Elance Blog

iPad 2 vs. the World: A Tablet Update

We’ve talked a lot about 2011 being the year of the tablet. Last week, Motorola released their highly anticipated Xoom, with dual core processor, front-and-rear cameras, 1GB of RAM, and claim as the first tablet to run Google’s new Honeycomb operating system. Hewlett-Packard purchased Palm last year, and last month unveiled their Touchpad tablet running Palm’s webOS platform. And there is finally a real release date (April 10th) for the long-delayed Blackberry Playbook.

But as it’s been the case for the past year, the start and end of the tablet discussion usually involves Apple’s iPad, which held 90% of the tablet market last year in the United States. (We should note that Android-based tablets posted a 22% market share in Q4, mostly from the Samsung Galaxy Tab, so there certainly is much momentum on Android’s side.) With Apple’s Wednesday announcement unveiling the iPad 2, we wanted to reassess the tablet market, and offer some perspectives on what it will mean for much of the Elance community.

iOS 4.3 or Honeycomb?
Until Apple unveils iOS 5 (likely to come with the announcement of the rumored iPhone 5 this summer), 4.3 will be the standard operating system for the iPad 2, and will ultimately draw direct comparisons to Google’s Honeycomb (the nickname for Android 3.0), which was developed specifically for tablets. Among its new (and pretty minor) features are improved iTunes Home Sharing, and multi-finger and multi-touch support. All in all, iOS 4.3 only makes incremental improvements over the previous version, so it’s likely that Apple is waiting until summer to announce their big changes.

Honeycomb, on the other hand, features a UI designed specifically for large displays, rather than its predecessor Froyo (version 2.2), which supports both tablet and smartphones (like iOS). Preliminary reviews on Honeycomb has been favorable to mixed, but considering that there will be a full slate of Honeycomb-based tablets following the Xoom into production, should prove even more consistent in the near-future.

What It Means For Developers
Starting off with (you guessed it) the iPad 2, the fact that the new hardware is more evolutionary than revolutionary means that iPad developers won’t have to make any changes to the existing applications they’ve created. In fact, they get some new enhancements to take advantage of, including a gyroscope and faster A5 processor, which Apple claims will give up to 9x greater graphics and 2x overall performance—with the same battery life. Game developers are undoubtedly salivating at the new possibilities this creates for making even more elaborate games without having to worry about additional power consumption.

On Honeycomb, developers too get a dual-core processor to work with, but also get 3D graphics support and major UI tweaks such as browser tabs, and tablet-specific variants like Gmail. The fact that, unlike iOS, there are very real differences between smartphone operating systems (Android 2.2) and tablets (Android 3.0) is a major sticking point for the adoption of Android as the de-facto OS for so many different tablet manufacturers.

The Issue of Flash
Tablets are mostly a sore spot for Flash developers, due to Apple’s well-publicized brush off towards Adobe’s rich media platform, citing high battery drain and their belief that HTML5 is the future of web media. The iPad 2’s announcement doesn’t reveal budging of any sort from Apple, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. But interestingly enough, Motorola’s Xoom, deemed to be the primary competitor to the iPad family (based on specs and availability) has begun shipping without Flash support itself, and doesn’t anticipate Flash until sometime in “Spring 2011.” Longtime proponents of the Android operating system have always been able to play the Flash card in iOS vs. Android debates, so this poses an obstacle, albeit a temporary one, as other manufacturers look to take more of Apple’s market share.

2011 should be a very interesting battleground to follow in the tablet wars. Will Apple’s existing market share and incremental improvements over the first-generation iPad be enough to stave off competitors using Honeycomb, webOS, and maybe a Microsoft tablet OS eventually? Or will Google’s promising Q4 growth mirror the incredible success they’ve had in winning the U.S. smartphone battle? One thing we continue to know is that there will continue to be more job opportunities for developers across all tablet operating systems, fueled by increased demands by consumers and business alike.

What are your thoughts on all of these new tablets? Planning on buying an iPad 2 or has Honeycomb won you over? Leave a comment or head over to discuss on our Facebook page!