The Wall Street Journal recently confirmed that Google (GOOG) has plans to bring a tablet computer to market with Verizon Wireless (a joint venture of Verizon (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD)). This news does not come as much of a surprise, as rumors have swirled about this for the past month. The company has apparently been exploring the possibility of creating its own tablet computing device, which it has envisioned as an e-reader that would operate like a computer. Word has it that Google had been experimenting with a few publishers to explore the delivery of books, magazines, and additional content on a tablet. Much of the specifics remain unknown at this time. One can only guess which particular features this device would include, or who would manufacture it. This offering would most likely challenge Apple’s (AAPL) iPad, which reflects increasing competition between Google and Apple in the mobile space.
The iPad is a tablet computer designed and marketed by Apple. It was released in early April of 2010. Apple sold 300,000 units in the United States, and users downloaded more than one million apps and more than 250,000 e-books on the first day of availability. By early May, sales of the iPad had already exceeded the one million mark. With capabilities that include Internet browsing, media consumption, gaming, and light content creation, the iPad bridges the gap between smartphones and laptops. It runs a modified version of the iPhone operating system, and is controlled by a multi-touch LCD, sensitive to the fingertips. The iPad has its own specific applications, and also runs those written for the iPhone and iPod touch, including e-book readers. Indeed, the iPad will compete against other readers, such as the Barnes & Noble (BKS) Nook and the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle. This new kind of device may also replace laptops for some customers. The iPad has enjoyed a generally positive critical reception thus far. It seems to offer the most appeal for technologically oriented users who are willing to spend a sufficient amount of time with it. Still, it may take a few years for this device to achieve its full market potential. Initially, the iPad should appeal the most to fans of Apple products. Over time, the company has to convince the average consumer that he or she wants (or needs) this device. If Apple can be successful on this front, the iPad may forever change the publishing, gaming, and mobile computing markets.
There will be a number of other new tablets slated for release in the coming quarters. Some of these tablets will likely be powered by Android (Google’s operating system). In addition, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) will produce a tablet computer running a full version of Windows 7. Assuming the company’s acquisition of smartphone maker Palm (PALM) is completed, HP may also produce a tablet that runs Palm’s webOS. Having a tablet computer that runs a smartphone operating system would allow Hewlett-Packard to offer a range of products in the tablet market.
One particular advantage competitors could have over the iPad is by allowing users to configure their interface to their own liking and permitting anyone to submit and publish programs without scrutiny. This would contrast sharply with Apple’s more tightly controlled approach to application development and approval. Nevertheless, as a first mover in the tablet device market, Apple obviously has the early lead. Moreover, given the company’s strong brand name and impressive track record at bringing similar products to market in recent years, at this point, circumstances would appear to favor Apple. Even so, it remains unclear how the tablet market will evolve, and which product or products will ultimately prove successful.