The New iPad: Leaving the Competition Behind

by Ben Bajarin   |   March 8th, 2012

It would be extremely difficult to make the case that any competitive tablet in 2012 and perhaps even 2013 can hold a candle to the new iPad. Not only do I not believe that Apple competitors fully understand the tablet market but they have also not been investing in the kind of technologies needed to compete in this market.

For many the tablet has simply been a me too strategy. Something that historically has either not worked or only worked for a short time thus not being sustainable. What you are forced to walk away with after evaluating the new iPad is that Apple is more serious about this new category of computing than anyone. I would also argue that they are also the best oriented to not only continue to define this new category of computing but to also dictate it as well.

Dictating the Hi-Resolution Race
Every Android smartphone owner who goes gaga over their somewhat high resolution screen should thank Apple. The Retina display kicked off the trend of higher resolution phone displays. Once consumers saw, and are still captivated by that screen, it became very hard for a device to be successful at the mid to high end without a high resolution screen.

The same will now be true of tablets. There will now be a resolution race to catch up with Apple’s Retina display on the new iPad. Which you absolutely have to see to believe. There has never been such a high resolution display on a mobile device and seeing such clarity and image quality on a bigger screen changes the experience with the device in a way I never imagined.

Because of that there is nearly zero chance that consumers walk into retail, as many do, and check out the new iPad and even consider any competitive tablet that is on the market or will hit the market this year. I know that sounds harsh but as I stated the competition does not understand this new category of computing and they are not doing all they can to compete in it. Therefore, for the time being, the competition will not stack up to the new iPad.

This hi-resolution race may also come in interesting ways to notebooks. As I observed, once you see the retina display on the new iPad it is hard to look at other screens comparatively. This may be one of those things that becomes necessary to bring to every computing device. Its sort of like HDTV, once you went HD you would never go back.

Apple is dictating the hi-resolution race and it is a great thing for the industry–as soon as the competition can catch up.

Tablet Software
If any area makes it more glaringly clear that other tablet vendors don’t understand the category it is software. My experience, and many others, line up with Tim Cook’s assessment of a lack of pure tablet apps on the Android platform. Several times a week I go browsing searching for tablet apps on my Android tablets and always walk away disappointed. There are a handful of great tablet apps on Android but when you compare that to app shopping / browsing on iPad it is night and day.

Interestingly, I don’t think Apple gets enough credit at large for basically rejuvenating the entire software industry. Think about how passionate not only developers but also consumers are about software. When all that existed was notebook and desktop PCs I don’t recall such excitement over software. This has always been the case with the Mac community but that is a column for another time.

If you think about it there is no reason glaring barrier to entry for great tablet software to be made for competing platforms. There may be economic, lack of desire, lack of understanding, etc, but nothing by way of technology inhibitors standing in the way.

Apple on the other hand, has what I now consider an insurmountable lead with iPad apps and it will be at least two years, if not longer for other ecosystems to even get close. Even if they did Apple won’t stand still and two years from now their software ecosystem will be even bigger and stronger.

The iPhoto demo alone on the iPad was one of the best software demonstrations I have seen in some time and perhaps the best example of the value of touch computing to date. And by the way its $4.99. If nothing else Apple proved that with software the possibilities are endless with this new category of computing. And hopefully now it is clear to the masses that the iPad is a personal computer and not just for consumption. (Teaser: more on that in my column tomorrow )

So how do others compete? Honestly, at this point in time I am not sure. Apple’s vertically oriented strategy gives them such an advantage that makes competing with them, especially in tablets, extremely difficult.

It appears that many Wall St. Analysts feel the same way. Many of the notes to clients I have seen so far make the bold claim that Apple is dramatically in front of competitors and are reiterating a strong buy for Apple.

I am not saying that competitors should give up. Apple is challenging them to innovate and fully grasp this new category of computing. This is one of the most exciting categories of computing that I have ever encountered.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • synthmeister

    “There has never been such a high resolution display on a mobile device…”

    My question is this: Can you even find this high resolution display on any device–mobile or otherwise–anywhere right now? Especially any device that costs anywhere near $499. My guess is that Apple probably bought out the year’s supply of this bleeding edge display, and almost no one anywhere will have comparable tech for at least 6 months. Especially not with a $499 price tag.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ccocrawford Colin Crawford

      Will be interesting to see where the display goes next – will glassless 3D take off on smartphones and tablets ? If so how will content creators copy with a 3D media environment. The evolution of the iPad will continue to be incremental rather than revolutionary for a while – although even these incremental step are significant. It will continue to get faster processors, more memory, better optics, the software will continue to evolve, we’ll see additional features such as wallet and NFC capabilities etc. What Apple has done with this version of the iPad is lock down one of the most important features – the screen resolution – now the competition has to spend the next year or two catching up on that – while Apple continues to lock down the whole ecosystem. There is little doubt in my mind that Apple will focus on the TV opportunities – not just from a retina display perspective but more importantly the apps eco-system. We’ll see developers come out with a whole range of exciting “TV Channel” apps – the iPad and iPhone will operate as complementary screens. There is likely to be a “unity” platform for apps across all iOS devices but also apps optimized for the Mac, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. There will always be hardware products out there that beat specific features of Apple devices but at the moment no competitor has such control over the whole eco-system – distribution, development, hardware and software. In the end the critical measurement is customer satisfaction and Apple scores exceptionally well in that regard. The purchasing power of Apple cannot be underestimated – even the most successful competitor won’t get close to the Apple device numbers so Apple has greater pricing flexibility. Despite the past claims that Apple would not release a 7″ device – it seems inevitable we’ll see an “iPad main” with the same core feature of the new iPad but for a few hundred dollars less. That will put the low end tablet market in a world of hurt – forcing the competitors to go lower and lower in price and product quality – a race to the bottom in a world of razor thin margins while Apple continues to focus on the quality of the user experience. It’s going to take some very sharp thinking for the Apple competitors to deliver a differentiated product. I don’t see it coming from the Android marketplace but Microsoft, despite it’s late start will be one to watch closely.

