Apple Talk: iPad's edge in the tablet stakes

Apple's tablet has new rivals but it's the user experience that counts…

...what the platform is meant to be as it grows into its role between a smartphone and a laptop.

We still don't fully know what tablets are for. Whenever you create or reinvent a product segment, the primary challenge is defining its purpose and then making it as user-friendly as possible - making it useful and usable.

It's a safe bet that around 90 per cent of the key marketable hardware features of tablet computers will be pretty standard and shared across all products. There will also be a noticeable trend of Apple competitors differentiating themselves from the iPad by developing and touting features that the iPad is perceived to lack.

Importance of touchscreen software

However, the competitive advantage in this new sector for personal computing is going to be making that big, consistent touchscreen as compelling as possible.

The real innovation, therefore, will take place at a software level - interpreting how users will want to use a tablet and how it, in turn, will influence the user experience through its own individual limitations and opportunities.

Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab is one pretender to the tablet throne that Apple's iPad currently occupies

Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab is one of a number of pretenders to the tablet throne that Apple's iPad currently occupies
Photo: Samsung

This requirement encompasses many things: the way software is installed and updated, the way media is manipulated, the way content is created and modified and, of course, how all these things can be shared. All the things that make the device useful.

The iPad and its marketing are breaking down the traditional barriers and boundaries of technology.

Software's role in the future of tablets

Many years ago I read about a theatre critic who said the interpretation of the drama lay not with the actor nor with the audience, but in the space between them. In the new and evolving play between devices and end users, that space can usefully be called software.

If the competitive advantage of the tablet platform is its software, then Apple, with its pedigree of user-centred innovation - often at the expense of additional features - is in a hugely strong position to maintain its advantage. It is currently the market leader in most categories. Apple sold 7.33 million iPads in the quarter just ended and its trajectory is on an upwards curve.

As with smartphones, there are likely to be a number of competitors in Android, possibly BlackBerry and, one hopes, the webOS operating system HP acquired from Palm.

In the short term, I'm backing Apple to retain the competitive advantage for some time. No one else seems to come close to being able to deliver a coherent and consistent user experience through software.

No one seems to have the same focus on building a compelling user experience and marketing the device in a way that its purpose is clear.