The newest iPad is> thinner, faster and adds not one but two cameras. But as Apple (AAPL)
One thing is for certain: Tablet fever doesn't seem to be going away. Apple already sold the lion's share of tablets last year, some 15 million overall -- approximately 85% of the tablet market -- which generated $9.5 billion in revenue for the company. This year, dozens of competitors are expected to debut competing tablet computers, and tablet sales across the board are expected to triple. Samsung and Motorola Mobility (MMI)
With such a considerable head start, the iPad is still the tablet to beat, analysts say. "They're raising the bar for everyone else," says Joseph Beaulieu, an equity analyst for Morningstar. The competitors have yet to build something that's as easy to use, speedy, and good-looking, critics say. Plus, the also-rans aren't cheaper: The big names already on the market range from $500 (also the price of the new entry-level iPad 2) to $900, depending on memory and whether you want the ability to hook up with a wireless provider. As of today, they're all more expensive than the first-generation iPad, which now starts at $400, Apple announced today.
But unlike a cell phone or a full-fledged computer, tablets still fall into the "toy tech" category. "It's something you want, not something you have to have," says Jeff Orr, a senior analyst with ABI research. What tablets can do is still limited: The touchscreen keypads aren't great for typing, there's minimal storage, they rely on apps, many of which won't work if there's no internet connection available. Want a constant connection? That'll cost you: Devices that can access wireless carriers' networks are more expensive to begin with, and may require the extra burden of a two-year data contract at an extra $20 to $80 per month.
Of course, there is a device on the market that's portable, lightweight, has tons of memory and all the multimedia features most users want. It's called a laptop, and experts say they're still better than tablets for users who want something that's truly functional. Downloaded software trumps apps for productivity, and doesn't require an Internet connection to function well, Orr says. There's easily twice the storage capacity for all that media you're watching, and a DVD drive for those who aren't ready to stream. And for users interested in a device that supports Flash multimedia, that capability is still widely available -- even on Apple products, despite the company's decision not to support the technology on the iPad. Plus, they're significantly cheaper, notes Orr: A basic-but-decent laptop runs about $350 30% less than the cost of the cheapest iPad.
Update, 2:55pm: This story was updated to include additional pricing information on the first-generation iPad.