Why There Isn’t an iPad Alternative

Posted on 24 September 2010, Last updated on 14 October 2015 by

smartdevices Continued from Twitter for  @alsutton @beantin @mkearley2008 and others that were maybe a little surprised at my tweet this morning…

“My current stance on iPad alternatives – There are none. inch

I couldn’t answer the twitter responses in 140 chars so here’s a more detailed, and I hope, understandable explanation.

Consumer Internet device success continues to hinge on applications. It’s the reason that AppUp exists, that Nokia will invest 10m into developer incentives in the US, why Samsung is throwing money to Bada developers and why Chrome OS will have a web app store. It brings critical ‘value-add’ to a product for customers, incentivises (is that a word?)developers and provides revenue opportunities for operators. It really is a killer application and only one vendor has got it right in this space so far.

While the hardware and design for most consumer internet devices [as I write, this mostly means tablets] is the same and one could argue that there are, from a visual and usage-case perspective, many choices, only one device has the application ecosystem that gives it the ‘value-add’.’ There isn’t another stack of silicon, hardware, operating system and services that provides this and there won’t be until well into 2011.

Android is a fantastic alternative *opportunity* of course but having done more testing than most on large-format Android devices, (I cast a glance over to the Toshiba AC100) I can see that current applications are still focused on the small screen. There aren’t any compulsive large screen games, video creation, music creation or even productivity apps feeding through that consider the larger form factor, longer battery life and often, more powerful CPU and GPU of a consumer internet device. Why should there be? Android V2.x doesn’t provide the hooks for large-screen app development and Google limits the use of their Market to phones (and large phones.) I also think that AppUp is a good opportunity. There are now 1000 apps in the store that are written with a larger screen and CPU in mind. Most are monetised and there’s potential for much more to happen on MeeGo (not forgetting Ovi) during 2011 but right now, can anyone name me a ‘complete product’, from silicon, through design, operating system and applications ecosystem, that offers the same as the iPad?

We used to jokingly call the iPad a large iPhone but the application store has given it differentiation. In the Android world, that differentiation option hasn’t even been enabled yet. Android tablets with the application store really are large phones and until Android is enhanced and Google widens the doors to the market (and possibly creates a large-format application suite) the solution has a limited future and doesn’t offer an alternative to the iPad.

There’s one other point I want to make. If you’re looking for an alternative to the iPad, there isn’t one. If you’re looking for a different product that looks the same then there are some choices out there. Unfortunately, in this consumer internet device/tablet market, I don’t see many people defining their requirements before choosing a solution. I see the product desire growing through application desire (and style, of course) and not connectors and micro-sd card slots.

That’s just my opinion so feel free to ramble and rant below! We might give vendors something to think about in their next product planning meeting!

Update: I always encourage thought about personal requirements. This ‘chooser’ tool i’m working on (currently in Alpha) shows 4 leading tablet devices and allows you to set your requirements and see a ‘winner’ based on public ratings. It’s not a foolproof way to choose a device but it’s a good way to start thinking about requirements. Ipad, Galaxy Tab, Viewpad 7 and Dell Streak Chooser Tool.

25 Comments For This Post

  1. pispot says:

    Very good analysis!
    It’s the software that matters and Android at it’s present and near future state is about phones and small screens.

    I’m certainly no Apple lover, but the iPad shows how to deal with a big tablet screen. For example look at the way most iPad apps act differently depending on the actual screen orientation.

    Android needs to be updated to fit on tablets (3.0?). The googlemarket needs to be seperated into phone and tablet. And, most important, there gotta be new tablet adjusted apps out there.
    This will last minimum a year, if not much longer…

    In the mean time Apple sells millions of iPads, giving them such a big head start. They may form an monopole on the way we consum future media like MS formed a monoculture on the pc at the times of win 95 (the time when people camped overnight ahead of microsoft stores…)

  2. Friedrich says:

    Hi, I could not agree more. The iPad was my first Apple product and I must say it still conjures a smile on my face when I mirror myself in it while firing it up.
    I have got a Nexus One using android from the first available phone the G1. And probably I would use the android platform if there was something remotely similar to the iPad. I do not hate Aplle, not Micrsoft, not even myself, but I had my reservation having to install iTunes. I have come to terms with it.
    By the way, a week after I was into my iPad I bought an iMac and I think that I lost years of my life to fiddling with Windows had I chosen the iMac a couple of years before.

    Looking forward to more information on the AC100.


