From the debut of the iPod in 2001 to the launch of the iPhone in 2007 to last year's launch of the iPad, Apple (AAPL) usually sets a high bar for the rest of the industry when it releases new types of electronic devices. And as this week's unveiling of the iPad 2 demonstrated, Apple is still well on top of its competitors in the tablet market.
So why is Apple likely to rule the tablet roost for the foreseeable future? Here are four reasons:
1. A one-year head start
Tablets occupy a weird niche market somewhere between smartphones and laptops and it has proven difficult to really get them right the first time around. Think of it like this: The Motorola (MOT) Xoom, the first device that's seen as a legitimate contender for the original iPad, was released just a week ago. Meanwhile, RIM's first crack at tackling tablets, the PlayBook, isn't due out until April. While these two companies are just dipping their toes into the tablet market, Apple is already on its second generation of the iPad.
And from an engineering standpoint, the iPad 2 has made some significant improvements that should keep it in the lead until its rivals release their own second-generation tablets in the future. First, the new iPad is thinner (0.34 inches) and lighter (1.35 pounds) than the original iPad or any of its competitors. Second, it now has both a front-facing and rear-facing camera that the original model lacked, as well as a USB port.
2. A more mature app market
Applications have become an increasingly popular feature of mobile devices over the past couple of years, especially with the high-profile launches of application shopping centers such as Apple's App Store and Google's (GOOG) Android Market. The most recent survey data from research firm ChangeWave shows that 14% of smartphone users said applications were what they liked best about new smartphones, followed by ease of use (12%) and Internet access (12%).
With that in mind, consider that the Apple App Store already has an estimated 65,000 applications tailored specifically for the iPad while Android tablet users will have to wait until developers become more accustomed to the "Honeycomb" edition of Android before they start churning out apps for the Xoom and other Android tablets at a similar rate. Given the past enthusiasm developers have shown for Android, it's quite likely that Honeycomb tablets will catch up to the iPad in terms of application offerings, but for now Apple is the biggest game in town.
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