At this point I really dont think anyone can build a better iPad. But someone could build a better something else and focus it on a niche that Apple doesnt excel in. Apple sucks at the government, education, healthcare, corporate, and military markets.
Interestingly enough, Panasonic, which actually started as a consumer company, is with PCs more focused on the government, military, healthcare, and hardened corporate markets -- where Apple is weakest. Their tablet is far from a me-too and very well differentiated.
Im increasingly convinced that the way to flourish in any market defined by a single vendor is to either partner with that vendor or go places they arent. Panasonic is doing the latter. Lets look at their product.
The Panasonic BizPadRight at the beginning, the name, unlike names like PlayBook, means business and indicates the offerings target market. You arent buying this so that you or your employees can watch movies, enjoy music, or play games. It uses Windows CE, which has no app store full of distracting applications, games, third party movie sites, or cute social networking applications. You dont give this to an employee who needs more play time; that employee can buy their own iPad. You give it to folks who you want focused on work.
To make up for this, the product is designed to be all-weather. The display is designed to be usable outside, it is military specification drop-tested. It uses a 6.5-inch screen so it can be pocketed or more easily vehicle mounted. It weighs less than half what the new iPad weighs. Malware that will run on the iPad or any Android tablet will not run on this device. It has an expansion slot for an SD card to both add to storage and to receive media. It also has built-in 3G support to conserve battery life.
It is thick, which improves structural rigidity and makes it nearly unbreakable, and it comes with a hand-strap so you can easily keep it in your hand and work with it while moving. It has eight hours of real battery life in production because thats a typical work shift.
While this product will hardly keep Steve Jobs awake, I think Panasonic is on a better path than most. The company is exploring where the iPad isnt, rather than where it is.
The Apple ExampleLets look at the iPad itself, which moves against Windows. For the last decade Apple has outspent and out-executed every other PC maker in marketing, hardware design, and ease of use.
Microsoft even stumbled with Windows Vista and every bit of share that Apple gained, it then apparently gave up when Microsoft brought out Windows 7. But currently the iPad is at a higher run rate than all of the traditional PC products are because folks see it as different and value that difference. While it still is too early to say whether there really is a sustainable tablet market rather than an iPad fad -- because no other tablet is doing that well -- you cant deny that going the most successful strategy was going where Microsoft wasnt.
BizPad vs. iPad: Wrapping UpThe Panasonic BizPad wont go head to head with the iPad. Where the iPad excels the BizPad wont be competitive, but where the BizPad excels the iPad generally wont be seriously considered.
This give Panasonic a chance to define a space they can defend rather than trying to horn in on a space that Apple has painstakingly created and defined. In a market of me-too products the BizPad stands out, not as the volume leader, but as something that reflects Panasonic -- not something that copies Apple. I think that is not only the better path, but the more honorable one.