Apple’s iPad hasn’t had a serious competitor in the last year and a half – but Amazon could be a real contender, says Seb Janacek.

The huge lead the iPad has over competitors has led some to suggest there isn’t so much a tablet market as an iPad market.

Amazon Kindle

An Amazon tablet is expected to complement rather than kill the company’s popular Kindle ebook readerPhoto: Amazon

In the 17 months since the iPad launched, competing devices have barely managed to scratch the surface of Apple’s dominance. A number of competitors exist, mainly running Android, but there’s little sustained interest or sales.

In a new report, Needham analyst and Apple watcher Charlie Wolf predicts that the iPad will still dominate the consumer tablet market a decade after its debut. Wolf predicts that while the iPad’s share of the market will decline as competing products start registering some success, it will still be at 60 per cent in 2020.

He added that new tablet challengers were more likely to steal sales from other companies rather than Apple itself, stating that new tablets “have been greeted with a yawn and lacklustre sales”.

The research by Needham’s Wolf makes depressing reading for its competitors. The iPad is so well established in the tablet space with so many positive messages and advantages that it’s hard to see it being toppled, just as the iPod dominated the MP3 market for the best part of a decade.

Is there any hope for Apple’s competitors? A recent column on silicon.com suggested five ways a competing device might actually get about doing some competing.

silicon.com’s editor Steve Ranger suggested competitors offer a tablet with greater openness and usability, one that is business-friendly, timely and finally offers the ecosystem needed to replicate some of the iPad’s success.

Many companies, including Acer, HP, HTC, RIM and Samsung have tried, and so far failed, to make a telling impact. All are hardware manufacturers and most, with the exception of RIM and HP, use Android.

So maybe it’s time for a new approach?

Later this year, Amazon is expected to launch its own tablet computer based on Android – but with a significant change of focus.

The ecommerce giant already sells its own hardware in the form of the splendid Kindle ebook reader. It’s expected that an Amazon tablet will complement rather than kill the Kindle. It’s a compelling proposition, and here are my reasons why it could be a winner.

1. Amazon has taken its time

Apple has rapidly been followed to market by a large number of iPad competitors, none of which has managed to…

 

…make a serious dent in it. Amazon, meanwhile, is taking its time. This approach will pay dividends.

RIM’s PlayBook was panned widely when it launched as it was clearly rushed to market with missing features, inconsistent user interface elements and a scattergun approach to developer engagement.

Earlier, Android tablets utilised a non-tablet-optimised operating system, but since the launch of Honeycomb, device manufacturers have the option of a dedicated tablet OS.

2. Surrounding a tablet with a decent ecosystem is vital

Amazon’s broad content and services ecosystem, as well as its well-established ordering, inventory management and delivery network could become as important as the Apple Store experience.

User experience is not limited to device functionality. One of the reasons Apple has such a success with the iPad is due to the end-to-end user experience, particularly for non-technical customers.

The marketing is simple. Most people can access an Apple Store now with its highly open nature and staff. And iTunes, while derided, is easy to use. With the advent of iCloud, it’s all getting even easier.

Apple has also worked to develop a vast ecosystem of content and this is the key area where Amazon can differentiate itself from the rest of the hunting pack. The ecommerce giant has long been synonymous with online shopping, content and services.

Amazon’s existing cloud services infrastructure could also play an important role in turning the ecommerce giant into an Apple competitor. Its Kindle Whispernet network is highly effective at sending and synching data and purchases across multiple devices, in a similar, though more limited, way to how iCloud will keep everything in order.

3. Great hardware needs great content

Then of course there’s the content. Amazon can offer a vast choice of digital books and a huge MP3 music store backed by the big four music labels as well as a host of independents.

Amazon owns LoveFilm following an acquisition earlier this year and is therefore capable of streaming video content to tablets. It also owns other consumer brands such as LivingSocial, the Groupon competitor.

The challenge would be to link the content and infrastructure to the device’s user-friendly interface.

Crucially, Amazon also launched its own app store earlier this year. If you’re in the UK you’ve probably heard little about it since it’s currently US-only.

4. Consumer recognition

Amazon is a well-known and trusted consumer brand. US comparison website Retrevo asked 1,000 site visitors earlier this year which company other than Apple they would most like to see a tablet from.

Amazon was the overwhelming leader with 55 per cent of all respondents claiming they’d consider buying a tablet from the company. Next in line were Dell and Samsung on 38 per cent.

5. It’s not about the technology

Given the non-technical nature of the tablet form as championed by the iPad, it’s no surprise that a company associated with shopping, content delivery and media is preferred as a tablet proposition ahead of traditional hardware manufacturers.

Is an Amazon tablet a threat to Apple? A little. Although rival Android tablet manufacturers may be more worried as the sub-iPad market becomes increasingly crowded and commodified, and a device that can offer the kind of rich content and app ecosystem that only Amazon can deliver moves in.

Amazon has a good chance of making inroads into the tablet market and meets most of the key criteria outlined in last week’s column. Its strong brand and cloud infrastructure are also big assets.