  3. jb82 says:

    It is true the ipad does what it is meant to do better than anyone else right now. Apple has a head start and the rest are now hot on their heels and will produce better packages eg android with phone cababilities and small form factor, windows with full os.

    I am looking forward to a great win 7 slate but these are in a different and better league due to the full os. In my opinon better than the ipad on all levels except for size/weight and battery life. People make out the touch experience is poor but with UI layers and windows tweaks (eg making the max/min and close buttons larger) you are not going to get a noticeable difference from the ipad touch experience. It is a shame about the negative media coverage – hopefully that will change with devices like the exopc.

    Android look to be the only equivalent, mainstream competitor. They just need a good device at a price point undercutting apple. Also google needs to relax their rules. No cheap resitive screens etc. The samsung tab looks good but is looking to be way too expensive. A lot of people prefer android to ios.

  4. Karl says:

    With a headline like this, somebody is looking for Friday traffic to his website.

    This is a very thorough “technical” analysis of a business question. That’s my polite way of saying that your post is irrelevant, and you are starting to appear “in over your head” as technology has evolved out of the enthusiast market and into the public one.

    You can’t possibly analyze a piece of low-level, consumer-grade technology like the iPad using your tired old approaches. “Tech” these days is not about technology, it’s about business, which is why most coverage is about products for purchase rather than underlying technology or its applications. “Analyses” like this don’t work any more, and either you don’t even know that this is a business question and not a technology question, or you do know and simply can’t answer it because you don’t have the relevant knowledge and experience. Either way, you should recuse yourself from these discussions. What’s particularly sad about this is that, unlike most sites, you still do manage to cover technology and do it well. I’m not trying to take away from that at all, and you deserve credit. I’m just saying that the business forces at work, that you don’t understand, overwhelm any of the factors that you’re wildly gesticulating at in your ideas.

    The iPad does not share a market with Android slates, unless by “market” you’re taking an irresponsibly vague definition like “humans”. A lot of people understand this. A lot. They just happen to be business analysts and not “tech” journalists. We see things as they are in the market, and not as they are as devices. The iPad is in competition with the iPhone and iPod. Those are the “substitute goods”. These are purchases built around branding and market forces and not the level of technology that you’re identifying. You’re basically asking the question “why is isn’t there a Toyota Prius alternative”. Generally speaking, it has nothing to do with a hybrid car and everything to do with being a Toyota Prius when people buy them. It’s an umbrella brand that implies certain relevant technologies, but neither the implication nor what is implied is really what matters. It’s the Prius brand that they want. There are “alternatives”. You can buy anything that you want, but what you’ve intuitively identified is that the iPad can’t compete with an Android slate. What you’ve failed to recognize is that the lack of competition isn’t due to the fact that an Android slate isn’t “competitive” (in the sense that you would understand that term) but rather a direct consequence of these items not being “competitors” (in an economic sense).

  5. chippy says:

    So we’re on the same track here.

    I’m explaining why the iPad is in a seperate class and market. It’s because it is a compelte product from silicon up to marketing and support. It’s that ‘full-product’ experience that has put Apple into its own standalone category.

    There are no iPad alternatives not because the others aren’t iPads but because no-one has built a complete product yet. The bit that badly needs to be fixed is the application ecosystem layer. Without this ‘technical’ aspect, no-one will be able to wrap their magic around the device to make a complete product. Fix this technical aspect and we can move forward into the rest of the business equation. Without it, there’s no business case.

  6. Tmarks11 says:

    Chippy’s blogs are my preferred source for tech news of this sort. Keep up the good work, I agree with you 100% with your post above.

    I wanted to hate the iPad, but it was everything that my umpc was not and should have been. Lightweight, super long battery life, OS which was tightly integrated with the user experience.

    If only some decent MS office compatible apps were available, it would meet all my needs. Also would be nice if they shrink it to 7″.

  7. medah4rick says:

    Ur post is irrelevant hahah

  8. AlesE says:

    Well I have used both iPad and Samsung TAB, not extensively but long enough to form some sort of an opinion.
    I guess iPad is more “mature” product compared to TAB, especially due to Android being more phone OS than tablet.
    But you also have Apple’s limitations that are imposed on the iPad and the fact that some things on Froyo, especially web browsing with Flash support are just great. Also just like iPad didn’t have much applications in april when it launched, same is true for Android on bigger screens, but it will improve, and the applications that you already have, for the most part run just fine, stuff like readers, media players, google maps are awesome on large hires screen.
    So I guess it comes down to personal preference on platform, size, company, possible hack ability… and to me personally I think I’ll go for the more open platform, unless Samsung screws things up with exaggerated price.

