Friday, February 11, 2011

Three Tablet Contenders Compared

There will be dozens of companies and hundreds of products involved in the Tablet competition ahead; just like there were when PCs were introduced in the 1980's. The difference now is that there are some powerful, big name, experienced companies involved. In the 80's they were mostly companies you'd never heard of making products they'd never made before.

Click here for an early look at three contenders - Apple iPad, Motorola Xoom and HP TouchPad. The Xoom is coming this summer; the Touchpad is due this month and a second version of the iPad should be out within two months.

Mobile Operating Systems Galore

First a little history - Some of us are old enough to remember what life was like before Microsoft Windows dominated the world of desktop computing starting in the late 1980s. For the previous ten years there were a dozen or more hardware designs and operating systems including Radio Shack (Trash 80), Commodore (Pet), Sinclair, Franklin, Timex, Altair, Atari, Heathkit, Ohio Scientific and of course the venerable Apple II. None of these survived or thrived for more than a few years. Even Apple faded into the background for a long dark night.

We are today in the middle of a similar struggle involving mobile operating systems. Early leaders included Palm and Blackberry. Now the question is: How many products can survive in the long run. In particular which operating system(s) will dominate. Once that is decided, phone and tablet makers as well as carriers will fight to differentiate their devices - all based on one of the dominate operating systems. The OS competition today involves Google Android, Google Chrome, Apple iOS, HP WebOS, MS Windows Phone 7, MS Windows Mobile, MS Windows 8 (possibly) and RIM Blackberry OS. And you thought it was a two way race.

How did this turn out in the PC world when (almost) everyone used Windows and also used basically the same hardware? It turned into a price war and there were many casualties. Hundreds of small and large companies went into and out of the PC business in the last twenty years. Technology was a minor consideration - shelf space and advertising budgets were what mattered most. PCs became commodities which meant the death of companies and the death of innovation.

There is every reason to believe this will happen in the mobile field as well. It's an issue of software developers, shelf space and mindshare. Companies can only develop apps for a limited number of operating systems; retailers have room for only a few products in their stores; and consumers and companies cannot spend countless hours choosing between dozens of platforms.

Watch this space (and every other space) for ongoing discussion of this exciting topic as the Mobile Internet unfolds before us.