Now that everyone who couldn’t bear to wait is feverishly pawing their new iPad (or not), I want to take a few moments to explore the possibility of alternatives.

I’ve admired Apple for the longest time, largely for its design and brand marketing savvy. The company’s innovative techniques have forced the hardware and software industries alike to eschew complacency, at the risk of alienating a very demanding consumer-base. However, I believe that the iPad, while it will certainly not damage Apple’s bottom line (Apple  apparently sold more iPad units on its opening day than it sold iPhone units back in June 2007, when that device was launched*), may well contribute to some overdue redress of the perception of the brand, versus the reality of its product line value.

There’s no denying that Apple has made some innovative products, and its oligarchy has ensured that attention to detail and robust design standards have remained mainstays in the development of all hardware and software offerings. However, the company’s commitment to closed systems, proprietary elements, and “walled garden” disdain for open standards has served to goad competitors into an increasing frenzy of responsive innovation. The result has been that the gap between Apple innovation and mainstream industrial emulation has narrowed sufficiently these past few years, so as to position several competing brands almost neck and neck with Apple on this, their latest release.

Blackberry, HTC, Motorola, Palm, and Google have all come out with multitouch interfaces for their handheld devices, in the wake of the iPhone. While few of these brands offer a truly competitive alternative to the Apple iPhone OS, with respect to UI and application experience, this gap may no longer exist with the Tablet. Here below are a few possible competitors to the early bird iPad:

WePad

Neofonie’s 11.6” display has much going for it, and is *apparently* going to hit the European market in less than a week. however, the absence of any video footage of note makes one pause…Here are some pictures, at least:

 

Lenovo IdeaPad U1

For those who can’t decide between a netbook and a tablet…there’s an app a device for that:

HP Slate

Competitively priced, and with some of the features that lots of people are moaning are lacking in the iPad:

Microsoft Courier

If Ballmer is able to deliver on the promise held within these demos, things could get really exciting:

Dell Mini 5

Multitasking, small form factor, data AND phone AND camera…:

Dell Mini 5 walk thru

ExoPC Slate

They call this a “finger driven PC”, and it certainly has some interesting specs:

ICD Tablets

Innovative Converged Devices has created a full size (called the VEGA), and a mini tablet (the ULTRA), depending on your carrier preference (the VEGA will be sold via T-Mobile, while the Ultra will go to Verizon). The full size gets my motor running more so than the mini, but the mini is certainly worth a look, if portability is one of your top priorities:

Notion Ink Adam

Saving the best for last, Notion Ink has managed to accomplish what I have been dreaming was possible: to marry the text reading superiority of the Kindle (e-ink), the user flexibility of the iPad, and the multitasking capability of some of the the other tablets mentioned above:

So where does this leave Netbooks? Given that companies like MSI, best known as netbook manufacturers, are set to launch their own tablet devices later this year, I predict that with the rise of tablets, we will see a relative decline in netbook sales. It won’t happen overnight, and devices such as Lenovo’s IdeaPad will certainly cater to those of us who want a little bit from both worlds, but as Android and other mobile OS technologies evolve, and multi-touch and resistive interface technology refine themselves, I think netbooks and laptops will be left with greatly reduced market share.

Yet, just when we think that there are enough worthy alternatives out there to permit ourselves the luxury of making a choice, along comes Google (again!) to suggest they may be releasing their own Chrome OS-based tablet

I guess it’s like car-shopping these days: if you need one, get one. If you don’t need one, wait a bit.  Everything seems to change dramatically on a weekly basis, so whatever you buy this week will be trumped in no time. The firm of Amdahl, Nielsen and Moore is hard at work…