Apple's $35bn masterstroke

Apple's bn masterstrokeThis morning I read that the tablet market will be worth a staggering $35bn by the end of next year, and it seemed fitting somehow that the extent of the slate invasion be illustrated so vividly the day before the iPad 2's grand unveiling in San Francisco.

After all, the iPad started the whole tablet shindig off in the first place – or at least got the band to strike up a tune people didn't mind hearing. A year down the line, though, iPad number two doesn't look anything like the gift from the heavens the original was made out to be. And I must admit, I'm happy about that. Because I don't like tablets.

It's nothing irrational or obsessive, I just don't feel anyone would really care about tablets if it wasn't for the iPad. And to me the iPad is just a big iPhone. Again, not a cutting criticism by any means, but also not the basis for a $35bn industry in my view.

There's surely no single product that says so much about one company's near-magical ability to influence both consumer and industry trends, and without even having much by way of substance to back it up with. Think about it – the iPhone introduced a new operating system in iPhone OS, a new touchscreen interface, and a new software concept in apps (albeit in the second generation).

Along comes the iPad, with all the same bits only a bigger screen, and suddenly tablets are the hottest tech in town.

You can't blame Apple, of course. It has simply played the game the way it always does, and the mighty tech empire at Steve Jobs' command is testament to just how expert the company has become at brand-building (it's not the iPad, don't you know, it's just iPad).

And let's face it – everyone else had plenty of time to get tablets off the ground before the iPad came along, and for the most part failed. Until Apple came along nobody had the foresight to understand that a tablet is essentially a large mobile device, not a small computer, and so should logically run a mobile OS. Well, with the exception of Nokia with Maemo, but that's a whole other story.

But even if Apple's rivals had understood the simplicity – and some, myself included, might say paper-thin substance – of the tablet concept, they still wouldn't have got it right. Because they're not Apple, and even the most nominal innovation thought up by Apple these days instantly becomes something everyone else must copy, and the buying public must have.

So it's no surprise to see a complete deluge of tablets spewing onto the mobile landscape from every conceivable angle. It's been just 12 months since the first iPad's launch and there must now surely be more companies making tablets than making either computers or mobile phones. It's got to be the most spectacular landgrab in consumer tech history, and there are way too many tablets in the pipelines than the fledgling market can handle.

Especially when the land being grabbed is so fragile. Apple built the magical tablet castle, after all, and all it has to do is wait until everyone else has their cards stacked out on the table and calmly pull out a joker – an all-new must-have device that takes mobile computing in a whole new direction. Then we'll all dutifully pack up our things and move on, only stopping long enough to look around and say “tablets, eh, what was that all about?”

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JanSt / MOD  Mar. 1, 2011 at 14:40 Not a tab fan, either, but I do see potential for the likes of Acer's Iconia, and love'em or hate'em: without Apple's gall I don't think we'd actually see something likte the Iconia released in Europe


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