According to a recent post by Jason Hiner, the iPad's success is more about the "i" than the "Pad". He thinks Apple has found a winning formula and dominates the tablet market because the iPad delivers all of the benefits of the Internet in a consumer-friendly package. Users want video conferencing, streaming entertainment, and a decent mobile browsing experience without headaches that require a degree in geekiness.
Jason uses the original iMac as an example of a consumer appliance and less of a traditional PC. At the time, the iMac was the largest selling PC. But there's an important statistic hidden there. The iMac was the best selling PC at the time as a single brand. But even today, all of the Macs in the world combined command less than 6 - 12% of total market share. That's an all-time high for a Macintosh installed base, so we can assume that percentage was lower when the iMac was the best selling PC ever.
I'm not alone in thinking that iOS seems like it's headed for a similar fate. Despite the iPhone being the uncontested single most popular smartphone, Android has closed the gap in a very short time to be — at worst — neck-and-neck in total number of shipped units.
Apple may create the most popular and profitable widgets, but this erosion of market has always been the problem with Apple's walled-garden approach. Do you remember ADB or AppleTalk? This model lost with Apple 8 bit vs. original PC, and it lost with Apple Mac vs. modern PC — so, why would this time be any different?
I recently took part in a video conference with my in-laws. My sister-in-law set the whole thing up on her Mac PowerBook. I'm able to do FaceTime, but to include the broadest number of family members in the conference, she had to use something more flexible — something that everyone had access to.
FaceTime might be better than the alternatives, but if you've locked out the majority of the world because you've kept it in your walled-garden, you can only use it with others who have the same access. For a group of Apple users, this works fine. Expanded across the entire spectrum of technology platforms, it still means you only have access to a fraction of the user base on FaceTime that you can reach with open, cross-platform solutions. She picked the obvious choice — the one she uses to talk with her husband who is serving in Afghanistan — and that's Skype. She was able to set it up, and it worked fine.
This is all a numbers racket. Everyone was so excited about FaceTime, but you don't hear a lot about how it is "revolutionizing" communication. Despite the tremendous number of devices out there running Apple OS platforms, there are still literally millions more running non-Apple platforms. FaceTime is an exclusive country club. Skype is the YMCA. You may have the most prestigious, most luxurious country club in the world that has the largest individual membership — but you're not going to scratch the surface of the total membership of the Y. This isn't about reducing friction or accessibility or the best delivery. It's a war of attrition by gradual erosion due to overwhelming numbers. At some point, superior firepower doesn't matter.
There are multiple fronts that are assaulting Apple's superior tactical position. Apple is the target. ASUS, HTC, Samsung, and Motorola don't have each other in their sights. They can focus all of their resources on Apple, and they don't have to worry about one another. In fact, they're all using the same weapons dealer, which is Google. Likewise, Apple has to defend against all of these different vendors and manufacturers.
Unless Apple is able to pull out a last minute secret weapon (assuming that the competition has enough resources to stay in it for the long run), they'll eventually lose tablet dominance, the same way that they lost phone dominance. Regardless of who rises to the top — Android, Windows 8, or even Ubuntu — we'll eventually see a more open tablet ecosystem.
To be fair, Apple is putting up an impressive fight. Depending on how you define this, Apple is winning as the single most profitable manufacturer. They can stand to lose a lot more ground and retain that title. But ultimately, they're winning the battles and losing the war. If Apple continued to gain massive ground without any setbacks on all fronts, they'd have a shot at really cornering the consumer digital device market in a way that could make their model effective. However, that isn't what seems to be happening. Without that dynamic, I think the writing is on the wall.
Which tablet is truly the best? The answer, of course, is subjective. Apple is no more the "best" than Android, but someone is going to win and become (or retain) the dominant model in this space. Just remember, over the past 35 years of personal technology, the most open platform has always won.
What do you think? Is iOS the next Windows, or does Apple's locked-down model mean someone else will take the crown? Tell us your thoughts in the forum.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.