  9. jb82 says:

    Samsung will mess up the price – simply because it has phone capabilites and you have to pay for it – either through a contact or a premium to have it carrier free. Without the phone part it probably would be reasonable.

  10. Michelle says:

    You’ve shown why Android isn’t ready to be considered an iPad alternative, based on the lack of apps, but there are Windows tablets out there in the world with access to more “apps” than the iPad could ever hope for.

    Take the Archos 9 for example. The fact that it’s running Windows gives it access to any program that runs on Windows or in a browser with whatever add ons you like (flash, silverlight, java, whatever). Netflix app? There’s the full blown website. Productivity? How about Microsoft Office, or Open office for free. Games? How about every flash game site on the web, in addition to games that install directly to the machine. The thing that killed these was the performance of the Atom chips and the lack of maturity in the GMA500 drivers that prevented video from playing back to its full potential. There’s also the complaint people have about Windows not being designed for touch. Windows 7 has gotten much better, but sure, sometimes it requires clicking little x’s in corners. The fact that these things were built with resistive touch screens doesn’t help much either.

    On the other hand, Windows 7 tablet features are great. Is there an app for the iPad that will search your handwritten text like Windows Journal? Is there anything anywhere that is comparable to OneNote? I have both an iPad and an old HP TC1100. Guess which one gets more use? As much as I wish for longer battery life of the iPad, the TC1100 goes to work with me, and on trips, and to the couch. The iPad is mostly a toy and a novelty. I’ve tried them both in several scenarios and TC1100 generally wins. Need to print? Windows tablet. Need to record with a USB mic? Windows tablet.

    It’s really too bad Archos went with the ridiculously slow Atom z510. I think that form factor could be really useful, but not if it’s so sluggish it gives you road rage to try to use it. Perhaps if the HP slate thing happens, it will compete.

  11. chippy says:

    I’ve been thinking about that Windows argument. Yes, there are lots of apps out there but an app-store brings more than just apps.

    I repeat a comment I made here about AppUp

    “Finding an downloading an app (as we have done for years) is not the same as using an app store that categorises, monetises, provides a feedback/rating channel, simplifies install process, provides search and discovery facilities, simplifies migration of PCs, gives 24hr try-and-buy, helps devs with incentives/marketing and allows the community to curate and affiliate.”

    About the Archos 9 though, yes it could have been something. 1.3Ghz+2GB+fast SSD would have made a different beast.


  12. Michelle says:

    Agreed that the app store concept is a nice thing, but this is where Window’s market share inertia comes in handy. If my tablet runs windows, I don’t need to go about discovering apps, I just put everything I’m already using on it. Rather than having to hunt through an app store for something that syncs with Quicken online, I just install Quicken.

    On the other hand, Ubuntu’s “app store” style front end to apt is coming along nicely, and I think they’re going for the option of allowing pay programs in 10.10. An x86 based tablet with Netbook remix could be close to competing with iPad type app integration. Although, nowhere other than Apple will give you the same integrated hardware/software experience. As nice as Ubuntu can be, you still have to hope the drivers either exist, or that the hardware vendor can provide them.

    The other problem with Linux is that people don’t understand it’s not Windows. I loaned out a netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Remix on it and despite instructions on how to use the “add new programs” program, the user went to Skype’s website, downloaded the exe, and then complained when it didn’t work. At least with Android and iOS, people know to look for the market or app store first to get new programs.

  13. chippy says:

    Yes its a big advantage when you fon’t actually have to install a 3rd party app, but the original!
    This works well in the productive world of mobile desktopping but there’s a new world of apps out there that only work on mobile devices. Location and social networking are leading on mobile, not on desktop.

    Will keep an eye on that Ubuntu app store. Thx for the tip.

  14. Virtuous says:

    I love my tc1100 and HTC HD2. The combination of the 2 made the iPad unnecessary. Before I bought the tc1100 I looked ahead to see if anything superior was coming soon. I correctly concluded the HP Slate or something similar would never see the light of day.

  15. Bob Duffy says:

    Good post. I think we are a victim of highly consumable media and fast moving technology that we assume this stuff should just come together quickly.

    I admit that I was skeptical when the iPad came out. I was one saying, “what, it’s just a large iTouch”. I now have come to realize the value of a well designed and integrated multi-touch gesture based computing device.