      • NOTE

        TL;DR

    • Ben Bajarin

      The only place they exist is in display monitors, most are vey expensive and targeted at print and imaging professionals. So that is why I said mobile and no of course not at that price point.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/QKP6H22WKS3LPA7RQKIYCHD5TU Harvey

    “I am not saying that competitors should give up. Apple is challenging them to innovate and fully grasp this new category of computing.”

    As Hamlet said: “Therein lies the rub”

    Makers of other tablets running Android, Blackberry OS, WebOS, and soon Windows8, haven’t been “innovating”, they’ve been “following”. And they only follow (or try to follow) Apple’s hardware specs. They don’t understand that there is more to the iPad than just the hardware… but consumers certainly do understand this.

    If Apple’s competitors stopped “skating to where the puck has been”, and started coming up with their own unique innovations, they would not be in the predicament that they are in now.

  • Radtech51

    Very good article and I agree with you 100%. We live in a very exciting time right now with Apple historically paving the way into the post pc era.

  • mhikl

    Hey, Ben. When did Apple begin working on its tablet? Was it when lessons were being learned on the Newton? If not that long ago it was at least a couple of years before the iPhone for, as legend has it, someone’s inspiration was that if Apple shrunk the tablet thing it was working on, it would have the perfect smart phone. The rest is history.

    Great point on Good Apps and Cr-Apps. Your observations on “rejuvenating the entire software industry” is awe inspiring. These Apple moves are so incrementally small or subtly tied together that the obvious just doesn’t jump out. Such clarity! It’s like the first time you see a party piñata after it is busted open. Put back together, it all makes sense.

    And you said, “competing with them, especially in tablets, (is) extremely difficult.” Yes it is but it is so compellingly funny to see. It’s like the Monty Python takeoff of Stephen Leacock’s famous horse riding story “Lord Ronald … flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” What looks like “all directions” to the competition becomes their mayhem while Apple’s road is a true line with the competition flying around in a flurry of miscues with more misses than hits.

  • jfutral

    Apple has also done a great job of bridging the idea of a start-up company that has nothing to lose and creates something that goes against what everyone else is doing, but still do it in a way that integrates with an entire product line that already exists. All the other companies are trying to develop products that don’t disrupt the framework they already know, no matter how fragmented it may already be (which also hinders).

    What’s interesting is how many companies out spend Apple in R&D. But no one seems to be able to “out spend” Apple on being passionate about simply creating great products.

    How can the competitors compete? I think first they need to be willing to let go of a lot of presuppositions and systems, even if they are the ones who put them in place. They have to be willing to say “There has got to be a better way” even if the way they are trying to subvert is their own.

    From what little I know about Windows 8, and particularly Metro, I think MS has done some of this. Only time will tell.

    Joe

  • Recision

    How do others compete…?
    Two steps:
    1.) Build comparable hardware. Not exactly the same, but close enough that people don’t feel like they are getting second best, or cheap and nasty. If that is done well, then there could even be a reasonably significant spec margin, just so long as it isn’t ‘feelable’. In fact for a while, Apples products lagged in the specs, but the customers didn’t feel like that was impacting on them materially. the things that mattered to them worked OK.

    But that is the simple/basic bit…

    2.) Build a “completely” different operating environment. There are a lot of people who hate the Mac OS and the iOS environment (for whatever reason). And there are a lot of older Mac faithfuls who are getting disenchanted with where Apple are going with this. The whole walled garden, our way or the highway.

    A lot of that has to do with Monetization. Lock people in and bleed them regularly. The Telco’s do it, Google, Facebook and now Apple do it. Make your products obsolete quickly so people have to “upgrade” to get things to work. I understand why everyone is leaping in and doing it – it can be phenomenally profitable.
    Interestingly Apple initially made it’s reputation by not going that route, but they are swinging around to the dark side now too.

    Can you compete without playing the same game? Difficult, but yes possible. And as the example of Unix/Linux/Android have proven, there are sufficient basic platforms out there for building on if you want to.
    Start with a good basic strategic vision of where you are going, then stick with it. It will take years for it to build mass and momentum, that’s just a given. If you want to get rich quick then Tech is the wrong game.
    The fiscal drag could well kill most players, but even already the world is crying out for a completely new operating environment.

    Will that come from a focused singular competitor, or by letting a thousand flowers bloom? A synthesis of both I think. A little like Android, there needs to be some serious firepower for the core system, but then customized at the user interface level.

    And I think customizing is the key to it. The company that can offer the best customizable user interface, that still is compatible with the wider universe, will succeed.

    (then you just need to argue about what the definition of “succeed” is.)