Competition heating up in global tablet computer market
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver 24 July 2012 Issue #1187 High Tech
Other than Apple with its iPad, no one has managed to sell very many
touch-screen tablets. Models from HP and RIM flew off retailers’
shelves – but only when prices were cut to fire sale levels.
Amazon’s Kindle Touch had a flurry of sales around the 2011 Christmas
season, but sales dropped dramatically in 2012. And it’s never been
made available in Canada. Samsung’s recent five-inch Galaxy Note has
had respectable sales – but Samsung would like us to believe that it’s
a large phone, not a small tablet.
Nevertheless, a pair of product announcements in June gives hope that
there might be competition to the iPad. Eventually.
Microsoft showed off two tablet models running its touch-friendly
Windows 8 operating system. A consumer-focused Surface RT model is
promised at the same time as Windows 8’s October release, while a
Surface Pro will become available roughly three months later.
The RT model will run on ARM-style processors (like the iPad) for
maximum battery life; the Pro model will use an Intel processor like
most standard PCs. So, while both will be able to run software designed
for the new Windows 8 Metro interface, only the Pro model will be able
to run traditional Windows applications. Both models feature sleek
styling and a keyboard and track pad built into the cover. The keyboard
and Windows software-compatibility might make the Pro model attractive
to many corporate users.
But questions remain. Microsoft says pricing will be “competitive” but
hasn’t mentioned specifics. Microsoft isn’t primarily a hardware
manufacturer, and the Surface announcement seems as much aimed at PC
hardware makers as at Apple – and at manufacturers of ultrabooks as
much as of tablets. Acer vice-president Oliver Ahrens suggested that
Microsoft will not seriously market the Surface models and will instead
use them as a benchmark for hardware makers. However, several
traditional PC makers have shelved plans to release their own Windows
A week after Microsoft’s Surface announcement, Google – also not
primarily a hardware maker – announced its own up-and-coming tablet.
The Nexus 7 – built for Google by Asus - runs Google’s Android
operating system – the first device with the latest version of Android:
4.1 Jelly Bean. Google has previously released several Nexus-branded
mobile phones to show off new Android versions.
Unlike Microsoft’s tablets, the Nexus 7 will have a seven-inch screen,
with 1280x800 pixels giving it a higher resolution than the original
iPad or iPad 2 (though not the new iPad), and unlike Microsoft, Google
announced pricing: $209 for a version with eight gigabytes of storage
and $259 for a 16-gigabyte version. The Nexus 7 should also be showing
up on store shelves (and at the doorsteps of people who pre-ordered
them) around the time this column appears in print.
But there’s more.
Samsung has announced updates to its Galaxy Tab Android-powered
tablets, with an eight-gigabyte seven-inch model priced at $249.
And the rumour mill is full of reports that Apple has a 7.8-inch
smaller (and cheaper) iPad model in the works – despite Steve Jobs
suggesting that no one really wanted to use a seven-inch tablet. So it
promises to be an interesting season for tablet reviewers. I’m hoping
to have the Nexus 7 I ordered any day now. I’ll keep you informed.