Motorola Xoom as a test for life beyond the iPad

Is the iPad just a passing fad or does the tablet market have legs? That's the question Motorola's Xoom can answer.

Is the iPad a one-hit wonder or will the tablet market take off broadly in 2011? That's the question Motorola's Xoom tablet will likely answer.

Motorola's Xoom may determine how real the broader tablet market is.
Motorola's Xoom may determine how real the broader tablet market is. Motorola

And this broader market, of course, includes Hewlett-Packard's WebOS tablet and RIM's PlayBook, among others. But Motorola's Xoom stands as the biggest potential consumer rival to the iPad 2 because Motorola is a first-tier supplier that has already competed mightily against Apple in the smartphone market (think Droid) and, more importantly, packs in plenty of eagerly awaited goodies, including: Google's Android Honeycomb operating system for tablets, a powerful dual-core processor, a high-resolution (1,280x800) display, dual cameras, and lest we forget, the Verizon 3G (and soon-to-come 4G) network.

That said, tucked into a research note I received on Friday from Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, was this morsel: "The magnitude of tablet opportunity beyond Apple is unclear." And he also writes that "we believe that iPad volumes in the current quarter will dry up ahead of the iPad 2 launch."

So, will we see long lines at Verizon stores the day of launch, like the iPad? Or has the tablet novelty worn off enough that it's not a line-forming impulse-buy anymore? And/or is it principally a phenomenon linked to the cachet of Apple products?

Based on my own experience, I believe that the media tablet is more than a one-hit wonder. The sheer utility of my iPad has cut my laptop use almost in half, as I've written before. (And the iPad trumps my iPhone too, in a number of respects, like mapping.)

So, what kind of numbers do we need to see? Considering that the market is still nascent, that's a tough call. Kumar said that Apple shipped between 6 and 7 million iPads in the most recent quarter, "with the lower end (Wi-Fi) dominating the mix." With Apple as the high-water mark, we can't expect those kinds of numbers from Motorola initially.

Asia-based rumors claim Motorola is aiming to ship as many as 800,000 out of the gate and RIM a bit more. Those would be healthy numbers.

And Motorola appears to be doing all it can do to make interesting accessories, too--like this speaker dock and Bluetooth keyboard, among other add-ons.

Who knows, the tablet, in one form or another, could eventually make the laptop obsolete. That would result in huge, market-upending numbers. But I'll leave that highly-speculative analysis for next year.

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