Where are all the iPad competitors?

CES 2010 had us rolling in tablets. So far, the iPad pretty much stands alone. So, what happened to all those shiny slates, and by the time they get here, will it already be too late?

It looks like Apple's iPad will be the slate-market winner by default. Or rather, by forfeit. Remember back in January, when CES 2010 was all slate tablets, all the time ? Now, it's June, and for the most part, the iPad stands unopposed in the tablet space. What happened?

Several launches are planned for fall and winter 2010, but the iPad, on track to sell 16 million units, according to some, will be the iPod of tablets by then. If anything, iPad 2G will have been announced and everyone will be queuing up for the version with the camera on the front. Heck, I'm even considering rebuying the darned thing because I want the battery life and movie-viewing for traveling, and I'm sick of waiting for the Android-tablet hordes to get their collective act together.

Secret to success? Ship a product. CNET
It's not as if, skeptics like myself notwithstanding, there isn't a market for tablets. Now that I've had a taste of its instant-on, always-connected, and stupendous battery-life promise, I can tell you that a tablet of some sort is, indeed, something most people will want and can use. It's good for media consumption, pacifying children, air travel, winning bar bets, and taking to meetings.

And as more people start to realize they can actually find a use for a tablet, they'll go looking for one. And what will they find? iPad. At least for the next several months.

What's on tap? Well, extremely thin reports promise an Acer Android tablet by end of year, there's the Pandigital Novel for $199, same time frame. MSI is promising an Android tablet (the WindPad, coming "later this year"); Samsung's Galaxy Tape also delivers sketchy details and vague "end of the year" promises; and the Eee Pad and Eee Slate actually look kind of cool, despite my quite natural refusal to say either name aloud. Delivery date and pricing? You guessed it. Unknown. I bet it's the end of the year, though.

The iPad's biggest competition, at the moment, is probably the iPhone 4. E-readers have finally dropped down to the sub-$200 range that befits their single-purpose nature, so if you wanted a non-iPad tablet for reading, you're probably just as well off with a Kindle or a Nook. Your shipping tablet alternatives include:

The Dell Streak

Dell Streak
Well, it's shipping, at least. Dell
The Streak is basically the only Android tablet we saw at CES that actually shipped, despite a slew of promised devices, and it's more a competitor to, say, an HTC Evo, than the iPad. It's a 5-inch tablet-phone, and it's running Android 1.6, at least in the U.K. model. And its size makes it a weird hybrid of phone and tablet, neither small enough to be a comfortable phone nor large enough to be a delightful movie delivery gadget.

The JooJoo
Ah, I crack myself up. Sure, the JooJoo (formerly known as the CrunchPad) is down to $499, the same starting price as the iPad, but it's got software problems, hardware problems (I think CNET's been through two that flat-out didn't work), and some pretty serious sales and PR problems. iPad killer, it ain't.

Archos 9 PC Tablet
It's a tablet, yes, and it shipped post-CES. But the Archos 9 PC Tablet is slow, the touch-screen is unresponsive, and it costs more than an iPad. Plus, it's running Windows 7, which isn't going to win any touch-screen usability awards against the iPad. (Archos also offers the 5-inch Archos 5 Internet tablet with Android, but again, it's more of an oversize media player than actual tablet.)

Cisco Cius, coming soon
Not technically shipping, no, but Cisco on Tuesday announced the Cius, which looks a bit like an iPad, weighs about the same, and is intended to be used for corporate video conferencing (think: the screens that sit atop conference room chairs in the most prescient sci-fi film ever made, "Demolition Man"). That's Android-based, but again, won't ship until the first quarter of 2011 and isn't even intended to take on the iPad.

How about some of the tablets we heard about at CES and never saw again?

The HP tablet
It wasn't even that impressive at the time, but turned out to be the most promising of the bunch--it even got a $549 price tag, some specs, demo videos, the whole works.

Status: Delayed, in the wake of rumors that Windows 7 didn't work well as a touch-screen OS, and, of course, HP's Palm acquisition.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid. So pretty. So fictional. CNET/Sarah Tew
The Lenovo U1 Hybrid and Skylight SmartBook
This promising and sexy-looking laptop-slash-hybrid actually won our best of CES award in the Computers and Hardware category. We swooned over its Windows 7 shell and detachable screen, which then became a Linux-powered slate. We swooned...too soon.

Status: Delayed , while Lenovo investigates Android.

Dell/Stantum 10-inch tablet
Sure, it reeked of vaporware, but Dell was showing off its 5-inch tablet design and this 10-inch model, designed as a showcase piece to display Stantum's touch-screen prowess, seemed like a perfect complement.

Status: If it smells like vaporware, it's almost certainly vaporware.

Nvidia Tegra2 tablet running Android (various)
Nvidia's booth had a passel of them. One even booted up! It was actually running! It ran Android and had Wi-Fi and 3G, and a Tegra2 chip inside!

Status: See above re: vaporware stink.

HP TouchSmart tm2
The rest of the CES show said "slate," HP said "tablet," and the tm2 was just that...an old-school convertible tablet. About $1,000, Windows 7, more like, you know, a real computer.

Status: It shipped. But like I said, it ain't no iPad killer.

I mean, for crying out loud, even the Plastic Logic Que ProReader is delayed and almost certainly dead. It's hard to understand why so many companies jumped onto the tablet (or slate, or whatever) bandwagon and failed to deliver.

Were they all banking on Windows 7? Did they doubt Android's ability to translate to a tablet form factor? Were they confused by Google's Chrome OS, which at the time was making a whispered appearance on a never-seen HTC tablet? Did Apple's reported entry into the market simply scare them all into dusty corners?

Whatever the reason, I find myself approaching a long weekend with a plane ride ahead involving a toddler, and I'm thinking the car might steer itself toward a Best Buy with an iPad in mind. There just isn't any competition, and frankly, I'm tired of waiting. Sure, I wish I could have Flash support, the open Android marketplace, and the sense of intellectual superiority that would come from carefully and dispassionately evaluating the field and choosing the best technology, rather than the best marketing.

But none of that would help me when I'm stuck on the plane and my Netbook's battery just died in the middle of "Dinosaur Train." You win this round, iPad. You may have just won the entire rodeo.

 

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