Tablet market heading for a shakeout


Philip Elmer-DeWitt is a senior editor at Fortune.

A dispatch from Barcelona sees trouble ahead for the iPad's competitors

RBC Capital's Mike Abramsky has coined a new acronym: NAAT! (Not Another Android Tablet!)

"The geyser of Android tablet launches continues," he writes in a note to clients from Day 2 of Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona. He mentions, among others, the HTC (Flyer), ViewSonic (ViewPad 4), and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. "Plus dozens of lower-end Android tablets pending from Asian manufacturers (Huawei, ZTE) in every size -- so fast it's dizzying."

Compared with building a smartphone, according to Abramsky, it's relatively easy for manufacturers to "rapidly slap out a Wi-Fi tablet from available components."

"Given so much competition and noise arising so fast," he writes, "and given all will have similar Android services (gmail, apps, search, gtalk, UI), it's hard to see how some Android Tablet OEMs can differentiate and avoid marginalization/commoditization -- hence the Android tablet market may be shaping up for a shakeout."

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While the sheer volume of Android devices represents what Abramsky calls "a huge competitive force," large numbers of "sub-par, underpowered lower-quality Android tablets" could undermine the Google (goog) Android brand, particularly next to the iPad, which Abramsky calls "the gold standard for comparison."

The market dynamics could be helpful for both Apple (aapl) and Research in Motion (rimm), he concludes, "if Apple can maintain its innovation and ecosystem lead with new versions and RIM can execute on the differentiated promise of PlayBook."

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