Apple Squeezes More Steam Out of iPad 2
Despite being unable to meet initial demand in the U.S., Apple is moving ahead with its plan for an international iPad 2 launch on Friday. However, non-U.S. stores may open with very small supplies of the much-sought-after device. Meanwhile, new competitors are coming out of the woodwork: RIM's set PlayBook pricing, Samsung's shown two new Galaxy Tabs, and even Amazon may step into the fray.
Apple is on a mild tear, despite fears that the earthquake and tsunami that have ravaged Japan might impact its supply chain.
The company announced Tuesday that its iPad 2 would go on sale in another 25 countries Friday. This follows on the heels of strong demand in the United States that cleaned out retailers' shelves.
Meanwhile, the competition, in the form of Android tablets, is being dogged by problems of its own.
Apple shares stood at US$341.20 at press time, up $1.90 after a day of heavy trading, although overall markets were down.
The Mighty, Mighty iPad 2
The WiFi-only version of the iPad 2 will hit retail shelves in Europe Friday. Apple plans to release both the WiFi-only and the WiFi plus 3G models of the device in Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and other countries in April.
Barclays Capital told investors in a note Tuesday that checks indicate the iPad 2 remains sold out across retailers in the U.S., and availability at Apple stores is limited and sporadic.
Given that, Barclays speculates that some launches in overseas markets might be pushed back or be provided with limited quantities of the product. The iPad 2's launch in Japan has already been delayed, Barclays said.
Further, sales of the new MacBook Pro laptops, introduced last month, are very strong, Barclays said.
What? Cupertino Worry?
Apple's decision to launch the iPad 2 internationally Friday contradicts speculation that the recent disaster in Japan might have impacted its supply chain.
Well, like all provident corporations, Apple probably stocked up well ahead of time.
"Last year, everybody was conservative about their launch plans, so the iPad and a lot of smartphones ran into supply shortages," James McGregor, chief technology strategist at In-Stat, told MacNewsWorld.
"This year, everyone made sure their supplies of everything from displays to components to whatever were locked up so you're seeing the launch of the [HTC] Thunderbolt, the iPad 2 and other devices," McGregor added.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Advance purchasing is another reason why the disaster in Japan has had a relatively minimal impact on iPad 2 supplies, McGregor said.
"A lot of these markets, especially for handsets, are so huge that much of the component manufacturing is based on annual forecasts," McGregor explained. "All the components are already at the assemblers and Foxconn has inventory built up."
Foxconn assembles most of the Apple products at several factories in China.
Android Lurks, Unsteadily
While Android tablets pose the greatest challenge to the iPad, their threat seems to be growing ragged at the edges, thanks to Microsoft.
Yes, Motorola's Xoom is widely seen as the most likely iPad-killer, and Samsung on Tuesday announced yet another pair of Android tablets in its Galaxy Tab family.
But Microsoft claims the Android operating system infringes on its patents, and has trained its legal guns on anyone making devices running the OS. It filed suit against Barnes & Noble, Foxconn and Inventec over the Nook e-reader, which runs Android, on Monday.
Redmond had previously slapped Motorola with a lawsuit stating the handset maker's Android devices infringe on its patents.
The lawsuits might force Android tablet manufacturers to keep their prices high or eat the cost of licensing fees.
"Microsoft's actively negotiating with the other Android licensees, and some of them have settled quietly with it," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told MacNewsWorld.
Redmond's demands "make Android products even less profitable than they were, and tablets weren't doing that well to begin with," Enderle pointed out.
The Amazonian Attack
Rumors that Amazon might be planning to bring out a Kindle running Android have surfaced. If true, the device might turn the Kindle into more of a tablet than an e-reader, bearing out rumors that Amazon has plans to offer such a device.
The rumors were given additional credence by Amazon's launch of its own Android app store Tuesday.
"Clearly, Amazon would wrap an Android tablet with their app store," Enderle remarked. "A lot of us think it's the one company that could give Apple a run for their money."
However, Amazon may need to clear the licensing issue with Microsoft if it does bring out an Android tablet or risk getting slapped with a lawsuit of its own, Enderle cautioned.
Regardless, the Amazon app store may sap Android's threat to the iPad 2, as it might price apps lower than the Google Android Market does. It's hard to beat watching your enemies fight amongst themselves.
Out on the Rim
In another development, Research In Motion announced Tuesday that it's taking pre-orders for its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet through Best Buy in the United States and the Future Shop retail chain in Canada.
The PlayBook will be available in three models, all using WiFi. Like the iPad, the PlayBook will be available with 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB storage configurations. It will bear the same price points as the WiFi-only iPad 2: $499; $599; and $699.
Whether the PlayBook will pose a threat to the iPad 2 is open to question, but it might attract buyers who already use BlackBerry devices.
For the moment, at least, Apple looks to be in a strong position.