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To take on Apple, new tablets go where iPad won't

Mark Milian
Motorola Mobility wants to be the first to offer 4G LTE data capability for its Xoom tablet. Competitors have their own niches.
Motorola Mobility wants to be the first to offer 4G LTE data capability for its Xoom tablet. Competitors have their own niches.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With a tablet-optimized version of Android ready, the tablet market is heating up
  • Rather than copy the iPad, competitors are offering features Apple is ignoring
  • For example, Motorola is promoting its Xoom tablet's access to Verizon's 4G network

Orlando, Florida (CNN) -- Electronics manufacturers have all the pieces they need to create a great competitor to the iPad.

The challenge may be figuring out which technology gives them the greatest strategic advantage.

Whether it's using the fastest 4G cellular chips, myriad screen size options, 3-D viewing, 3-D image capture or those retro stylus pens, tablet makers are hoping to mine a niche that Apple is ignoring.

When it comes to tablets, Apple doesn't have the vast technological lead it had in touchscreen smartphones when it introduced the iPhone in 2007.

When rival phone makers finally caught up years later, they were able to outflank Apple somewhat by offering similar products on cellular networks, such as Verizon, where Apple was not.

But the iPad 2, which went on sale two weeks ago, is available on the two largest carriers. Apple also has a significant lead in software, with more than 60,000 applications tailored to the iPad. Google's tablet operating system, called Android Honeycomb, has only a few because it's so new.

So competitors aim to flood the tablet industry -- and smother Apple -- with new choices.

Samsung Electronics, which already offers Android tablets with 7-inch screens on every major carrier, is introducing new versions in 8.9- and 10.1-inch display sizes.

The largest Galaxy Tab underwent a major revision in response to Apple's introduction of the iPad 2, Samsung executives said. The new prototype, which was only shown behind glass recently at the CTIA Wireless conference in Orlando, packs the same components but is significantly thinner.

"We went back to the drawing board," said Omar Khan, the strategy chief for Samsung Telecommunications. "Changes in the industry," he said, referring to the iPad 2, "caused us to accelerate the development process."

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Instead of betting on one or two optimal screen sizes, Samsung is leaving it up to shoppers to decide. "Consumers have become very, very sophisticated in their technology product buying," Khan said.

But Samsung's chief electronics rival in South Korea is critical of such a seemingly unfocused tactic.

"They did 7-inch. And then they did 10.1. I've got to think that they copied us. Why did they do 8.9-inch?" said Yongseok Jang, vice president of strategy for LG Electronics, which is making its own G-Slate tablet with an 8.9-inch screen. "Their strategy is: copy the others."

LG will release the G-Slate on T-Mobile USA's network and will tout its ability to capture 3-D photos and video. To view those shots, people can connect the device to a TV using a cable or watch on the G-Slate's 8.9-inch screen using 3-D glasses. They can also upload videos to a special YouTube 3-D app.

Other tablet manufacturers also are emphasizing features that might make their products stand out of the pack.

HTC's upcoming tablet will also be capable of shooting in 3-D and displaying 3-D video on a connected TV with special glasses. And the EVO View 4G offers a throwback feature that recalls Apple's 1990s-era Newton: a stylus that will be sold separately.

Sprint Nextel demonstrated the drawing and note-taking features of the gadget at CTIA, the U.S. wireless industry's largest annual convention. The stylus, a spokesman said, makes the device unique.

Tablet makers, including Samsung and Motorola Mobility, say offering an attractive package -- a device with a great operating system and a variety of available apps -- is critical for rivals who want to compete with the latest iPad. For that to happen, more developers need to create software for Android Honeycomb, they said.

"Right now, if we talk about our friend in Cupertino: Hey, they built a pretty good product. They have a good ecosystem. But on the Android side, it has yet to be built up," said Jang, from LG. "You need books, magazines, movie clips, the whole nine yards. It's in the process of being built up. And we are going to contribute to the ecosystem there."

Because these designers use the Android system, most of them tout their tablets' ability to run Flash video, which Apple's mobile devices cannot do.

Research in Motion is targeting the corporate market with its BlackBerry PlayBook, which begins selling on April 19 at prices similar to the iPad. Hewlett-Packard is touting high-fidelity speakers, and seamless integration with other HP products, for its TouchPad tablet that will arrive this summer.

"The pace of this industry is amazing," said Jim Wicks, a Motorola vice president of design.

Motorola Mobility's main weapon is its adoption of the latest high-speed cellular technology. People who own the Xoom tablet will be able to send it in for a free upgrade to work with Verizon's 4G LTE network, which promises faster data transfer speeds than current 3G networks.

Motorola plans to begin selling a Wi-Fi-only version of the Xoom on Sunday for $599. But Alain Mutricy, a senior vice president of product management for the company, highlighted the focus on 4G LTE technology as the Xoom's major competitive play. By contrast, Apple's iPads aren't capable of 4G access.

"We designed this product really as a true 4G product," Mutricy said. "We believe that people like to have [fast] cellular connectivity on their tablet."

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