These days, it’s virtually impossible to go through any generalist tech site without stumbling on an “Apple did it again/the new iPad is revolutionary/Android is doomed” op-ed. One of the most ludicrous “analyses” I read predicts an iPod scenario – Apple will master the tablet market for years, just like it does (or it did?) with the iPod, which dominated the now-fading MP3 player market.
Let me say this loud and clear – no way!
With the risk of sounding like a fanboy (whom am I kidding anyway?), I think that Apple is on the verge of losing control over the tablet market. For more than two years, the tablet market has been the iPad market, but now, I really think that things will change. On what argument do I base my affirmations? It’s the rise of the low-cost tablet.
The iPad is Off-Sync with What Most People Want
By now, it’s clear to anyone that people want tablets, but they want affordable tablets even more. Why did Android take off on smartphones? Because there were so many people looking for affordable devices.
There’s no question – the iPad took over the high-end of the tablet market, and is likely to hold it for years to come. But there’s a huge customer base that the iPad won’t ever reach (at least not in its current form): people who crave a tablet, but aren’t willing to spend $400+ on a slate, no matter how “resolutionary” it is.
Even with a price cut, the iPad 2 is still more than double the price of the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet 8GB, while the most expensive iPad 3 goes up to $829. On the other end of the tablet spectrum, both the Fire and the Nook have been killing it with their $199 “good enough” recipe, while the $249 quad-core ASUS MeMo 370T has generated a huge wave of excitement. Google itself may be digging hard beneath the walls of the iPad castle. The search/mobile/everything giant is rumored to be in talks with ASUS for releasing a quad-core beast based on the MeMo 370T, that will come at an unbelievable price of $199.
Between the Kindle Fire (due for a revamp later this year), the upcoming 10-inch Kindle tablet, the $249 MeMo, and the $200 Nexus tablet, I believe that the Android war band can muster enough firepower to overcome Apple this year. Up until now, the network effect has worked in the iPad’s favor. But with enough people buying cheaper Android-based slates, the iPad may lose the advantage of the dominant position. And then, the network effect will start working in the opposite direction. And then, the iPod scenario becomes the iPhone scenario.
What about the Rumored iPad Mini?
Rumors indicate that the 7.85-inch iPad Mini (or iPod XL, as some call it) will be launched in fall, possibly at Apple’s traditional September event. If the reports are accurate, the smaller iPad will face a 4 months delay over the Google Nexus tablet, which is due in May. By the time the iPad Mini arrives, Google will probably have moved millions of units of its $200 quad-core device, putting Apple in a position that it’s really not used to – catching-up.
Admittedly, Apple is a road-opener, more than any other modern tech company. They revolutionized the smartphone and created the tablet market from thin air. They are not used to playing catch-up. Releasing an iPad Mini will put Apple in the position of following the trend, instead of setting it. So I doubt that Apple can create a successful affordable tablet, even by sacrificing their precious image.
This is why I think the iPad Mini will be too little, too late. With Google putting its massive weight behind Android on tablets, and a slew of manufacturers competing fiercely in the low-cost market, I suspect that Apple’s downsized pad will be a far cry from the iPad’s success.
The Writing is on the Wall
In spite of all the Apple hype (really, six-months-old studies presented as current?), the writing is on the wall for the iPad. Android (in its various incarnations) holds almost 40% of the market, and the wave of cheap tablets coming this year will only increase that share.
No, the iPad will not suddenly fall from grace with consumers, nor lose its status as the top selling tablet (or media darling). But sometimes this year, Android will overcome the iPad in terms of units sold. After that, it’s the iPhone scenario all the way.