Apple rivals ready to exploit weakness

Apple’s touchscreen iPhone was far ahead of the competition when it launched, but the iPad will have to fight for its place among dozens of other tablet computers that are likely to appear on the market this year.

With its similar design to the iPhone, it is already assured of a status that should make it stand out from the pack, but competitors have other features available to exploit its weaknesses.

The HP Slate, touted by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft chief executive, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January will run the touch-enabled Windows 7 operating system.

As well as matching the touch features of the iPad, HP is emphasising that the Slate offers the “complete internet”.

This refers to Apple’s decision not to support Adobe’s Flash software on the iPad, commonly used to present video, advertising and games on the web. The Slate and almost all of the iPad’s competitors will support Flash, which is already installed on 90 per cent of computers and is used to deliver 75 per cent of online videos viewed worldwide.

As well as Windows 7-based tablets, the iPad will face a threat from devices based on Google’s free Android operating system, which has mastered touch through its mobile phone implementations.

At the CTIA wireless industry show in Las Vegas last week, Marvell, the chipmaker, showed off the iWonder Android-based tablet made by Foxconn of Taiwan. The device with its 10.1-inch screen is expected to sell for about $100, a fraction of the $500 price of the cheapest iPad version.

Taiwanese companies may lead in producing iPad-like devices that will undercut Apple deeply on price. Acer has said that it is working on a tablet and Asustek plans to launch its Eee Pad this year.

BenQ, MSI and Gigabyte have also expressed interest in tablets, but the lack of firm launch dates from Taiwanese makers suggests that they are waiting to see how well the iPad does compared with other categories such as netbooks, eReaders and smartbooks.

The iPad’s rivals are also adding hardware and services in areas where it is missing features – it lacks a camera for instance.

“Tablet makers are offering services such as Voice over Internet Protocol, video conferencing, DLNA [Digital Living Network Alliance] and home automation,” says Martyn Humphries, a vice-president at the chipmaker Broadcom.

Even AT&T, exclusive carrier for the iPhone and the iPad in the US, is hedging its bets. At CTIA last week, it announced a network launch this year for the OpenTablet – a dual-camera device made by US company OpenPeak and running on Intel’s Atom processor.

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