As the competitions continue in the Summer Olympic Games in London, another competition takes place in the consumer electronics industry. I’m referring to the cut-throat competition between Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. All of these Masters of the Universe are determined to win the tablets race coughing out millions of greenbacks to make them attractive to the mainstream computer user.
The main competitors in the tablet’s repêchage are: Apple’s iPad, Google’s Nexus 7, Microsoft’s Surface and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. All of them are interested in your hard-earned money.
Google on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 unveiled the Nexus 7, which is smaller and less expensive than Apple iPad, and is meant to compete with both that device and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The Google-branded Nexus 7 tablet, which will cost $200, has a seven-inch screen, which puts it in direct competition with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a similar tablet that sells at the same price. In other words, Google is aiming at the low-end of the tablet market. The higher end is dominated by Apple’s iPad, priced at $500.
The Nexus tablet will include the next version of Android, called Jelly Bean. The software will have smoother animation and the ability to transcribe speech into text, according to Google.
On the other hand, in its most strategically significant push yet into the hardware business, Microsoft on Monday, June 18, 2012, unveiled a tablet computer called Surface that is intended to challenge Apple’s iPad. During the product presentation, the company showed off a tablet that is about the same weight and thickness as an iPad, with a 10.6-inch screen. The device has a built-in “kickstand” that allows it to be propped up for watching movies, and a thin detachable cover that will serve double duty as a keyboard.
The Surface tablet runs a variation of Windows 8, a version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system that is due out in the fall. Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said the product was part of a longstanding tradition at Microsoft to create hardware, like computer mice, that show off innovations in its software.
Microsoft’s decision to create its own tablet was an acknowledgment that the company needed to depart from its regular way of doing business to get a grip on a threat to its dominance in computing.
With the detachable keyboard for Surface, known as Touch Cover, Microsoft seemed to be positioning its tablet as a more business-friendly alternative to the iPad, one that is better suited to productivity tasks that need faster typing. The keyboard has touch-sensing keys that become inactive when the cover is closed.
The keyboard could make Surface more competitive with Apple’s thin MacBook Air and more traditional Windows laptops. It will come in a variety of bright colors, adding a whimsical touch to the dark, hard-edged appearance of Surface. The company would not say whether the keyboard will be sold with Surface or separately.
Jeff Bezos is not sleeping on its laurels. Amazon is working on a new version of the Kindle Fire, with a larger display, that could compete more directly with the iPad, according to a developer briefed on Amazon’s plans who did not want to be identified talking about unannounced products. Analysts also believe that Amazon is updating the Kindle Fire.
But Apple is hardly about to cede ground. The company is developing a new tablet with a 7.85-inch screen that is likely to sell for much less than the latest $499 iPad, with its 9.7-inch display, according to several people with knowledge of the project who declined to be named discussing confidential plans. The product is expected to be announced this year.
Apple’s plan for a tablet with a smaller screen is part of a textbook business strategy: to lure customers who want different sizes of tablets into the iPad product family, say analysts and technology industry executives. The strategy would most likely include devices with different prices and functions tailored to various uses, they say. The idea is to help Apple solidify its dominance in the tablet market even as the richest companies in the tech business are trying to figure out how to outflank Apple.
Who will win the gold? My gut feeling is that Apple will get the medal. Apple’s share of the tablet market is only somewhat less impressive: 60 to 70 percent of the market, depending on the company doing the estimating. As many people in the tech industry have pointed out, the “tablet market” is really a misnomer. For the time being, it is an iPad market. Good Day.