I have a confession to make. I use Linux more than I do any other operating system by a wide margin, but I also use a lot of Apple products. In house at the moment are two Mac Minis; a MacBook Pro, a pair of iPod Touches, and, oh yes, an iPad mark 1. I know I'm not the only Linux or Windows guy who likes his Mac stuff too. In recent months I've been to both open-source and Windows tech. shows and I've seen MacBooks, iPhones and iPads everywhere. Now, with the iPad2 on the runway, if Android, MeeGo, webOS, and yes Windows too, want to play a sizable share of the tablet market, they need to make moves now or the iPad 2 is going to run them over.
First, while the iPad 2 doesn't look to me like a great upgrade over the first model of the iPad, it further extends its lead over the existing tablets. I've seen and played with, to name a few, the Motorola Xoom; the Fujitsu Stylistic Windows 7 slate; and a host of other, older Android tablets. None of them are competitive yet with the first iPad, never mind the iPad 2.
So is it game over for iPad's would-be competitors? No, but here's what I think Google, Intel, HP and Microsoft need to do to make a fight of it.
First, everyone needs to go low on price. Forget about fighting it out on the high-end. Apple under Jobs has always been the premium brand. No one's going to move them out of that spot of the market anytime in the next few years.
As part of that, all the other players are going to need to get a handle on how Apple handles its supply chain. This is one area where MeeGo and webOS, since both are tied to one vendor, have a potential edge.
Android: First, Android 2.x is fine for smartphones. I love my Droid 2 smartphone with Android 2.2. But, no version of Android 2.x works that well on full-scale tablets. Oh, certainly you can use it on a small tablets like Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, but Android 3, aka Honeycomb, needs to be out and in the hands of OEMs and developers yesterday.
Google also must clean up Android's security holes. Yes, being open is a good thing, but at least in Apple's closed software garden, there's only one throat to throttle: Apple's, if something goes wrong. At the very least, Google needs to assign quality assurance and security people to the Google App Store to make sure this kind of crap doesn't get through to customers.
It's beyond Google's control, but all the many would-be Android tablet players also need to pay close attention to design and style. Why do you think Apple keeps making billions anyway? It's not because they're the cheapest-they're never that-or always technically the best, but their devices just look and feel good. Chances are you don't have someone with Steve Jobs' design aesthetic sense, but Android OEMs have to try harder.
Once they had good-looking designs. Android vendors can also try, more easily than the others, to go cheap. If someone can manage to make a good, not great, but full-sized tablet for say $250, they've got a real chance of cleaning up the mid-range market.
MeeGo First, Nokia deserts her for that tramp Windows Phone 7, and now she has to face a new model iPad. What's an open-operating system to do? Well, MeeGo has all the problems that Android, but it also has a much smaller developer community and no OEMs to speak of since Nokia bolted. If MeeGo wants to play on tablets, and not just in in-vehicle infotainment (IVI hardware, Intel needs not only to push the software out to developers fast, it needs to start work yesterday on a great design. Good luck MeeGo, I like you, but you're going to need all the help you can get.
WebOS & Windows
WebOS HP's webOS looks like it could be a contender, but I think HP needs to open up the operating system to attract more developers. WebOS is also Linux-based, but the good parts are proprietary software, Microsoft and Apple can get away with that in 2011, I don't much of anyone else can. I've also heard rumors that HP is going to price webOS at about iPad 2, or even higher, levels. Don't. You won't stand a chance.
Windows I bet you think I'm going to trash Microsoft again. You'd be wrong. Most people don't know it, but Microsoft, along with partners like Fujitsu, has long made very successful, albeit very vertical market tablets. The first one I ever used ran, if I recall correctly, Windows 95, and you know what? For its day, it was quite good.
Today's Windows 7 on tablets looks even better than the old one did in its day. Oh, it's no where near as nifty and user-friendly as Android, iOS, or webOS, but what it does have is the ability to be managed and secured by corporate IT departments using the usual Active Directory (AD) tools. The other mobile operating systems have nothing that's comparable to that
Microsoft could, quite easily, stay IT's preferred tablet operating system. If it wasn't for all those darn C-level executives demanding iPads… I don't know if Microsoft can make Windows 7 sexy on a tablet, but it would be a good thing for them to work on.
After all, there's a reason why most of you never knew about the Windows tablet of yesterday, people only wanted them in specific niche markets. Microsoft wasn't able to make Windows tablets a mass-market product then, and they certainly won't now with all this other competition. I have a bad feeling for Microsoft fans, as Mary Jo Foley observes, that Microsoft doesn't understand today's tablet market. Well, here's there chance to show that they do, but they, like everyone else needs to do it fast or it really will be the end for Apple's would be tablet rivals.