Feb 16

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Why You Won’t Beat the iPad by Building an . . . iPad

Hey, you look familiar.

If anyone really wants to compete in the tablet space, they can’t do it by creating products that look and feel almost exactly like Apple’s iPad. We’ve blogged on this topic before, but it bears repeating here. Chasing the iPad’s form factor, feature set and price point will not differentiate PC tablets or attract new customers (with the rare exception of the Apple haters, which isn’t really an exciting market to fight about). If anything, we can easily see the decision to copy the iPad driving even more consumers to Apple’s tablet.

The three most prominent tablets in the news right now (that aren’t the iPad) are the Blackberry Playbook, the Motorola Xoom and the recently announced HP TouchPad. What do these tablets all have in common?

They all feature interfaces that look the same as iOS.

It doesn’t matter if competing tablets run Android, Windows or webOS. They all run operating systems that look like the iPad’s iOS. Sure, some tech enthusiasts (read, fanboys) will line up for the next version of Android, but for the vast majority of consumers, all the tablets look the same. This is a disadvantage for iPad competitors. They have failed to innovate and differentiate themselves.

They all have a form factor that mimics the iPad.

All of these tablets look like the iPad (sure, the Samsung Galaxy is a bit smaller, but the device hasn’t sold all that well and suffers from a 16% return rate). For the most part, other tablets are following Apple’s lead. The TouchPad even has the same one-button design. Engadget writes that it “is shaped almost exactly like the iPad.” The Xoom and the Playbook also have a physical profile that mirrors Apple’s original. Where is the innovation from Apple competitors? Where is the tablet that has ten physical buttons (hyperbole here, to be sure, but why only one button)? Where is the tablet that is easier to hold? Where is the slide out keyboard? There are so many ways to create a unique tablet experience, but most tablets today are content with imitating the iPad.

They all have prices similar to the iPad.

Almost all of the competing tablets have price points near the iPad’s (except the crafty Xoom which costs $200 more than an iPad). The failure to differentiate on price is a de facto win for Apple. Quoting from my earlier blog post:

No consumer will want to spend more than $500 for a Windows or Android tablet. At that price point, they will simply purchase the iPad. It is desirable, it is stable, it is fun and has a cultural allure attached to it thanks to Apple’s brilliant design and marketing.

Even pricing below $500 is problematic for Apple competitors. A $300 tablet is just close enough to the iPad’s price that people will probably wind up mowing a few extra lawns or clocking some overtime to get their hands on the genuine article from Cupertino.

They all have the same target customer as the iPad.

Sure, there are a few specialized fields where non-iPads can grow rapidly (think medicine, defense, kids tabs, and enterprise solutions). But apart from those arenas, it seems that every tablet coming out from PC makers is competing directly for potential iPad customers.

They have all announced products that haven’t shipped yet.

There is almost no upside to announcing products that are not complete. All you wind up doing is telegraphing your punches and revealing your plans to the industry at large. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, these other companies have announced their unreleased tablets prior to the iPad 2 shipping. Has no one read The Art of War?

“The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why would a company move its “army” (read, tablet) into field when it knows the enemy (read, iPad 2) is coming very shortly? What advantage is there in telling the world about a new device that isn’t quite ready yet and will ship sometime soon? There is almost no discernible advantage. In general, do not share your product road map, and do not announce products publicly until they are ready to ship.


Hardware manufacturers will not erode iPad’s first mover market position by copying the iPad. In order to gain market share (and mind share) tablets need to show people something they haven’t seen before. Where are the tablets that let you divide the screen into multiple sections and run different programs in each “zone”? Why do all the other choices seem to be copies of the original iPad? Given the explosive growth of the iPad, other tablets need to innovate, not imitate.

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5 Responses to “Why You Won’t Beat the iPad by Building an . . . iPad”

  1. Dave Zatz 16 February 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    There’s three reasons these guys are telegraphing their moves… Keep the investors happy, enocourage potential customers to save $$$ until their product arrives, and to stimulate the app community ahead of launch. Having said that, HP’s announcement is kinda wild since “summer” seems so far off. At least the other two are launching relatively soon.

  2. Malcolm Mccaffery 16 February 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Yes most of that is true. although honeycomb does offer a much better tablet UI in my opinion than iPad … That won’t be enough to convince consumer to fork over extra dough, I would replace my iPad with honeycomb one in an instant, if then price could match iPad and offer spec like Xoom. But general population that will be a tough marketing ask, only after using iPad for period of time would you appreciate the honeycomb features.

    Adam Ink Notion can split screen and have 3 apps run at a time on same screen. But they have serious production issues, I wanted to pre order one, but couldn’t … And they have delay after delay …

  3. Jahangir Naina 16 February 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Brilliant article, but you forgot something. Customers are mostly suckers and they will fall for visual sleight of hand. Remember how Microsoft mimicked the original Macintosh OS and won the PC game? Microsoft did not innovate, they outright copied wholesale and beat Apple. Copying (as opposed to true innovation) is a time honored strategy and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Android Honeycomb Tablets win over half of the tablet market from current incumbent Apple.

  4. MethodicJon 17 February 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Dave Zatz picked referenced you post at

    I think Dave makes a few valid points you might have overlooked, or at least should consider.

    “1) HP, RIMM, MMI are publicly traded companies. They’re communicating to their investors that they intend to be players in this new tablet arena.

    2) As Apple has shown, rich third party software offerings are critical to success in the mobile space. By pre-announcing, HP, RIM, and Moto hope to excite potential partner developers and provide them time to prepare apps that line up with the ultimate product launch.

    3) Lastly, these companies are also speaking to us, the potential customers: “Save your pennies.” Very few of us will buy multiple tablet products this year, so they hope to encourage us to hold out until release.”

    I also mention the Zune with respect to the iPod.

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