In the beginning, Apple’s Steve Jobs introduced a touchscreen device of metal and glass. It was 3.5 inches. And it was good.
At first, people did not question the size of this 3.5-inch piece of magical technology. It was compact, elegant and, best of all, smart.
But, it was not long until the people clamored for something different. Bigger, bolder and equally smart. Competitors moved to fill the consumer demand and, before it knew quite what hit it, the 3.5-inch original found itself in a race it could not win.
That 3.5-inch device was, of course, the iPhone. Its Android adversaries created an army of competing devices, ranging from 3 inches to almost 5 and became the industry leaders by sales volume.
Later, Jobs introduced a larger device of the similar quality. It featured a 9.7-inch display and, all agreed, beautiful. The iPad not only created the market for tablet computers, it defined it.
Yet, unlike its older iPhone brother, the competitors could not simply change the size of the screen and take control of the market. The 9.7-inch iPad is the definitive standard for size in tablet computers. Like the iPhone before, it will take an army to dethrone.
There have been plenty of competitors to the iPad to hit the market. Some bigger, some smaller. None has been able to match Apple’s slate in design or consumer mind share.
The market begins to change
Until recently. There are signs that the type of army that took down the iPhone is beginning to coalesce in the tablet market.
One of the reasons that Apple still dominates the tablet market is because a majority of its competition comes from second tier manufacturers making inferior products. A part of the reason for the inferiority of competing tablets is because, until recently, the Android operating system simply was not ready for tablet prime time.
The same goes for the productivity-style tablets that were made with Windows 7 (and only saw adoption at places like construction sites). If Android tablets are an army, everything that has been thrown against the artillery that is the iPad has been infantry. Numerous but easily dismissed.
But challengers can learn from past mistakes during battles. Now, finally, they are coming together to present what feels like a unified front against the iPad. Google (Nexus 7), Amazon (Kindle Fire in two sizes), Microsoft (Surface) and even Samsung (which has its own army headlined by the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Tab series).
Each comes in at different sizes, from the 7 inches of the Nexus 7 and cheapest Kindle Fire to 8.9 inches of Amazon’s Fire HD to 10.1 inches of the Galaxy Note. All have features and prices designed to undercut Apple and its 9.7-inch dominance.
Is history about to repeat itself? It is hard to believe that it will not. Apple steadfastly has been holding to its pricing dynamic for the iPad, starting at $499. The real test to see if Apple will hold its top place in the tablet market will be seen this holiday season. That’s when consumers will rush to stores to gobble up gadgets and, for the first time since the launch of the iPad, are presented with a plethora of quality options from a variety of competitors.
The Cupertino company still has one ace in the hole. Apple can mitigate this scenario if it truly does come out with an iPad Mini, something that may or may not happen depending on the rumors you want to believe.