Competing with the iPad: the Old Tricks Won’t Work

by Chris Seibold Apr 01, 2011

Remember when the iPod first got hot? How bad did people want it? Bad enough that some people bought Macs just to be able to use it. When the Windows compatible iPod was released things got hotter and the iPod really hasn't cooled down significantly since then.

Why was the iPod so successful? There are a ton of reasons. Apple's reputation as a company who could produce newish technology that was accessible to everyone was a big factor and the iTunes store was a big component of continued success once the iPod got rolling.

Face it, the original iPod was a hard drive with an audio port, a tiny screen and a scroll wheel. That can't be hard to duplicate, can it?

Why if you had an Altoids tin, a few chips and some spare time you could make your own mp3 player. Since the iPod seemed easy to copy, everyone thought they could make one. Thus, every company that had ever wired a hard drive to a motherboard thought they could either out spec the iPod or out cheap it. The result was a bevy of music players that were either better on paper (and more expensive) or a crappier but cheaper music player.

And just about every company with a home page thought it could sell music better than the iTunes store. Buymusic and Walmart wanted to cash in on the iTunes store. Buymusic decided that since the iTunes store was Mac only they'd cash in by being Windows compatible. Walmart thought they'd sell tracks a few cents cheaper. Neither approach succeeded.

This lasted for years. Everyone either out cheaping or out spec-ing Apple and none of it amounted to much. Finally, Microsoft decided to compete directly with the iPod. The company created the Zune and it was pretty good. The Zune did the whole ecosystem thing and it was nice. The Zune is the tech equivalent of the eastern cougar, people say they see it here and there but the scientific consensus is that both the Zune and the cougar are extinct.

Let's see what the tablet manufacturers can learn from all this. First off, it isn't enough to out spec the iPad. Companies think people buy on specs, and some do, but not enough to make a difference. Thus all the players with more storage and more ports, the small players, the players with a bigger screen all got trounced by the iPod. The same thing will happen with the iPad. In fact, you can see this already with the Xoom. If you had to buy a tablet, sight unseen, you'd pick the Xoom. Then you'd have a case of buyer's regret so severe even penicillin coupled with heavy doses of steroids couldn't touch it.

But if it wins the spec battle isn't it better? That argument is the siren song for the hardware types. Our tablet is faster, the screen is bigger (or smaller), it runs Flash! They sound like compelling reasons on the first pass, but raw specs don't appeal to everyone. Imagining that everyone buys off the spec sheet is like imagining that the only reason everyone doesn't drive a Ferrari is because they can't afford to. The reality is that even if everyone could buy a Ferrari and have car budget money left over they wouldn't.  If you've got three kids then a minivan will be preferable to the Ferrari when it is time to take the kids to the zoo.

The second thing manufacturers can learn is that you can't out cheap the iPad. When the iPod was introduced it set you back 500 bucks. The cheapest iPad is 500 bucks. That pricing is intentional. Apple knows from experience that there's a price point where people will compromise and go for the cheaper and a price where they'll just go ahead and pony up the cash to get what they really want.

If you can't out spec an iPad and you can't out cheap an iPad how do you beat it? Perhaps it is an impossible task. It could be that Apple has already won and everyone else is wasting time and resources trying to compete.

If a big lead is all it takes to win this kind of battle then you'd be sitting down to play Combat CCI on your Atari 100200. Yet when you fire up your console you might be firing up a Wii or Xbox or PlayStation. The key to competing with the iPad (it's too late to kill it) doesn't lie in copying the thing and out speccing it or undercutting the price. The key lies in making your product relevant despite the iPad. The gaming industry can show hopefuls the path.




  • Keep it simple. that’s the only possible way to compete with iPad. Honeycomb’s fatal flaw is that it is - everyone agrees on this point, even Android fans - somewhat more complicated than iOS. and then tie it in seamlessly with your other stuff. which is Google’s great strength in smartphones - all its very convenient communication cloud services. but tablets are not primarily about communication. they are about the rest of your life ...

    90% of consumers don’t want “more” - they want “easy.” they don’t want “create your own” - they want “just works.”

    i honestly don’t see who other than Apple can really deliver that today. MS might have the pieces, but they have proved totally unable to put them together seamlessly. no one else even has the pieces.

    Alfiejr had this to say on Apr 01, 2011 Posts: 18
  • There are many competitors out there waiting to steal Apple’s crown, it’s just a shame none of them are a match just yet. Yet.
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    attain98 had this to say on Apr 18, 2011 Posts: 1
  • When it was launched,iPod was the revelation of the year.It’s success was due to Apple’s fame but I have to recognize that their marketing strategies are the best.One of them is the viral content marketing which is one of the most important marketing tool.This is how they became successfull.Also there is no doubt that the products are really good.I’ve bought an iPad recently and I am very satisfied with it.

    JessieJo had this to say on Sep 21, 2011 Posts: 1
  • Well, new Google Android tablet news are competing somewhat with iPad, they are still relatively new if you compare it to the iPad which is already on it’s 2nd generation

    Warren Baffet had this to say on Sep 22, 2011 Posts: 4
  • Excellent and really researched article.Well thinking and I find it so helpful for me.
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    zahid12 had this to say on Sep 23, 2011 Posts: 59
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    zahid12 had this to say on Sep 24, 2011 Posts: 59
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    zahid12 had this to say on Sep 24, 2011 Posts: 59
  • rbaggio had this to say on Sep 26, 2011 Posts: 95
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