Battle for Supremacy by Tablets: Is Apple’s dominance under threat?
At last, both Microsoft and Google entered tablet fray this week, with subdued fanfare, though, when least expected: Microsoft, the software giant which has been scoffing at the emergence of tablets at the expense of personal computers for about two years, suddenly came up with a tablet called Surface.
But Google, on the other hand, which has been providing its Android operating systems to a host of major global players such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola, suddenly introduced their own touch-screen tablet, Nexus 7, built in partnership with Asustek Computer Inc in Taiwan.
The two software giants, which normally take diametrically opposite positions on many issues in the technological realm, did very little to deviate from the existing trend, even on this occasion; Google’s Nexus 7 is going to be just $ 199 – very cheap; Microsoft, which hasn’t disclosed the price tag, may sell Surface at a much higher price due to its more advanced features.
The significant investments made by both companies in tablet arena - with very little experience in hardware industry in the past - mark an interesting development in the world of technology, indeed. Both are aware of the risks involved in the adventure, as Apple’s iPad is maintaining a seemingly unassailable lead in the field at present. Having almost begged of their respective, loyal manufacturers to come up with saleable tablets while providing them with operating systems for the purpose for years, the two software giants seemed to have called it a day: they wanted to do it by themselves – perhaps, as a last resort, having reached the end of a metaphorical tether.
Dell, HP, HTC, Blackberry, Motorola and Samsung have been doing just that on behalf of Microsoft and Google up until recently. However, it is only Samsung which managed to make some impact on tablet sales. Others have made clear their desire to scale back the production of tablets or completely giving up on it – a monumental once-bitten-twice-shy feeling.
The experience of HP, for instance, in introducing touchpads is a total disaster: HP was compelled to bring the price down from $ 399 to just $ 99 when the sales curve went horizontal, but to no avail; an irreversible damage was done not only for the touchpad, but also for its globally-recognized brand name.
As an iPad user, leaving aside the cosmetic superiority of Apple products in terms of elegance and feel of ease of use, I know from my own experience, that the touch screens of other tablets are not as responsive as that of the iPad; in addition, there is always an irritating lag when choosing between Apps.
The Tablet manufactures, which are no strangers in the hardware field, often attribute it to the issues with Google’s Android operating systems, rather than hardware. With the launch of Nexus 7, Google admitted that the issue has been addressed in the latest Android operating system, known as Jelly Bean. However, its potential to be a marketing sweetener or a genuine fix, remains to be seen – and distinguished between - once the products are available.
Microsoft, which has been suffering from the lack of visionary ideas since great Bill left for full-time philanthropy, appears to have something right at long last. Its Surface tablet, introduced as a personal computer by Steve Ballmer, the CEO, is a tablet with a fairly larger HD screen; the most notable feature is the magnetic cover which can be used as a keyboard – something even great Steve Jobs missed out on - if you are not comfortable with its virtual keyboard; there are going to be two versions of Surface, to be powered by Windows RT and Windows 8 operating systems respectively; Surface has a USB port, a microSD card slot and antennae for optimum Wi-Fi connectivity.
Unfortunately, more hardware addition is equivalent to a corresponding sacrifice in performance, especially with just 1GB Ram. Therefore, if the right balance is not struck by Microsoft, Surface will be pushed into the league of laptops rather than that of tablets.
Moreover, we have to wait and see whether the notorious unresponsive factor, which has plagued Android-based tablets for years, has been rectified for good in Microsoft’s Surface.
Google’s Nexus 7, meanwhile, has not been created as an iPad ‘killer’. Its purpose seems to be taking on Amazon’s Kindle Fire – the popular reading device which can be used for other secondary tasks as well, such as listening to music. It is thinner and lighter than Kindle Fire and has a front camera for engaging in video chats. Integrated Wi-Fi, a microphone, GPS, magnetometer, gyroscope and accelerometer make Nexus 7 qualified to be a serious tablet.
The fate of Surface and Nexus 7 will be decided by their respective users by how the device has been integrated with the operating systems for a smooth user experience. Both Microsoft and Google have a common enemy to take on - Apple. Since they know that they are nowhere near in a position to challenge Apple over its industry dominance, they go round Apple in two opposite directions to lay siege to the enemy in the long run.
Both companies know very well that the web traffic through tablets is not something they can ignore anymore. It has become a serious issue, especially for Google, as Bing, Microsoft’s own search engine, has recently increased its share of search by web users. So, Google knows what is at stake, if it doesn’t get ahead along the steep learning curve.
In this context, the challenges for Apple can only grow in the near future, if it does not come up with something either revolutionary or some feature to that effect. It can’t afford to keep increasing the screen resolution of its devices – and classifying it as resolutionary by defying the rules of the English language – and expect us, the loyal fans, to recognize them as creative leaps; nor can it afford to disproportionately focus only on Siri – the voice recognition feature – or take on Google with its existing applications such as Google Maps.
These are, at best, disastrous gimmicks and at worst, not worthy of being even the vestiges of Apple’s late visionary, Steve Jobs. If Apple really wants to be serious, Samsung’s latest Galaxy smartphone, in addition to its impressive features, has the appropriate impetus.
- Asian Tribune -