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Halfway through “the year of the tablet,” iPad still dominates

It was supposed to be the year Apple’s iPad got some serious competition; the year that Motorola, Samsung and the rest were going to break the iPad’s dominance, the same way that Android handheld devices have eaten into the iPhone’s share of the smartphone market.

The only problem is that we are nearly half way through the year and the iPad is getting stronger and stronger, shipping more units to more satisfied customers than ever before.

So what went wrong? Is Apple so far ahead in terms of technology and marketing prowess that the others simply can’t catch up? Or did the tech industry just vastly overestimate the market for tablet computers.

Judging from recent sales figures and commentary, it seems that it’s a large dose of both.

Firstly, no-one is able to match Apple’s production pipeline and retailing network. As Brooke Crothers points out on CNET this week, the buying experience for non-iPad customers is spotty at best, with confusion over everything from availability to price. Contrast this with the reception you get as you walk into any one of Apple’s beautifully designed and well-stocked stores.

Second, no other manufacturer seems to be able to make the case for a tablet computer the way Apple does. The same CNET story chronicles the experience of a Staples store in Los Angeles, where people buy tablets on impulse, and then end up returning them after they realize that they don’t do all the things laptops do.

“It’s not that they’re broken,” said an obviously frustrated clerk, talking about the growing collection of open boxes in the back of the store. “It’s that some people don’t understand what a tablet is before they buy one.”

The fallout from the (so-far) failed tablet revolution is considerable. Although Motorola said it shipped 250,000 of its Android Honeycomb-based Xoom in the first quarter of 2011, analysts estimate that only around 100,000 were actually sold through retail and other channels. RIM has sharply pulled back sales forecasts for its PlayBook tablet, which debuted to shaky reviews earlier this month.

Next up is HP’s TouchPad, which features a 9.7-inch screen, the same size as the iPad, and which runs HP’s own webOS, which it inherited from Palm. Although the TouchPad will be competitively priced, it has a long way to go before it can compete with the iPad in terms of features and available apps.

It’s more than likely that HP will find out what Motorola, RIM, Samsung and others already know: that when it comes to tablets, there is the iPad, and then there is everything else.

Have you bought a tablet computer recently? Share your experience with The Online Mom!

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