Tablet hardware vs. apps: Which one wins?


Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is poised to introduce the iPad 2 later today, and for the first time it will meet competition when it is released from the likes of the Motorola Xoom, Research In Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) PlayBook and a slew of Android-based tablets. And there's some debate on how the tablet competition will go and who the winners will be in the enterprise space. Will it be software/hardware capabilities that win the hearts of IT or the number of useful enterprise applications?

The Wall Street Journal's technology guru Walt Mossberg recently declared that the Xoom tablet is the first truly comparable competitor to Apple's iPad, partly because it is the first iPad challenger to operate on the Honeycomb Android OS, which is designed for tablets. He believes the Xoom beats out the iPad in certain areas, although the capabilities of the iPad 2 have yet to be seen.

Some of the pluses for the Xoom include a better processor, front and rear cameras, better speakers and higher screen resolution. And later the Xoom can be upgraded to Verizon's 4G LTE service, although users have to send the device back to Motorola.

"The iPad has way more tablet-specific apps--around 60,000 versus a handful--and, in my tests, much better battery life. Plus, whatever the specs say, it's a fast device with a beautiful screen that delights people daily. But, overall, the Xoom with Honeycomb is a strong alternative to the original iPad, and one that will only improve over time," Mossberg concluded.

Bob Evans over at InformationWeek's Global CIO, however, believes Mossberg missed the mark by largely dismissing Apple's competitive advantage when it comes to apps just for the iPad. He cites some interesting stats: Citrix said its iPad app that enables full access to Windows desktops has been downloaded more than 700,000 times. Salesforce.com indicated that the iPad app for its enterprise-strength Chatter social collaboration program has been downloaded more than 1 million times.

I do believe that Evans is largely right about apps, but that doesn't mean the iPad wins, especially when many enterprises don't like the control Apple continues to wield over iPad/iPhone apps. As Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha told investors at Morgan Stanley's Technology, Media and Telecom conference last week, hardware is an important piece in the tablet market, but he said consumers would ultimately decide which devices they want most based on OS and applications available. And applications on Android will ramp up quickly given the fact that a plethora of Android-based tablets have been announced. There will be a tablet app frenzy.

Last month, Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) unveiled the TouchPad, a tablet powered by the webOS operating system it gained when HP acquired Palm last year. With a powerful dual-core Snapdragon processor clocked at 1.2GHz and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, it packs some high-end features, but not enough to set it apart from the Android and iOS pack. Far fewer people have heard of the webOS, and sales have been stagnant in the uncertainty after HP acquired of Palm. HP will face an uphill battle.

As I have mentioned before, now that tablets are on the scene, apps developers have to make more tough choices about which operating systems to support. - Lynnette