Apple iPad 2: Five reasons it already has other tablets beat

The next generation Apple tablet already has an advantage over the competition.

We don't yet know for sure, but -- based on the teasing image accompanying media invitations to an Apple press event later this week -- all signs suggest that the iPad 2 will be officially unveiled. Rivals are aggressively trying to compete with the Apple tablet, but the iPad 2 already has other tablets beat and it's not even a reality yet.

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Most of the speculation and debate over the various tablet platforms revolves around the specs, like the size and resolution of the display, the processor, memory, and storage capacity, the types of ports available, whether or not it has a camera -- or two, etc. Comparing tablets on paper like this, rivals like the Motorola Xoom, BlackBerry PlayBook, and HP TouchPad stack up nicely against the iPad. Well, against the original, first-generation iPad at least.

The iPad 2 may or may not raise the bar for tablet hardware specs, but the bad news for competing tablets is that the iPad 2 already has them beat regardless. Apple basically just has to show up. Here are five reasons the iPad 2 has the upper hand.

1. Established Leader. It is easy to be number one when you create a new market and your device is the only one available. But, no matter how or why it got there, the iPad has a virtual monopoly on the tablet market right now. With that sort of dominance comes confidence that the tablet has third-party support, and that it will not die a sudden death leaving you with a useless, obsolete gadget.

2. Second Generation. Tech gadgets often have bugs to work out, and mobile OS platforms have glitches as well. Apple has an advantage in that it's tablet platform has already had a chance to prove itself, and go through any initial growing pains. First-generation stabs at rival tablets may have some rough patches -- like having to mail the Xoom in and wait a week for it to be returned if you want to get the upgrade to 4G wireless.

3. The Apps. iOS has exponentially more apps than rival mobile platforms -- including Android. More importantly, there are thousands upon thousands of apps that are written specifically to take advantage of the larger display and unique aspects of the iPad. With the launch of Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" -- Google's first OS developed with tablets in mind -- there will be tablet-specific Android apps as well, but all other platforms are playing perpetual catch up to the volume of choices available with Apple.

4. iOS Culture. The popularity of the iPhone and iPod Touch lend support for the iPad. This is true of other platforms as well -- particularly Android, but for the millions of iPod Touch and iPhone owners out there, the iPad just makes sense. They are already familiar with the interface. They already have an understanding of iTunes, and the Apple App Store. Most importantly, they are already invested in a library of iOS apps which can be used with the iPad as well rather than having to start fresh and find app alternatives on another mobile platform.

5. Price. The Apple iPad isn't cheap. For those who are looking primarily for a gadget to read books, the $140 Kindle makes way more sense than the $500 iPad. Even for those who want the broader functionality of a tablet, there are cheaper alternatives. However, when it comes to comparing the iPad with its direct rivals -- the Xoom, PlayBook, and TouchPad, Apple seems to have a price advantage. There is a perception that Apple has higher quality and that it comes at a premium, so most consumers expect to pay more for Apple. When comparing an $800 Motorola Xoom against similarly equipped $730 iPad, the iPad is much more appealing.

There you have it. Of course, we'll have to wait until later this week to see what Apple will actually offer in terms of hardware specs for the next-generation iPad. But, Apple doesn't have to do anything revolutionary to best the competition. Apple already has the initiative and the momentum on its side, and these intangible factors virtually guarantee it will continue to dominate the tablet market.

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