published Friday, May 28th, 2010

Jenkins: Tablets will evolve to compete with iPad

by Donnie Jenkins

Of all the questions I receive via e-mails and at appearances, the one that is most on users' minds these days seems to be that of the impact of the Apple iPad (and tablets in general).

There is no doubt that this device has changed everyone's perception of what computing is and of what it can be.

There's a lot to like about the iPad. It has the trademark Apple elegance of design and tightly focused application base. Like the iPhone and iPod, it cuts a new trail in its category.

Many companies, including Microsoft, had been working with tablet technology for some time, but Apple is the first to combine sleek and refined design and an attractive price point for both the device and online connection service. Above all, they were the first to actually successfully bring such a device to market.

The biggest problem with the iPad is one that longtime users of computers will recognize, that of the device's limited and proprietary nature. (At the same time, the fact that the iPad is indeed limited in scope and controlled by one company has a good side, too.)

Because Apple controls everything concerning the iPad, the company can insist on high quality-control standards in every regard. Anyone who uses a Mac knows the benefits of such control. Mac computers are a pure pleasure to use, principally because they work as an integrated and well-thought-out whole. Above all, they work well because their hardware and primary software are controlled and designed only by Apple, unlike Windows computers, which are made by many companies.

Total control does have its downside, however. Steve Jobs of Apple has long been critical of Adobe Flash, the technology used to provide most of the video on the web as well as other applications. Because of this, the iPad does not support Flash, and therefore much of the current video content on the web is not available currently on the iPad.

Apple insists that the new and upcoming HTML 5 web standard will resolve this issue because it allows web designers to share video online directly on the page without the need for Flash. One problem with this is that there is no universal agreement yet on exactly what video codec or format should be used in the new implementation. For example, Apple prefers one particular format, Google recently announced another free format it will use, and there are even more to be considered. This is confusing, to say the least.

There have been other tablet offerings recently, but most of these are expensive or don't appear to be competitive with the Apple iPad. I'm looking forward to seeing what tablet PC offerings other companies introduce later this year. There certainly will be several Google Android-based models soon, and several other companies have announced plans to produce tablets.

This all will become most interesting once Apple has real competition in this area and releases new iPad models. Apple is a dynamic company that innovates at every step, and competition will just make the iPad better, as well as its competitors, whoever they may be.

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