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Opportunities and challenges

As well as providing customers with a huge choice – just think of all the different Android phones that are now available – these different tablets will allow Android to address a huge sector that the iPad will have difficulty entering: vertical markets. For example, touchscreens are perfect for many work situations – factories, building sites etc. – but few would be brave enough to take a fragile system like the iPad into those environments. Android's more permissive approach will allow manufacturers to create rugged tablets suited to these business markets.

Another sector that would doubtless be interested in large-scale deployments of tablets is education, including secondary and even primary schools. But again, few establishments would risk handing out expensive and vulnerable iPads to schoolchildren. Low-cost, ruggedised versions could fill this niche perfectly.

And as is the case for smartphones, developing countries represent a huge opportunity for any manufacturer that can bring out tablets at very low prices and meet country-specific needs. The Indian government is already thinking along these lines with an Android system that will cost a rumoured $35 per unit (although, not surprisingly, there are some doubts as to the feasibility of this project.)

Apple simply cannot compete in these markets: its business model is based on charging a premium price for a premium product. I have no doubt that it will thrive as it continues with this approach, but it inevitably means that it will become a niche player, albeit in a huge market.

So what are the threats to Android's total dominance of the tablet world? There is always Microsoft, of course, but as Cook noted, current Windows tablets really miss the point. Perhaps Microsoft could re-purpose its new Windows Phone 7 operating system, but judging by the cool reception it has received so far, turning it into a product that elicits the kind of fanboy enthusiasm engendered by the iPhone and Android systems will be a Sisyphean task.

Then there are more subtle threats to the whole Android ecosystem, for example from a shortage of key components, or from the increasingly insane lawsuits being flung around, born of the patent thicket surrounding smartphone technology. Although there is a lot of FUD being spread in the latter area, as Groklaw points out in a typically sane post, it's simply too early to tell: we need to leave it to the courts to sort out what has and has not happened.

What is certain is that Android possesses key advantages not only in the smartphone market – advantages that are already being translated into market share – but also, I suggest, in the tablet world. Tim Cook may be “very confident entering into a fight with anyone” at the moment, but I predict he will be rather more circumspect in a year's time.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or For other feature articles by Glyn Moody, please see the archive.

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