iPad domination fading as competition grows

Hailed as revolutionary after its release in April, the iPad may not be alone for long in the tablet computer industry.

In August Dell released the Streak, a hybrid smartphone-tablet with a 5-inch screen, and has hinted at larger tablet computers in the works. Research In Motion, meanwhile, unveiled the BlackBerry PlayBook, a 7-inch tablet, last week. Apple’s iPad has a 9.7-inch screen.

The Streak runs a version of Google’s Android operating system, while the PlayBook uses RIM’s new BlackBerry Tablet OS. A tablet running Windows has yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, this newest battle in the tech industry seems to mirror the Mac vs. PC debate that has been going on for years, as some students will choose one tablet over another solely based on brand.

“I like Apple products a lot,” said Ryan Nealon, a freshman in the College of Health Sciences. “I’ve got an iPod, I have a new Mac computer; I checked out the iPad a lot, and it’s amazing. You can tell that it’s the best because you hear about it a lot more than you hear about other products like it.”

Nealon owns an iPad, and said if given the option of an Android tablet, he would still choose the iPad over another device.

Sheikh Iqbal Ahamed, an associate professor in the department of mathematics, statistics and computer science, said Android tablets should still compete well with the iPad.

“They are a lot cheaper, lighter and have good multimedia support,” Ahamed said in an e-mail. “In addition, they have a good user base, as the total number of Android phone users is more than the number of iPhone users.”

Ahamed studies the use of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and is the director of Marquette’s Ubicomp Lab, where he conducts research with students on pervasive computing in all industries, including health care.

Ahamed said while the iPad excels with basic functions, Android tablets have more potential for expansion.

“Apple has excellent multimedia support and user interface; they truly put time in design,” Ahamed said. “The only limitation (for Android tablets) is that the number of iPad applications in the Apple Store is far more than the Android tablet applications. But since Android is open source, the number of applications will be increased exponentially.”

Open-source software can be edited by anyone, not just software companies, which could soon allow the Android app market to outstrip the Apple Store.

But some don’t see the point of tablet computers, citing difficulties using them for traditional office applications.

“It’s like a giant i(Pod) touch,” said Hari Prasad, a freshman in the College of Engineering. “In reality, it’s kind of useless. I don’t really like either. I think the iPhone’s better than both of them.”

But Nealon thinks that with a few more features, tablets could replace laptops altogether.

“Although my laptop is pretty easy to carry around, the iPad is light enough and small enough that you can just carry it in a bag or carry it in your hand,” he said. “So if there was an easy way to type a paper and print with it, then I would probably do it.”