Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Competition heating up in global tablet computer market

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver 24 July 2012 Issue #1187 High Tech Office column

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 RT tablets.

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.