The iPad's would-be killers will soon be off the leash, offering a diverse array of tablet tech for gadget lovers. The only questions left for Aussie buyers now: when & how much?
It's quite possible we'll look back on the original iPad one day (and perhaps even soon) with a fond sense of nostalgia and a soft chuckle at how simplistic and underpowered it all was. Because as sleek as the iPad is - and fully acknowledging the extent of its impact, in that it has vicariously created an entire new form of media consumption - it's actually the tablet equivalent of the very first ASUS Eee PC.
Remember him? He was the first netbook: a funny little white thing with a 7-inch screen, 800 x 480 resolution and 4GB of storage space. But as humble and even laughable as the first Eee PC may seem now, it was still huge
at the time: it pioneered the netbook form factor, ushering in an entire new industry of cheaper, smaller laptops, which in its own way has radically affected the way we use PCs on the go.
And that's why we would suggest this rather unlikely (and perhaps unflattering) kinship: simply because the iPad, like the Eee, was the first of its kind, and things can only go up from here. Even at launch the iPad's contrived limitations were widely acknowledged, and as we now start to glimpse the slew of competitors headed our way, there's no doubt that speedy innovations upon the original's template will help win the day for aspiring challengers.
The iPad's successors are quickly closing in, and as the segment matures we can expect slicker, faster and more powerful tablets on the horizon. Here are the top five we're looking forward to at the moment.
Of course, at time of writing, the most concerning issue for Australian users is the prospect of uncertain delays: the companies behind these tablets are currently keeping pretty tight-lipped about Australian availability timeframes and pricing, with none of the tablets here as yet confirmed with any solid details. We'll know more when we know more.
Only unveiled this week in the US, the TouchPad sports a 9.7-inch XGA multi-touch display and runs webOS (alongside the new Pre3 and Veer HP smartphones). A Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-CPU APQ8060 1.2-GHz processor provides the grunt, and HP's touch-to-share feature lets you simply touch the TouchPad against an HP webOS phone to share data between the devices.
HP's TouchPad: bucking the Android trend and backing webOS.
Due for release in the US during the North American spring, the recently announced G-Slate by LG runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) on an 8.9-inch 3D-capable multi-touch display (glasses are required for the 3D effect). With a rear-facing stereoscopic video recorder you can shoot in full 1080p and record your own 3D footage to boot. Plus it's got a 5MP camera (with LED flash), HDMI out, and the whole package is powered by a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 chip.
LG's G-Slate: tablets go 3D.
Set for release in the US in Q1 and elsewhere in Q2, the PlayBook sees RIM branching out from its smartphone heritage to take on the tablet. We got a chance to play with one at BlackBerry DevCon Asia and it's a powerful little device. The PlayBook features a 7-inch display powered by a 1GHz dual-core CPU. It's only 10mm thick and runs the new multi-tasking-friendly BlackBerry Tablet OS (although unconfirmed rumours suggest it will also run Android apps, which could add an extra level of appeal for BlackBerry fans who want to hedge their bets).
BlackBerry's PlayBook: it might sound like a twee name to Australian users, but the "playbook" connotations from a Canadian and North American standpoint are strategy and execution.
The scene-stealing Xoom (the wildcard entry scored several plaudits at CES this year, and Motorola followed this up with an Apple-lampooning 1984-themed TV ad during this year's US Super Bowl) runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) on a 1,280 x 800 10.1-inch widescreen HD display. Under the hood it has the same dual-core Tegra 2 chip as the G-Slate, plus a sizeable 32GB of storage, which can be extended via an SD card slot. That extra screen real estate will come at a cost: weight. The Xoom is 730g, which is close to double the weight of the 400g PlayBook.
Motorola's Xoom: making a stir as Motorola positions itself firmly as the challenger brand.
Okay, last just happens to be least this time (as far as facts that we know for sure, anyway). Apple is famously secretive about its products pre-launch, and the iPad 2 is no exception. The most pertinent speculation comes from the Wall Street Journal, who claimed to speak with "people familiar with the matter". The iPad's successor is thought to include a built-in camera and faster processor, and is expected to be thinner and lighter than the current model. Anticipate more on this soon, as an Apple announcement on the device is believed to be imminent.
Apple's iPad (original model shown): these little guys should soon have a thinner, lighter and faster kid brother.