[By Duncan McLeod]
So, the iPad has finally gone on sale in SA, a year after the game-changing tablet computer was first unveiled by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. But consumers hankering for one would be well advised to exercise a little patience.
The iPad has sold more than 15m units since it was introduced in April 2010. For a first-generation product, it’s remarkably good. People who own iPads love them. That’s reflected in the fact that it dominates the nascent market for tablets, with over 90% market share.
The news, then, that the iPad is available through official channels in SA for the first time — and at surprisingly good prices, too — should, in theory, result in the devices flying off local computer retailers’ shelves.
But as tempting as it may be, consumers should resist the urge to splurge right away. Why? Because the tablet landscape is set to change dramatically in the next few months and buying an iPad now could quickly lead to buyers’ remorse.
Not only is Apple widely expected to announce a second-generation iPad — the iPad 2 — as early as this month, but the market for tablets is hotting up, thanks mainly to competition from Google, a company that’s fast replacing Microsoft as Apple’s nemesis.
Dozens of new tablet computers, most of them running Google’s Android operating system, were unveiled last month at CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. In tablets, computer manufacturers such as Lenovo and Dell are competing for the first time with traditional phone makers like Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones, and Motorola.
Indeed, most exciting among the new tablets on show at CES were RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook and Motorola’s Xoom, which runs the new Android 3.0.
Motorola’s mobile devices division, now spun off as a separate company called Motorola Mobility after splitting from the telecommunications network infrastructure business, has enjoyed a remarkable comeback.
The company, which had become largely irrelevant in the smartphone market in recent years, has risen phoenix-like in the past 12 months, largely on the back of an excellent range of Android-based smartphones.
Now Motorola, which hadn’t enjoyed a hit since the Razr flip-phone early last decade, appears to be emerging — along with Korea’s Samsung — as Apple’s most serious competitor in the tablet market.
Android, which is based on the open-source Linux operating system, has spawned a plethora of new tablets, ranging from the cheap (and sometimes nasty) to expensive (and very good) iPad rivals.
Whereas Apple virtually had the tablet market to itself in 2010, this year there will be a proliferation of tablet computers running Android, Windows 7 from Microsoft, and other operating systems. In all, about 50 new tablets were unveiled at the CES show.
So, even if consumers have their minds set on getting an iPad, it’s worth waiting for whatever Apple announces in the next few weeks. If, as expected, the company sticks to the same annual product update schedule as the iPhone, the iPad 2 should be here in April.
The new Apple tablet is expected to be lighter and thinner than its fairly hefty predecessor. It may also have a dual-core processor, a higher-quality display, a front-facing camera for video calling, and an SD card slot to make it easy to transfer photos from a digital camera.
Even then, it makes sense to weigh up the iPad against the fast-growing list of rival tablets. Devices such as the BlackBerry PlayBook, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab (overpriced in SA) and the Motorola Xoom all deserve serious consideration from first-time tablet buyers.