Editorial: The Only Tablet Game Worth Playing is the Waiting Game

On Friday, the iPad 2 will launch. As soon as I get my hands on one, I’ll do a quick personal review, but the professional ones are in and they are overall quite positive. I’ve been thinking about the iPad, my Nook Color, and the tablet space in general a lot lately and the conclusion I’ve drawn is this: Now is the absolute worse time to buy a tablet.

The iPad 2 will do doubt sell like crazy like the original iPad did, since it largely just added a few things that the original should have had anyway. I’ve had a few people ask me my thoughts on it and my answer remains the same from the first one: As far as the tablet market goes, it is easily the most polished and finished product, but it still lacks a lot of basic functionality that would truly make it a hard to beat product. When asked about the host of Android tablet, both past, present, and upcoming, I say this: They pack some functionality that the iPad lacks (Flash support) and gives you a lot more choice in hardware, but the user experience is nowhere near that of their Apple competitor. The final thought on tablets is this:

There are two important things to consider. The first is that the tablet space is a new thing on the consumer market. While tablet PCs have existed for many years, they all ran some version of Windows that was even less optimized for a touch interface than Windows 7 is, which is to say not very optimized at all. Tablets aren’t really necessary. They don’t hit the full capacity of a laptop to do work and browse the full web, and they don’t really offer the portability that you get with a smartphone. Like the smartphone market, you are going to see some very rapid expansion, if not at a faster pace than smartphones. While that iPad 2 looks nice now, you may find yourself getting some serious tablet-envy in a few months when a few more Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the HP Touchpad drop.

We’ve seen other Android tablets before fall short before, but Honeycomb will be some big competition once it reaches maturity and fixes a few weird UI issues. BlackBerry’s offering will be great for people who want a smaller screen (7 inches instead of the 9-10 inch range), and there is a big possibility that it might run Android apps. The HP Touchpad will pack WebOS, which has a much better chance of succeeding under HP’s direction than it did Palm’s. Another huge plus the Touchpad will have is something HP recently announced, that ALL computers it ships in the future will run both Windows AND a WebOS variant. This may allow for a very awesome ecosystem of having all the same functionality and information across all of your gadgets.

The other big problem I see with the tablet market as a whole right now is one that Apple got right again: Contracts. Carriers want you to get a contract with their service, ensuring that you have that tablet with them for 2 years. While smartphones get better over time too, they aren’t evolving as fast as what the tablet market will most likely do. And if the tablet space is just a fad without much staying power, you’ll be locked in regardless. If you’re going to buy a tablet and want 3G/4G connectivity, fine. But it is definitely not a good idea to get a contract along with it when you can get the same plan without.

The tablet landscape is a very new one, one that has yet to truly find its legs. While the iPad 2 might be the best there is yet, that doesn’t mean it’s a good buy quite yet. Hopefully the iPad 3 will pack a lot more PC-like functionality, and hopefully the rest of the manufacturers will realize that they’re getting their butts kicked and show us how a tablet is supposed to be done. Regardless of how it all ends, paying $500+ for something that will be much more obsolete than your laptop will in a year or two’s time might not be the best unless you have the money to burn on a new one.

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