One of the prevailing themes at the Computex conference this week is the coming onslaught of Android-based tablets. The iPad is leading the tablet charge--selling more than two million units in less than two months since its initial launch, but some of the Android tablets could be formidable challengers to Apple's de facto tablet dominance.
Let's take a look at five things that may make Android-based tablets better business tools, and better mobile computing platforms for business professionals than the Apple iPad. These factors should be cause for Apple to be concerned about the Android invasion.
1. True Multitasking. The iPad and Android-based tablets are each built on a smartphone mobile OS foundation, but a tablet is not a smartphone. The larger form factor and unique functionality of the tablet demand a multitasking interface capable of running apps in the background.
Apple has unveiled that iPhone OS 4.0 will include multitasking, but it is still a limited multitasking approach built around specific scenarios and APIs. Google's Android OS provides true multitasking.
2. Less Restrictive App Market. Apple boasts nearly 200,000 apps, so there is certainly no shortage of utilities for the iPhone and iPad platforms. However, Apple has an arcane and strict approval process that many developers find frustrating.
What angers developers even more is when Apple changes the rules after the fact and removes previously-approved apps from the app store. Developers are not as likely to invest significant time and effort creating apps that Apple may or may not approve, and may subsequently ban even after they're approved.
3. Adobe Flash. Do I even need to say anymore? The battle between Apple and Adobe over the exclusion of the ubiquitous Flash technology from the iPhone and iPad platforms is as public as it is heated.
There are passionate views on both sides, and there are some valid points for why Apple wants to avoid Flash. Still, Flash is popular and forms the backbone of much of the content currently on the Web, so Flash compatibility stands out as a defining feature of non-iPad tablets.
4. Hardware Diversity. Variety is the spice of life. One person may think that a 9-inch tablet is perfect, while another may feel it's too bulky and opt for the smaller Dell Streak. The thickness and weight of the tablet may be the most important factors to one person, while the next person may be willing to trade some size and weight for more storage capacity, or more USB or SD memory card ports.
The iPad is the iPad. You can choose 3G, or not 3G, and what storage capacity you want, but there is really only one hardware platform to choose from. Android tablets will provide business professionals with a wide variety of form factors and features to meet their unique needs and preferences.
5. Carrier Diversity. Like the hardware platform, businesses and business professionals also need options when it comes to the carrier providing wireless connectivity for the device. The Apple iPad, like the Apple iPhone, is locked in to AT&T. Business professionals that do not wish to do business with AT&T, or are already engaged in a long-term wireless contract with a competing carrier may be reluctant to activate service with AT&T.
The recent changes eliminating unlimited data plans for the iPad--unveiled only two months after the iPad was launched, might also turn some users off. Android tablets may be offered from a variety of carriers, giving businesses some choice in determining the provider with the best coverage, or best pricing, to meet their needs.
The iPad has a significant headstart. Most of the Android tablets will not hit the street until later this year. If Apple maintains its current pace and continues to march toward selling 10 million iPads in 2010, there will be nearly 10 million tablet customers that will already be invested in Apple.
Many business professionals will hold out, though. Either they don't like Apple, or they don't like AT&T, or they simply feel the iPad doesn't meet their needs. Apple should be concerned about the Android invasion, and aggressively working to develop an iPad 2.0 that incorporates at least some of these features, and includes some innovations to raise the bar and continue to blaze new tablet trails.