The iPad was created by Apple, a major electronics company. So you would expect that its most successful competitors would come from outfits like Samsung and Motorola, which are also electronics companies. Right?
As it turns out, that’s the wrong way to look at it. The most successful non-iPad tablet so far is the Nook Color, which had shipped over three million units as of this March and accounted for over 50% of the non-iPad tablet market. Meanwhile, Amazon.com appears to be gearing up to release a Kindle-branded tablet, which — if it follows in the first Kindle’s footsteps — may well be the next device to truly challenge the iPad 2.
Why are e-reader tablets succeeding where “real” tablets, like the much more powerful Xoom, have failed? Let’s take a look at what their makers have in common with Apple.
They’re not just electronics companies
What do Apple and Barnes and Noble have in common? Both companies run their own retail stores. (True, Barnes and Noble’s not doing so well lately, but that’s because demand for its core product — books — is slipping. That’s the problem the Nook is designed to address, and it’s why the Nook display is front and center in every Barnes and Noble store.)
Do not underestimate the importance of this point. Samsung and Motorola don’t have to sell their own products; both companies largely rely on the wireless carriers, which like to treat their wares as unbranded commodities. When they do advertise, the results aren’t so hot: Samsung apparently hired actors to pretend to be real people excited about its Galaxy Tab, while Motorola seems to think that the Xoom’s biggest selling point is that it’s not an iPad.
Apple knows what its brand stands for, and it knows how to create a complete experience for people, from walking into the store to unboxing and using the product; even to tech support. That’s the advantage its design-focused culture, plus its huge network of retail stores, has given it. Barnes and Noble may not have the same experience in designing electronics, but to all appearances, it’s got the important stuff down.
They aren’t starting from scratch
Apple didn’t just pull the iPad out of a hat. The iPad is the result of years of constant refinement, which started with iTunes and the original iPod and evolved over the last decade.
Barnes and Noble may not have any electronics experience worth noting, but it does have access to Google’s open-source Android code, just like everyone else. The head start that gave them might’ve made the difference between a holiday release for the Nook Color last year, and an unchallenged Kindle behemoth.
The biggest difference?
The problem with competing with the iPad is that you have to have a reason — a big reason — why anyone would buy your tablet instead of it. That’s why the Xoom and the Galaxy Tab aren’t making nearly as much of a splash: They’re just “tablets that aren’t the iPad,” and that suffer from Feature Checklist Dysfunction.
The Nook Color, on the other hand, is either the slickest e-reader ever or the cheapest tablet ever, depending on how you look at it. Both of those are extremely valuable positions to be in. Finally, it’s not just “another tablet that isn’t the iPad”; it’s a name brand product from a company known for its class. Does that remind you of anything?
The anticipated Amazon Kindle tablet will likely have all these advantages too, and may give the Nook Color — and iPad — a run for their money. It’s ironic that e-readers are turning out to be the best Android tablets, but that’s the way it is.