First, the rumors in January about an Apple Tablet. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer tried very hard to circumvent that by announcing Tablets (referred to as Slates) at CES in early January. Jump ahead seven months later and there is no Slate to be seen.
After the iPad announcement, there was lots of criticism until shipments started. After that, People went wild and so did news agencies (racing to develop iPad Apps). I wrote about the five principles that make the iPad a winner before the match even started in my blog post titled: The Five Factors that Make the iPad a Winner. While some might refer to Apple's success as a 'rounding error', by June, 2010, Apple had already sold over three million iPads.
Will tablets go the way that smart phones are headed, which implies that Google's Android has a big chance at victory (due in part to mass marketing by hardware manufacturers and cellular carriers)?
Google still is learning about User Interface design and the usability that goes with it. Every engineer at Google learns how to optimize applications for Search, Google's cash cow. Google would also be wise to invest in more UX training. A plus for Google is that their time-to-market, the time it takes to release a new OS version, is impressive. That said, can you name the Droid device most people carry? Naming and branding needs work as well.
What about Microsoft? Well, a stealth project Tablet called the Courier was cancelled. Why? Well, it probably lost a battle with the Windows 7 team. Courier looked pretty cool. Check out this YouTube video of a Courier. It looked far more advanced than the iPad, but again, innovative ideas are killed off every day in the corporate world.
Rest assured, Microsoft will be in the market with Tablets and they will run ads on TV. The problem is that it is more than putting Windows 7 on a device. Microsoft needs more than a 'tuned' version of Windows 7. If it was just that, why didn't tablets take off years ago when Microsoft introduced Ink in its OS.
The reality is that right now, with the iPad, Apple has a multi-year lead on the rest of the Industry. The iPad doesn't require tinkering or tuning. It works and the UI is so intuitive, you see Grandparents using them on planes.
Building for design and usability with tight integration between the OS and the hardware platform is art and science combined. It seems so simple, but the reality is that thanks to Apple, users (IT jargon for people) now have a design and usability standard. The rest of the industry needs to pay close attention to these important lessons.