iPad2: Innovative Tablet Killer or Strategic Placeholder?

With the release of the iPad2 in the U.S. last Friday, there have been a plethora of articles from The New York Times  to Fast Company lauding Apple’s latest introduction in the tablet market it created about a year ago.  eMarketer expects worldwide tablet sales to reach 81.3 million units in 2012, up from 15.7 million in 2010.  Apple’s iPad series is expected to continue to own 2/3 of the market.  With over 100 tablets expected to hit the marketplace this year, Apple’s one-year lead will prove to be decisive.

The iPad2’s new features, though noteworthy, are more about product improvements than blue ocean innovation.  The iPad2 is now 0.34in thick.  Its closest competitors pale in light of this waistline.  The iPad2 has a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a low-resolution camera on the front – this is reminiscent of the iPhone4, and nothing new in the tablet industry – it is merely playing catch-up.  The iPad2 has a H.D.M.I. adapter to allow it to connect to a high-definition TV – a move to hopefully one day dominate the TV in your home.  And there is the new cover, complete with magnets, that switches off the machine when applied over the screen.

None of these changes have the same “wow” factor as the iPad originally had.  None of these is earth-shattering innovation.  But that is not the point.  With a one-year lead on the category and everyone else trying to just get a foot in the door with their first introduction, the iPad2 is not trying to be an innovative tablet killer.  It is merely a strategic placeholder – a good one at that.

Every competitor will be fighting for awareness and share of use – an expensive proposition.  Every competitor will be fighting the copycat shadow that it will cast on itself.  Every tablet will need to outdo not only Apple’s iPad but all the other introductions – how different are they all from each other?

Apple has long understood the notion of blue ocean and the advantage of forging new categories.  The first-mover advantage is extremely powerful and offers incredible advantages.  The iPad2 is merely a strategic placeholder to wait out the competition brawl that is about to ensue – why fight them when they will outdo themselves – and to give Apple just enough time to work on the true tablet killer and a true innovative product in 2012 – the iPad3.

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