Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the iPad 2 on Wednesday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.Techies, bookworms, business travelers, students, teachers and a host of other gadget enthusiasts Wednesday put big Xs on their calendars for March 11 - the day they can score an Apple iPad 2.
Following the debut last year of the iPad, the new $500 tablet promises a better way to send e-mail, surf the Web, chat with friends face to face, watch video and listen to music on the go.
Apple will face an increasing number of competitors from companies like Motorola and Samsung Electronics; but much like the iPod and iPhone that preceded the tablet, Apple again looks like the front-runner.
Electronics and tech companies are flooding the market trying to get a share of the business. Global research firm PRTM counts 102 tablets for sale or in development by 64 companies.
That includes Motorola's Xoom, which starts at $600, and Samsung's Galaxy Tab, starting at $250.
The first iPads released in 2010 cost $500 for a base model and more than $800 for the higher-end model.
About 17 million tablets were sold nationwide last year, about 15 million of them iPads. PRTM estimates that, by 2014, annual tablet sales will be in the neighborhood of 200 million units.
"Going forward on an individual basis, we don't expect any individual product will challenge the iPad," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for market research firm NPD Group in Reston, Va. "(But) Apple won't have 100 percent of the market in 2011 like they essentially did in 2010."
The hype for Apple products isn't purely based on the quality of its products but mostly because the company developed the products first, he said.
Some tablet features, such as core processors, front-facing or back-facing cameras, 9- to 10-inch screens and other hardware features will be similar across product lines, Baker said.
"The differentiator for Apple is they are far ahead of everyone else in their operating system and their ecosystem with apps and how people are using the tablet," he said.
The growing "ecosystem," or availability of programs for iPads, is one of the reasons more people are expected to become tablet users in the next few years.
"Every day there are more practical reasons to own one," said Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
For example, front- and rear-facing cameras allow video conferencing and the ability to show people what is surrounding the user. The tablets also increasingly compete with e-book readers, such as Amazon's Kindle. Some universities and even K-12 school districts are using them in place of textbooks. And parents, Hill said, find them useful for entertaining children when on the road.
Still, because of the gadgets' prices and the dour economy, many would-be buyers are waiting to purchase one, Hill said.
"It might take a little while for the average person to move over to tablets," she said. "Only about 21 percent to 28 percent of Americans have smartphones. ... The price of tablets still is pretty steep."
Even so, her teaching laboratory at ASU is increasingly working on programs that run on tablets. Although Apple is clearly the current leader, Hill said, some competitors offer compelling products.
"Anything that uses the Android operating system definitely stands a chance (at competing with Apple)," she said. "People are really excited about the Galaxy. Plus, there is some developer backlash against Apple because, frankly, it really is a pain to develop just for the Apple system."
Some consumers refuse to buy an iPad, and the decision is as much personal as it is about the technology.
"I think it really boils down to the fact that I can't drink the iKool-Aid," said Joshua Morris, 35, of Gilbert, who works in sales and project management. "I prefer the flexibility that other platforms - be it Microsoft or Android - give me."
But although some developers and users are loyal to other brands, Apple maintains a die-hard following, including Corey Kaplan of Phoenix.
The 29-year-old is the founder of SharpieTech.com, a tech company that sets up computers, e-mail accounts, iPhone and iPad systems for small businesses.
Kaplan already sold his iPad in preparation of purchasing the new version and said he often recommends iPads to his customers.
"I've noticed that people actually download apps from the Apple store and understand how to use it," he said. "The Samsung Galaxy people don't know how to access applications on it."
It also can be valuable for his small-business customers to invest in Apple products because they retain their resale value, he said. He sold his year-old iPad for $425, which depreciated just $75 since he bought it.
Some of the basic features on the iPads and iPhones have won over new fans.
Justin Mann, 32, of Peoria, has been blind his whole life.
"The Apple devices have revolutionized what I expect out of technology now," he said, referring to the standard reader that vocalizes the words on his screen and accepts vocal commands, allowing him to use the device without additional equipment.
"Before, if you bought a Windows phone or a Nokia phone, on top of that, you paid an additional price, what I call the blind man's tax," he said. "You had to pay $500 to $700 extra to have this (reader). Along comes the iPhone, and Apple builds it right in."
He appreciated the feature so much he went out and bought an Apple computer and now plans on getting the new iPad. "They have fundamentally changed the game for a blind person," he said.
The challenge for any tablet maker to compete with Apple will be difficult, as many Apple fans don't care about the competition.
That includes Patricia Wilson Hall of Maricopa, who is on her second iPhone and likely will be standing in line March 11 for an iPad 2.
"It's so convenient to be able to just pull up any movie I want to watch with just the touch of my finger," she said. "I'm also excited to be able to use FaceTime (a video-calling program using the phone or tablet's camera) on iPad. I think that it's a great way to stay in touch with family and friends."
She hasn't even looked at other tablet makers. "It is pretty much just Apple," she said. "My family, we always used Apple for years. We are loyal to that brand."
by Ryan Randazzo The Arizona Republic Mar. 3, 2011 12:00 AM
New iPad unveiled, but its market competition is heating up