Galaxy Tab vs. iPad? It's Oranges and Apples

The two devices do many of the same things, but they appear to be designed for two very different use cases.

You can learn a lot about the target markets of Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Apple's iPad just by watching the original promotional videos for the two products.

The Galaxy Tab's promo features a user walking through various outdoor scenes carrying the Tab in one hand. You see him carrying on a video conference, then using maps to navigate, then consulting an e-zine, then doing some quick Web browsing, and finally using an augmented-reality app to identify shops and restaurants within his field of vision.

Cut to the original iPad video. People are shown reading e-mail, looking at photos, viewing videos, studying maps, and reading books and newspapers. But the people in the iPad commercial are always indoors and always sitting in thoughtful repose or reclining on elegantly designed furniture, legs propped up, holding the iPad loosely in their lap.

And that's just it. The iPad is designed to be a sitting-at-home device; the Tab, a walking-around-outside device.

Welterweight vs. Heavyweight?

You wouldn't' know it from the hype. The Tab is being billed as the first big-time challenger to the iPad in Round One of the Tablet Wars. Like Joe Frazier challenging Muhammad Ali.

But pitting the Tab against the iPad might be more like Sugar Ray Leonard fighting Larry Holmes--different weight classes, very different fighting styles--wouldn't happen. (At 1.5 pounds, the iPad is a heavyweight)

And the difference in the intended use of the two devices is made clear by more than just the marketing communications coming from the two companies. It's apparent in the devices themselves.

Tale of the Tape

The most noticeable difference between the Tab and the iPad is size. The iPad is much bigger, measuring 9.7 inches tall and 7.47 inches across. The Tab, on the other hand, is just 4.75 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall. And against the iPad's 1.5 pounds, the Tab weighs roughly 0.8 pound.

Samsung is making hay out of these differences, using the Tab's size and mobility as its main wedge into a tablet space that was arguably created by--and is now dominated by--the iPad.

"We are targeting the Galaxy Tab's compact design and form factor as a true mobile tablet," Nick DiCarlo, the director of product planning for Samsung Mobile, explains in an e-mail to PCWorld. "Users can hold the Galaxy Tab in the palm of their hand, text message with the traditional two-thumb method or just one hand using Swype," DiCarlo says. "Plus the Galaxy Tab is small enough to fit in the back of your jeans pocket or inside jacket pocket," he adds.

By contrast, you can't stick the iPad in your back pocket (unless you have a very special pair of pants), and the iPad is too big to grip from behind with one hand--your thumb and fingers can't stretch that far apart. Instead, users typically hold the iPad by gripping one of the sides, or by resting the device on their outstretched palm underneath the device.

The Tab's smaller size might make it better for some decidedly nonmobile tasks, too--like reading in bed. "I don't want to take anything away from the iPad, but it is on the heavy side compared to the Kindle for lying on your back in bed holding it up to read an e-book," says Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. "Holding up the iPad can get a little tiring, so the Tab may prove to be more portable in that use case."

The Tab's small size likely comes at the expense of its touchscreen interface's functionality and ease of use, which are major strengths of the iPad. "With the iPad what we found was that the increased size over the iPhone made a huge difference in terms of user interface options," says Macworld editorial director Jason Snell. It's true that the iPad's large touchscreen works brilliantly for navigating around news sites like the New York Times, playing games, and watching video.

And yet the form factor of tablets appears to be trending smaller. Many of the other tablets on the market, such as the Dell Streak and the Archos 7, are closer to smartphone size than they are to iPad size. And rumors are now circulating that Apple is working on a smaller version of the iPad as well. Then there's the question of what the business world might want out of the next generation of tablets. Here, too, it would seem that a smaller form factor would be better, as blogger Jeff Bertolucci points out.

What's Inside

Because the two devices do many of the same things, their insides are similar in many ways. "We believe the Galaxy Tab will appeal to consumers who want a larger display than is available on a smartphone, in a device that's more portable than the iPad, yet with many of the same benefits in terms of entertainment and apps," says IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian of the Tab's intended uses.

For example, while the iPad's screen is larger than the Tab's, the screen resolutions of the two devices are similar: 1024 by 768 for the iPad, and 1024 by 600 for the Tab. The Tab runs on a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, to some extent resembles the 1GHz A4 chip used to power the iPad.

The operating systems of the two devices, however, point at two very different use cases. While Apple created a special version of the iPhone's operating system that was better suited to a large device, Samsung stayed with a mobile operating system for the Tab--Android (2.2, "Froyo")

The Tab also jumps ahead of the iPad in a couple of key areas. The new device supports Flash video, and it has front- and rear-facing cameras for videoconferencing (the iPad has no cameras). Many oservers expect Apple to roll out front- and rear-facing cameras on the iPad 2.0, to support, among other things, its FaceTime video chat application.

How It's Sold

Initially, at least, Samsung intends to sell the Tab as if it were a smartphone, a device that relies on 3G service for its core functions. Whereas you can buy a Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad and never have to deal with AT&T, Samsung will sell the Tab exclusively through the four major U.S. wireless carriers. This could lead to problems in the Tab's future.

"If 3G is crucial to the use case, you could see Samsung requiring a contract for 3G service with the device," says Current Analysis's Greengart. We still don't know the details about the Tab's pricing, and in this case the devil is truly in the details. Samsung said Thursday that a Wi-Fi-only model of the Galaxy Tab would become available "in the near future," but it would give no dates; for now only the Wi-Fi/3G option will be available.

"Samsung might be shooting itself in the foot by selling the Tab through carriers with a two-year contract," says Yankee Group analyst Dmitriy Molchanov. "I don't think consumers are ready to sign another two-year contract." Molchanov points out that most iPads sold so far have been without a contract with a carrier.

IDC's Kevorkian believes that Samsung will indeed loosen its tie-up with wireless carriers. "We expect Samsung to pursue a multifaceted channel strategy by partnering with mobile operators for distribution and data plans as well as making Wi-Fi-enabled Tabs available through brick-and-mortar and online device retailers," she says.

IDC expects that worldwide media tablet shipments will grow from 13.1 million units in 2010 to 57.5 million in 2014. Most analysts believe that Apple will get the lion's share of these sales through 2012.

Ultimately, the winner of the 'Tablet Wars' may be the technology company that understands best whether tech buyers want to take their tablet computing sitting down or walking around.

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