    Apple once again demonstrated their leadership in knowing the consumer and innovating a product across the entire stack. Same happened with the touch smartphone. They innovated that category and it took 18 months before we started to see anything comparable.

    Aligning hardware, OS, a store, and apps that work for the device usage model takes time, especially if the players are not working in lock step. I have no doubt we will see amazing tablet and touch devices. I’m excited to see MeeGo 1.1 compliant devices and apps on the market as there’s more innovation to come. As awesome as the iPad is, it’s likely just scratching the surface.

  16. jjsjjsva says:

    I would think for as many i-Pads that Apple has sold that I would see by now at least one person carying one about or using one in a Wifi cafe or restaurant, but to date, I haven’t seen one person. It’s not well designed to be used on a table with out having a built in stand. You have to use two hands to hold and operate reasonable well.

    I’m not a big Apple fan,but the new 7 inch i-Pad may be the device I end up buying if it has a USB, HDMI, and micro-SD ports. It must offer more connectivity than the 10 inch i-Pad. A replaceable battery would seal the deal.

  17. chippy says:

    Check out the Viewsonic Viewpad. It might fit your requirements.
    Coming soon for review here (expected mid Oct.)

  18. C Pham says:

    Hi, Steve.

    I’ve been your closest follower ever since the first Eee PC came out, and this is the first time you’ve intrigued my mind enough to actually participate in a discussion. Thanks for the thorough analysis.

    Some have raised the point of Windows being a more mature platform with more applications and more customizations possible. I don’t disagree with that, but I don’t think you can ever make Windows match iOS in experience. Having owned the Eee PC, the HP Mini 311, Sony Vaio UX, and many other similar devices, I’ve come to the conclusion that Windows is best used with a mouse and a keyboard. And that’s the biggest issue. You can change the interface to fit a touch ecosystem, you can tweak the system to be very responsive, but in the end, applications that you need to use to be productive, namely… Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and AutoCAD, or Maya, are all designed with a mouse and a keyboard in mind. You can’d do much to customize those applications short of what their designers intended them to be, so in the end, touch becomes more of a gimmick than a productive decision in such applications. This is why, I think, Windows UMPCs have failed to secure a place in the general consumers’ productive life, if not for pricing issues.

    On the other hand, we have Android, which is a potential and open platform. I have a Motorola Droid that I use to develop applications, and I must say, it has some very interesting hardwares. But the problem with Android, I think, is the fact that it’s an open platform. Perhaps a bit too open, and so developers have less chances of monetizing it. They can publish in the Android Marketstore, but in the end, how many phones or Android devices will be able to access the Marketstore and load the app? If they publish those applications on their own personal website, then the chances of users being able to find those applications are even slimmer. On the App Store, the draw is that… everyone using an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, will be able to see the application that you spent months polishing, and everyone will be able to (read: have to) download or purchase the app to their device through the App Store. So the difference between two distribution methods means developers on iOS get more attention than on Android. And that’s why in merely months, the iPad has gotten applications to do most of what it was missing back in April, and this trend will only keep up until there is a competition.

    So in my opinions, Apple has created an ecosystem through which users can obtain applications in the easiest way possible, developers will get the most attention they deserve, and Apple themselves can control the distribution as well as the direction of all of their devices in one place. This along with the very polished OS makes their iPad a platform to be and to beat.

    I think there is potential for other platforms, though, if they act fast and they know exactly what they are up against. Throwing high-end hardwares together and pushing another clone of the iPad just won’t help. You are right, they need to do something about the software distribution, and right now, I don’t think they have the right idea, but they’re getting close. Hopefully some big name company will read your analysis and come up with something soon. The iPad has monopolized the market long enough.

  19. chippy says:

    C Pham. Great to have a long-term ‘lurker’ posting a comment. Thx.

    I’m wondering if the problems of freely available apk’s will be similar on MeeGo. This ‘sideloading’ capability will dissuade anyone from investing too much into app development.

    At this stage, the iPad deserves all the limelight it gets. i too hope that a competitor comes along but there aren’t many options out there.

    Android 3.0

    I don’t see any of these being a serious threat until late 2011.


  20. C Pham says:

    I don’t think “sideloading” would affect app development decision too much, as those who “sideload” apps without paying for them properly would not be likely to purchase the app in the first place, so nothing is lost truly.

