Apple’s second-generation tablet will hit shelves this Thursday, and it will still be the tablet computer to beat in 2011, despite worthy competition from Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom. Here’s why.
Apple has always taken heat for their inflated computer prices, but in Steve Jobs’ “post-PC world,” they’re winning the price war. iPad 2 is the most affordable top-tier tablet by a long shot. It’s only $500 for the basic configuration (16GB storage, WiFi connectivity); the 32GB, 3G-ready configuration is $729 without a contract, while the 32GB, 3G-ready Motorola Xoom goes for $800 off-contract. That’s 10 percent cheaper. The Xoom’s price drops to $700 with a Verizon or AT&T contract, but then you’re on the hook for a monthly subscription. Verizon offers the Samsung Galaxy Tab on contract for a reasonable $300, but the 7-incher is already looking decidedly last-gen next to the Xoom and iPad 2.
Android 3.0, otherwise known as Honeycomb, is a powerful and elegant operating system, but it intimidates the average user. Apple’s iOS is foolproof. Think of it this way: Put the iPad 2 and the Xoom side-by-side in front of your grandmother. Even if she’s tech-savvy (mine is), she’ll probably gravitate toward the iPad. It’s easy to navigate, simple to use, and fun to play around with. Hands-on users and DIY hackers will prefer Honeycomb since it's more customizable and can handle multitasking better than the iPad. But most people don’t care about how easy it is to root a system or whether they can run eight apps at one time. I’m willing to bet the iPad 2’s sales figures will reflect that.
Specs-wise, the Xoom and iPad 2 seem to be evenly matched. They’re both built around 1GhZ dual-core processors, and despite some questions about the amount of RAM in the iPad, they’re probably equally fast. Both sport 10.1-inch capacitive touchscreens, though the Xoom displays at a slightly sharper resolution (150 pixels per inch, rather than the iPad’s 136). The Xoom has higher-res cameras than the iPad, but all of the cameras on both tablets are pretty crummy, all things considered. All that said, we’re giving the slight advantage to the iPad 2 for two deciding reasons. One, the battery lasts longer on a charge. Two, it’s more comfortable to hold in either landscape or portrait orientations, whereas the Xoom is a bit too oblong to be a comfy in portrait mode.
Since the Android Marketplace opened about a year and a half ago, it’s been playing catch-up with the Apple App Store. The App Store has more apps, more iOS-exclusive apps, and arguably a more helpful interface. This, of course, could eventually change, but as of iPad 2’s launch week, the Apple App Store still reigns supreme.
The Xoom is the most impressive Android tablet available right now, with no clear contenders on the horizon. Hands-on users and straight-up Apple haters will flock to it, since it’s the best non-Apple option, but at year’s end, we’re going to see iPad 2 sales figures well above 10 million, just like the original iPad last year.