Yesterday, RIM joined Samsung in a new front against Apple. Both companies have long struggled to overcome the Cupertino juggernaut in the mobile phone sector as the BlackBerry continues to lose market share and Samsung’s Android efforts remain underway. At the other end of the mobile spectrum, Apple’s iPad ushered in the area of truly useful tablet computing and has stood virtually alone in that market. However, RIM and Samsung are striking back in a big way. Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab two weeks ago as a tablet companion to their Galaxy S phone. Yesterday, RIM announced the “PlayBook”, a tablet mobile device meant for the business-oriented consumer (long RIM’s bread-and-butter clients). These two products are interesting to say the least but can they cut into the iPad’s market share or will Apple again define the sector like they have with PMPs and phones?
It is inaccurate to say the the iPad was the first tablet computer, as well as to say that it has been unchallenged since its release in April of 2010. Indeed, other tablet PCs exist from other companies, they’re just not very note-worthy. An upstart from Singapore called Fusion Garage released the “JooJoo” in March, but the device was decidedly less polished compared to Apple’s product, with a pretty shoddy skin over Linux and poor hardware implementation. On the other side, Archos has made several Internet-based tablets over the past few years, but they have never caught on. That said, their newest line of tablets may have what it takes as they move away from trying to shoehorn Windows 7 in the devices and instead are running versions of Android 2.2. Windows-based tablets exist in numerous styles as well. HP was going to release the “Slate” as a Windows 7-based tablet, but it has been brought back to the drawing board (possibly for a WebOS make over). So yes, the iPad has had competition, you just didn’t know about it. Of course, an Apple product will gain more fanfare than any of these, and it seems that only Apple has been able to make an extremely polished device through their straight-jacket-tight control of iOS. So what makes the efforts of RIM and Samsung more important? They’re getting the word out. I KNOW about these machines and I didn’t have to go peeling through pages of google searches to get some concrete information on the devices.
So let’s measure them up. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is really a big brother to the Galaxy S. They both use the same “Hummingbird” processor (which is virtually identical to the A4 used by Apple) at 1Ghz, have the same 512MB of RAM, and run the same OS: Android 2.2 (though the Tab’s version is probably specialized for the higher resolution). So the differences? The Tab uses a 7″ LCD screen at 1024×600 instead of the Galaxy S’s 4″ Super AMOLED at 800×480. The device will be sold directly through cellular carriers, probably at a subsidized rate, and as such comes with a variety of 3G technology. The device isn’t out yet, but many preliminary assessments have shown interest in the device. Though it clearly is not carrying the fanfare of the iPad, I expect the device to be a nicely crafted alternative. However, the Galaxy Tab represents a lot more than just a competitor to the iPad. It will stand to prove if Android can work as a tablet OS. Google has already remarked that Android was not meant for a tablet interface, and developers who are using the mobile OS for such purposes must work at their own risk. iOS for the iPad has been heavily modified for the larger resolution of the tablet form factor, so I’d say it will be very hard to match the same level of integration as the iPad on the Galaxy Tab. Most Android tablets are going to need extensive UI skinning for expanded functionality and probably their own app store, which will probably not be as widespread or rich as the iPad’s. The Tab will be a testing ground to see if these factors can be over come.
RIM’s PlayBook is similar to the Galaxy Tab in its 7″ form factor and similar resolution. However, RIM is not selling this as a giant BlackBerry like Samsung, this device runs a completely different OS developed by QNX, a company that built “Unix-like” operating systems for embedded systems. I’ve never heard of QNX before this announcement, and apparently it was nothing to write home about. RIM has probably done a number on the OS to update it for their purposes. The PlayBook’s biggest feature is the hardware. RIM has stuffed this device to the gills with a 1Ghz, dual core ARM Cortex-A9 (finally seeing a commercial application of that new core), 1GB of RAM and a good amount of flash memory for storage. It also comes with two cameras, both capable of capturing 1080p video. No one has had hands-on time with the device, but it is certainly interesting.
These two devices are starting the fight against the iPad. Will they win? I can’t say, but they are at least standing in opposition to the Apple device. Maybe now Apple will be more motivated to improve the iPad for the next generation, because they will certainly have to.