    I think Windows Compact Embedded can be considered a competitor as well, but you are right. There’s no sight of any competition coming soon. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is coming this holiday season, which I think will slow the momentum of the iPad down a little bit if not for that price tag…

  21. Mobileer says:

    As I see it Apple ended up doing something that worked out very well for them, was this by mistake or an extremely well planned strategy I have no idea. Somehow I doubt it was the latter.

    They released a product (the first gen iPhone) that by many critics (and many self proclaimed fanboys) was criticized for not having things that most of it competition had had for a longer time, to name a few: copy & paste, multitasking, 3G etc. Most of these (3G couldn’t be obviously) were “resolved” by the jailbreaking community long before Apple did, but this I dare to argue only helped Apple.

    Instead of spending endless of resources (not to claim Apple didn’t spend resources on these devices) they ended up releasing a somewhat immature product to market to see where the consumer market would take it. Then it was a simple task to “resolve” things already “resolved” so to speak rather than trying to figure out what the public really wants.

    One thing that is very easy to forget is that there was no APP store of any sort when the iPhone was launched not on the device not on iTunes! It was over a year after the introduction of the iPhone it came to the iTunes then right after to the 2nd gen iPhone.

    While I do like the Apple products I do not see myself as a fanboy, I welcome competition as it is helpful, the current abundance of tablets I however don’t see as competitors as much as copycats (wannabees) I would like to see more innovation and *own* design/solutions among the competition, and less of this “well Apple already figured it out let’s just copy that” mentality. The recent move towards 7″ devices is one small step in that direction, daring to try something Apple hasn’t (yet!) I frankly hope they will just because I really want to see an abundance of 7″ devices soon.

    As for Michelle’s comments above about Windows tablets, while they surely have a place and users who can’t settle for anything but a Winodws (or other x86) OS, the UI is somewhat cumbersome on tablets as we all know, unless you want to go stylus, then we are back to the PDA & decade old tablet PC product types. Having said that I myself would very much love a x86 capable 7″ device with the sleekness of todays pads (that is more in the 10-14mmm thickness rather than the 20+mm thickness range).

    On this subject I feel there is two things that might happen next that is ARM will add support for virtualization http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2368179,00.asp and Intel will push for lower powered solutions. However even if Intel brings out a architecture “tomorrow” that meets or even beats the ARM in power consumption, you still have the Windows UI to deal with.

    Ok yes there is MeeGo too, but will yet *another* OS be the solution? Isn’t part of the power of an OS the large numbers of users? How will a toddler among OS’ be able to “grow big overnight” (for anyone wanting to be in the tablet race at this point it will have to be “overnight”!) without the huge brand name or/and humongous ecosystems that both Apple & Google enjoy due to their products (product can be SW too :)) being “all over”. Anyone who uses the internet is somehow relying on Google in some fashion unless they knowingly and actively are avoiding it. Apple has had a huge success with their iPod products even among otherwise non-Apple-buying consumers. Nokia does have the same but is loosing it extremely rapidly, and unless they do something about it say *yesterday* I personally do not see how they could be in the limelight again, without inventing something totally new on their own!

    Enough said surely! :)

  22. Mobileer says:

    Another thing I think MS could actually pull off is if they made the current edition of WinCE more Win7 looking and make a modern usable Office edition for it, they could actually have a decent chance at selling some “Windows Tablets” (ARM based that is). Though this wouldn’t be for me, but I think it could sell quite ok.

  23. Steve says:

    Partly true, but mainly because there just isn’t product available with android on it currently.

    I think the bigger picture you are missing is the profit. Anyone other than Apple selling a iXXXXXXX at the moment makes nothing out of it, all the profit goes Apple’s way. This is the big driver for both android phones and tablets, the stores/phone companies can take control again and negotiate hardware costs with multiple providers. Google sees this, and the marketplace share in profits idea is just driving things further that way.

    Thats not to say windows won’t take a huge market share though, people are already comfortable with that interface, and they want the tablet form.

    Its just too early to be calling this one.

  24. Grafight says:

    I’m tired of websites who list as “alternatives” or “better than the iPad” devices which don’t even exist yet. If you can’t buy it right now, have an option of thousands of apps to run on it right now, then it’s NOT better, or even an alternative.

  25. Gimboid says:

    Bought my wife an iPad around six months ago. It’s OK but… she’s sick and tired of going to websites that have embedded Flash only to find that she isn’t able to access some of the content.

    Time to dump the iPad for something that actually works on all sites (duh… what’s up with Apple & their weird anti-Adobe stance anyway?)

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