft, I think it's time to go whole-hog on mobile development and worry about tablets once it has that down pat.
For Nokia, well, I think it's time they focused on getting any product in the U.S. right before they enter another segment. (Seen any N97s lately? Booklet 3Gs? Didn't think so.)
And so on.
My point is simple: if you want to compete with the iPad, you're going to have to come up with a device that is a -- and I'll use the word a third time here -- compelling alternative.
Not just an alternative. A truly persuasive one. And then, just then, maybe users will reevaluate if a laptop is really something that solves their problems.