Eee Pad, WeTab, S-Pad, WindPad and TouchPad: how the rivals are lining up to take on Apple's tablet
With 2m sold worldwide in a couple of months, and queues still outside Apple Stores, the success of the iPad looks pretty much assured – even though some are hailing it as the future and others aren't too sure what it's for.
However, the consumer electronics companies are falling over each other to get rivals on sale, determined that Apple's reader/streamer/player thingy won't have it all its own way for long.
And as well as the usual suspects – budget netbook pioneers such as Asus, Acer and MSI – it's thought that Samsung could be on the way with its own S-Pad, while rumours are flying around in the Japanese press that Sony is hatching a wannabe iPad-killer, making the most of its recently-inked alliance with Google to ensure content is available for the device.
Tablet devices are expected to be big news at the Computex show, which opened in Taipei, Taiwan this morning, and another driving force will be the demand on the Chinese domestic market for alternatives to the iPad, which will be so expensive when available officially there that several thousand have already been sold through parallel, or 'grey' import channels.
And it's not just in the Far East that iPad rivals are springing up: German company Neofonie is readying its WeTab for a launch in the next couple of months, having recently changed the name from WePad. It should sell for around £400, runs Flash, and is based on Linux, Android and Adobe AIR, and has an 11.6in screen with 1366x768-pixel resolution.
It's based around a 1.66gHz Atom processor with 1GB of RAM, the 16GB of onboard storage can be supplemented using SD cards, and there are two USB ports along with Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and GPS.
Meanwhile Asus, the makers of those very inexpensive Eee PC netbooks, has shown two EeePad tablets in the run-up to Computex. The larger Eee PadEP121 has a 12in screen, is powered by a power-efficient Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and runs Windows 7 Home Premium, meaning it can handle standard Windows software, not to mention multitasking.
Asus Eee Pad EP121
It also has both an embedded virtual keyboard and a hybrid docking station/keyboard, and is said to be good for ten hours' use on a charge.
Like something more compact? Baby brother is the EeePad EP101TC (below), with a 10in display and Windows Embedded Compact 7.
Asus Eee Pad EP101TC
Not to be outdone, MSI also showed its own 10in Windows 7 tablet in its Wind range: this one is run by a 1.66GHz Intel Atom processor 2GB of RAM and a 32GB solid state storage device. MSI has created a Wind Touch user interface which sits over the main Windows 7 Home Premium OS, and it's planned that the unit will have two USBs, an HDMI output and a webcam when it goes on sale later this year, at a price expected to be around $500 (under £350).
In China, mobile phone company Mastone is planning its LifePad, with expected sales of half a million units in the next year at 4980yuan, or around £500. It'll be targeting business users, and launching its own app store to sell software for the device.
And Hanwang Technology, so far best known as a e-reader manufacturer, is planning an Intel/Windows 7 tablet, the Hanvon TouchPad. Hanwang president Liu Yingjian said at the launch announcement that 'iPad is only a toy, but our TouchPad is a real tablet computer'.
Two models will be available, both with 10.1in touchpanels and 1024x600-pixel resolution. The B10 model will have a 120GB hard drive, 1.3megapixel webcams front and back, and will run Windows XP.
While it's expected that these domestically-made products will be more expensive on the Chinese market than the current unofficial iPads available there, at around 6000yuan, or just over £600, it's expected to be less expensive than the official Apple models when they start arriving in China.
And content deals are falling into place involving some of the world's biggest consumer electronics companies: Sony's deal with Google is expected to be the first step in a process to create Android-based products, and the establishment of a content-delivery service such as that recently set-up in the US to provide movies, games and books to such products.
Sony will launch a similar service back home in Japan next year, and has already signed up Japanese telecoms country KDDI, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and book publisher Toppan.
In Korea, it's thought LG Display is planning a partnership with iRiver; it already supplies E-Ink displays for iRiver's Story e-book reader.
And Taiwan's Acer is also getting into the content game, partnering with giant US bookseller Barnes & Noble and Libri.de in Germany, and looking to do similar deals in France and Italy. It's already planning to sell its LumiRead device, with a 6in E-Ink display, at prices expected to be less than £150.
As well as e-book capability, the LumiRead will also allow web browsing and content display via a wireless network link.
It seems that it's not just the form-factor of the iPad that's likely to be under attack from rivals offering extended capability: the wider consumer electronics industry seems to have adopted the Apple model that while attractive products will sell, content is king.