Hong Kong (AFP) June 6, 2010
When Apple announced the arrival of the iPad, it said it would create and define a brand-new sector in the market for computer devices, somewhere between the smartphone and the notebook laptop.
Two months and over two million iPad sales later a string of Asian manufacturers have shown they agree -- by unveiling their own tablets which they hope will take a bite out of Apple's lead.
Over a dozen new iPad-style gadgets have now entered the fray, and more are sure to follow.
At the Computex computer trade fair in Taipei this week, beautiful models posed with shiny black slabs of clever glass -- most of which looked pretty much the same as Apple's iPad.
First out of the box was the catchily named ASUS Eee Pad 101TC. It's similar in size to the iPad, runs on Windows and will sell for 399 US dollars -- around 100 US dollars less than the US price of a basic iPad.
The MSI WindPad 100, which at 499 US dollars costs the same as the iPad, also runs on Windows and boasts a webcam -- which is conspicuously absent in the first iPad models. LG's new UX10 device also has a webcam.
Many newcomers will also use Adobe's Flash video technology, another perceived flaw in the iPad. Apple refused to allow Flash on its new gadget.
Taiwan-based chipmaker VIA believes the way forward in the tablet market is to go smaller and cheaper.
Its VIA Slate prototype has a seven-inch screen, runs on an old version of Google's Android operating system and will retail for between 100 and 200 US dollars. Several other tablet devices will also run on Android.
Right at the bottom of the market is the iPed -- which seems to be a direct copy of the iPad, even down to the packaging. It is on sale only over the Taiwan Strait in China, selling in a Shenzhen computer mall for 105 dollars.
Nancy Liu of Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute told AFP that companies launching their tablets at Computex wanted to prove "they have the capability to catch the trend set by Apple."
"I don't think the followers are capable of dethroning Apple's leadership at least in the short term," Liu said.
But it's not the gadget, it's what you can do with it that counts. And this is where Apple is also streets ahead of the pack. As Jenny Lai, a Taipei-based technology analyst for brokerage firm CLSA, says: content is king.
"Content remains a critical part of the success story for iPad," she said. "Currently, there are seven major app stores including new entrants Lenovo and Asustek.
"What's more important for Apple and existing vendors is building up a more user-friendly interface and more choices for online-store users."
Apple has more than 100,000 downloadable applications compared to the 500 it offered for the iPhone when it first opened online less than two years ago. Google has more than 30,000 apps available for Android.
Lenovo's application download store for Lephone and other products has around 250 applications. Asustek say it is cooperating with Intel and Microsoft to launch an app store in 2010 on a Windows platform.
And it's not just computer makers watching each other's reaction to this "new" market -- the struggling old school publishing industries are also looking on in hope.
The tablet computer plus its slightly less glamorous cousin, the e-reader, have been hailed as the saviour of the book and newspaper industries.
Sony, which has an e-reader but does not have a tablet computer on the market -- yet -- predicts big changes for the publishing industry on the back of the launch of all these devices.
Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading business division, believes the printed book will soon be overtaken by its electronic sister, the same pattern seen with music and photography.
"Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content," he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"I have multiple meetings with publishers and tell them paradigm shifts happen. You can say fortunately or unfortunately you haven't had a paradigm shift in, what, hundreds of years.
"We in the consumer electronics area have a paradigm shift every year or two."
earlier related report
Jobs is to be the keynote speaker at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, an annual event during which the gadget maker reveals its latest must-have devices.
This year's conference, which has attracted more than 5,000 developers of programs for Macintosh computers, the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad, carries less mystery than years past due to an Apple software engineer's unfortunate evening in a California beer garden a little over two months ago.
The engineer, Robert "Gray" Powell, lost a prototype of the next-generation iPhone while drinking at the Gourmet Haus Staudt near Apple headquarters and it ended up with a 21-year-old man who then sold it to technology blog Gizmodo.
According to Gizmodo, features of the new phone include a front-facing video camera for video conferencing and a better regular camera with a larger lens.
It reportedly has a flat back instead of curved back, is thinner than the previous model, the iPhone 3GS, and has a battery that is 16-percent larger.
Gizmodo, unsurprisingly, will not be in the audience when Jobs makes his keynote address at 10:00 am (1700 GMT). The technology blog said Apple has not responded to its requests to attend the June 7-11 WWDC.
Gartner analyst Van Baker said Gizmodo's revelations about the next iPhone had taken some of the shine off the event.
"I think the biggest challenge Apple's going to face is coming up with enough exciting news to have this truly get the market's attention," Baker said.
The front-facing video camera that will allow iPhone owners to have video chats with Macintosh computers or iPhone to iPhone "will probably be among the biggest news that we see," he said.
"I think there'll be some additional reveals on OS 4.0 (the latest iPhone operating system)," Baker added.
"We might see a new iPod Touch," the Gartner analyst told AFP. "Beyond that, I'm not sure because the iPad's new and the MacBook line -- both the MacBook and the MacBook Pro -- just had a significant refresh.
"So I'm not sure what else to expect from them other than OS4 announcements and a reveal of the new iPhone," he said.
Baker said he did not expect the new iPhone to be "exactly" what Gizmodo displayed but there would probably not be substantive differences.
"I'm sure they had variants of the design floating around and likely made the decision of which ones to manufacture within the last month or so," he said.
Kathryn Huberty of Morgan Stanley said Apple may announce a price cut for the iPhone. A 50-dollar drop in price could result in a 40-percent increase in demand, she estimated.
US wireless carrier AT&T sells the latest iPhone for 199 dollars and a year ago Apple slashed the price for its earliest model to 99 dollars.
Independent technology analyst Carmi Levy said the Gizmodo leak "took some of the surprise out of the event" but called it a "momentary diversion."
In any case, Apple, which has sold more than 50 million iPhones in three years, has taken an approach of "evolution and not revolution" when it comes to the touchscreen smartphone, Levy said.
"When upgrading its iPhone hardware, Apple's goal is never to hit it out of the park," he said. "Rather, the company's intent is to move the bar far enough to maintain its market-dominant position.
"To ensure it has enough new-feature gas in the tank for next year, it never gives customers everything they've asked for in any given year," he said.
"Instead, it includes just enough new features to keep the faithful faithful for another year. It's the ultimate form of controlled marketing, and Apple does it better than virtually any company on the planet."
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Murdoch hails Steve Jobs, iPad
New York (AFP) June 2, 2010
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch hailed Apple chief executive Steve Jobs on Wednesday, saying there was "not much doubt" he was the best CEO in America and predicting iPad sales would hit 10 million this year. Apple announced on Monday that it has sold two million of its tablet computers in less than two months, outdoing even the iconic iPhone on its launch. Analysts estimate the California-base ... read more
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