Pad Wars: Android Strikes Back

In January this year, Apple unveiled their latest 'revolutionary' device, the iPad, and so started a new ‘Pad’ arms race as many hardware manufacturers tried to come up with their own touch-screen tablet. Despite touch-screen and slate computers not being a new thing, the iPhone revolution caught the market by surprise, and at the time no one else could offer a user experience to challenge Apple. Various iPad clones have hit the market since, but none with the polish Apple provides.

Now Apple has a real competitor, both in the phone and pad market, with the development of Google’s Android Operating system. Android, first released in 2008, directly competes with Apple’s iOS. It is a Linux-based, open source operating system designed around touch-screen input and is already used by many companies for their smart-phones.

Now that Android is Pad-ready, companies such as Microsoft, HP, Dell, BlackBerry and Google (likely in partnership with HTC) have announced their upcoming tablets based on this platform. Samsung, however, has stolen the limelight with the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Right now, this feels to me to be the most likely contender yet to the iPad.

It terms of hardware, the Tab has plenty to offer. Firstly, it offers two webcams (in front and back) to the iPad’s none at all. It features a, 9” screen to the iPad’s 11”, (though a 10” Galaxy Tab is due in 2011) but a smaller screen may be an advantage as the device is lighter and can be held in one hand, yet the functionality is comparable. Both devices use similar CPU units based on the ARM Cortex A8, and in fact Apple's A4 is manufactured by Samsung. They also have similar storage options. Both offer 16 and 32gb of flash memory, and while Apple offer an expensive 64gb option, the Galaxy Tab instead offers the much more flexible microSD slot, allowing for a greater amount of total storage. Samsung also chose the new PDMI connector standard for their pad, less proprietary than Apple’s increasingly ubiquitous Dock connector.

The Android OS also offers fully integrated Gmail and Google map services, and the Android market is quickly catching up with Apple's AppStore. Just as Apple leveraged iPhone apps to launch the iPad with a full set of apps, the galaxy Tab can use the full range of apps already available for Android phones. Additionally, most of the popular apps from the iPhone have been ported to Android at this stage, meaning Galaxy Tab users won't be missing out much from the iPhone experience. Also, while Apple carefully restrict the apps they allow in their AppStore (often to protect their own products), Android is less restrictive, giving users the choice of what kind of apps they run.

Unlike the iPad, it is also rumoured that the Galaxy Tab may be subsidised by mobile operators in the UK, which could make them much more affordable to consumers. These factors, at least on paper, make the Samsung offering very interesting. Still the question remains: will it be as desirable as an iPad? We’ve spoken here before about Apple’s phenomenal skill in marketing, and this is where Samsung must be sure they are also competitive. If Samsung get their marketing campaign right, and there aren’t any technical glitches, I think Samsung has a real competitor for Apple, and one that could even topple the iPad from its throne.

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