Samsung has changed its tablet strategy and this time the company has an approach that is a lot more competitive with the Apple iPad on price, form factor, and overall features. We'll have to wait until we do a full review of the new Samsung devices to decide if the overall product experience approaches what Apple has to offer, but since the Samsung tablet doesn't arrive until early summer and will be running Android 3.0, that gives Google time to repair the Honeycomb problems we saw in the Motorola Xoom and it gives developers time to write a lot more tablet-optimized apps for Android 3.0.
On Tuesday, Samsung announced its plans in Orlando at the CTIA Wireless conference — the wireless industry's biggest event of the year — stealing the spotlight for day 1. The Samsung sign below greeted attendees on the first full day of the conference and foretold the company's tablet strategy.
Samsung's CTIA sign telegraphed its tablet strategy. That is... 7, 8.9, 10. Photo credit: Jason Hiner
The Korean tech giant is switching to a three-headed tablet lineup. It will keep the 7-inch Galaxy Tab as its leadoff batter, but it's realized a tablet that small only appeals to a niche audience. Plus, when Samsung released the Galaxy Tab last fall it priced it too high - roughly $100 more expensive than the entry-level iPad.
The two new tablets that Samsung announced at CTIA have nailed the price tag. One is an 8.9-inch model and the other is a 10.1-inch model and both are priced at or below the entry level iPad. The 8.9-inch is aimed at consumers and its Wi-Fi version starts at $469 for 16GB. The 10.1-inch tablet is aimed at enterprise business professionals and it starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version.
At those prices, the Samsung devices could be the first tablets to siphon customers away from Apple. Samsung is the only other company right now that can compete with Apple in terms of designing and manufacturing most of the parts for its tablet, so it's no surprise that it's the first company to offer a comparable product to the iPad at a similar price. Samsung also has a strong consumer brand (from its TV business), a tablet form factor slightly thinner than the iPad, and an online store for purchasing books, music, and other types of media (to compete with iTunes).
The other smart thing that Samsung did with its tablets is to focus on the needs of business professionals — the unsung catalysts that have powered a lot of the iPad sales so far. In the 8.9 and 10.1 tablets, Samsung has included hardware encryption, Exchange ActiveSync, built-in Cisco VPN client, and integration with Citrix, Sybase, and SAP software. Those steps will go a long way toward making these tablets palatable to business pros and IT departments.
Naturally, it's not all good new. The new Samsung tablets have a similar plastic body to the existing Galaxy Tab devices. Next to the metal iPad, the Samsung tablets feel cheaper and less substantial. Samsung has also chosen to layer its TouchWiz UI on top of Android Honeycomb. I think that's a big mistake. In testing the software at CTIA, the tablet version of TouchWiz looks just as blocky and clumsy as the versions that run Samsung's Android smartphones. The company would have been better off just sticking with stock Android — especially since so much UI work has already gone into Honeycomb.
To get a closer look at the new Samsung tablets, see the two slide shows below.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.