It was the iPad's second birthday last week. To celebrate, Apple released figures showing the company sold 15.4 million iPads in the final three months of 2011—or more tablets than all the PCs sold in the same period by Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest computer maker.
That the iPad could outpace HP's 14.7 million PCs sold shows just how far it, and the tablet category it created, has come. And it could be just a month or so before Apple introduces the iPad 3, taking the iconic device farther.
There were a lot of naysayers and doubters after Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs took the stage Jan. 27, 2010, to introduce the iPad. It's just an oversize iPhone, critics said. You can't run any of the powerful desktop suites like Microsoft Office on it. Typing on it is miserable.
Obviously, they were all wrong. The iPad continues to dominate the market and has turned the PC industry on its head. Microsoft is scrambling to rework the coming Windows 8 into a tablet-friendly operating system. HP for a time last summer considered abandoning the PC market altogether.
Looking at the tablet category as a whole, a Pew Research survey found the number of Americans who own a tablet nearly doubled over the holidays, from 10 percent to 19 percent, thanks in large part to the introduction of Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's $249 Nook Tablet.
Amazon is believed to have sold a million Kindle Fires a week in December. The two tablets together comprise 40 percent of the Android tablet market, just two-and-a-half months after their introduction.
While the iPad's 40-percentage-point dominance of the tablet market has been cut in half, from roughly 70 percent for the iPad vs. 30 percent for all Android tablets combined, to a 60/40 split, will that trend continue?
A lot of that depends on what tricks Apple has up its sleeve for the iPad 3, which some believe will be introduced around Feb. 24, the birthday of the late Jobs. This will be the first major hardware release since Jobs died Oct. 5. Will it push the envelope or chase the market?
The iPad 2 has fallen behind the capabilities of some of the newest Android tablets, some of which have super-fast quad-core processors, better screen displays, better cameras, longer battery life and 4G LTE high-speed data network capability. That has not really hurt sales so far because the iPad still offers a better overall experience with its apps and the seamless integration for which Apple is known.
At the same time, a low-end market was essentially created by the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet that didn't exist before, and many Android manufacturers have decided the best way to compete with the iPad is on price.
Apple maintains the Kindle Fire has not hurt sales of iPads, which start at $499 for a 16 GB model with no data network capability. That may be so, but average tablet prices have fallen dramatically over the last several months, and that trend seems likely to continue.
Apple is highly secretive about its products before they are rolled out, so most of what is reported in advance is sketchy and varies in reliability. That said:
Bloomberg News, citing three sources, reports that the iPad 3 is already being manufactured at Apple's primary supplier, Foxconn in China, and that the new versions have quad-core A6 processors, better screen resolution, and some will be 4G LTE capable.
Others say the look and feel of the iPad 3 is essentially unchanged, except that it is actually 1 mm thicker than the iPad 2 to accommodate the 4G LTE technology. Still more reports point to better cameras, including an HD quality front-facing camera; the ability to run Siri, the popular voice-activated personal assistant introduced on the iPhone 4S; and possibly near-field communication, which makes data transactions like “bump to pay” at stores possible.
Many analysts believe that just as the earlier-model iPhones have become the lower price points for that device, Apple will continue to offer the iPad 2 but for $100 to $200 less than the current $499 minimum.
We should know within the next month or so which of these predictions pan out. One thing is true: The media tablet, which did not exist until Steve Jobs brought it to life a short two years ago, will become an increasingly dominant part of our lives.