For the iPad, dominating like the iPod will not happen

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Image: Rego Korosi/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Since its initial inception, the iPad has been the poster child for the tablet market, representing the gold standard for tablet perfection on basically every facet. The iPad’s software is unrivalled; it’s hardware, exquisite; and the marriage between the two, a couple that was always meant to be.

In the face of stiff competition, the iPad is still by far the dominant force in the tablet market. Apple managed to not only detonate the entire of HP’s mobile strategy, but forced RIM and Google into a fear-fuelled frenzy, making them deliver imperfect products hurriedly in the pure fear of getting into what Apple hyped as a potentially industry-changing market far too late. The result being the absolute mess that was Honeycomb, and the incomplete hodgepodge that is Playbook OS.

Some journalists and pundits are signalling this dominance to be a repeat of the iPod situation, where more than a decade later Apple still holds the portable media player crown with a whopping 78% market share.

The iPad isn’t going to pull off an iPod, it will follow the path of the iPhone

But, no. That won’t be the case. The iPad isn’t going to pull off an iPod, it will follow the path of the iPhone, and Google (we won’t count out RIM either) is going to gradually devour the iPad’s market share until the two reach somewhat of a parity.

There’s nothing scientific about the iPod’s sustained dominance in the MP3 player market, it simply boils down to two crucial points: competing manufacturers didn’t have the double edged sword that Apple possessed in both the content store and the actual hardware product; and secondly, back when the iPod (before the iPhone) was immensely relevant, the majority of Apple’s consumer had no consumer lock-in obligations.

The former point is fairly self-explanatory, the combined prowess of both the iPod and the iTunes store is a compelling proposition, particularly when none of Apple’s competitors could even match the hardware in the first place. And even though we like to discount iTunes for bloatware, it’s nice to have a cohesive media management and syncing platform.

The crux however is in the second point. In the pre-iPhone era, Android hardly existed and was completely non-existent on the consumer radar. The likes of Blackberry and Windows Mobile were the dominant smartphone forces of the day, but the general ‘App Store’ and ecosystem concepts were hardly engrained in the products. Cross-device integration was minimal, there was no consumer lock-in to keep consumers invested in the products of a particular company.

Had Microsoft played it smarter, Zune could have kicked off, or at least been more successful than it ended up being. But since the Zune and Windows Mobile were so sparsely contended in both their product and approach, a Windows Mobile user in the market for an MP3 player wouldn’t be at any advantage picking a Microsoft Zune over an Apple iPod.

…the iPod was a pure and simple no-brainer… But the playing field is different today

Since competitors weren’t in a position to play the consumer lock-in card, the iPod was a pure and simple no-brainer.

But the playing field is different today, not only does Google hold a large market share in the smartphone industry with its Android operating system, like Apple, there’s an ecosystem behind it — a reason for existing citizens to never move out.

Why would you pay for the same app twice when you only need to pay for it once? If a user has invested in Google Music, they’d be out of their mind to not extend that service onto an Android tablet.

Android tablets are far from perfect, and stacked against the iPad they’re simply far too inconsistent. But Google’s ecosystem is enough of a value add to many existing Android smartphone consumers to consider an Android tablet and subsequently buy Google time – enough time before they start shipping Ice Cream Sandwich on tablets in bucket-loads. ICS, like every other tablet OS is still no iPad, but it’s certainly progressed to the point that it doesn’t seem like a joke.

Using Honeycomb for the first time it was hard deciding whether to laugh or puke. I’m sure the team at Apple was tempted to do both.

Google also has the trump card of versatility and choice under their belt. Having so many different devices congregated under a cohesive umbrella is a big plus for Google and consumers. One reason why the iPod never even came close to being dethroned was the fact that its competitors were so sparse, as if diluting one another into irrelevance.

Even though the Android manufacturers are warring against one another, collectively they are a powerful army with a level of versatility that Apple simply can’t beat, especially with one device, even two.

Google, through the exploitation of desperate OEMs has the flexibility to penetrate the low end market with budget devices, has the flexibility to deliver niche features for niche consumers that Apple can’t and has the power to give its consumers the flexibility to change devices without ever switching ecosystems.

Apple’s business model can’t compete with that.

A repeat of the iPod situation is simply an impossibility given the dynamics of the industry today. Apple won’t fail to pull off an iPhone though – losing the market share race but raking in immense profit share – the bottom line’s just as important.