However much I dislike Apple's obsession with control – the very antithesis of openness – I have to admit that its iPad is an important artefact. I think the tablet is on its way to becoming an important adjunct to other kinds of computing – ideal for sofa-top consumption, say. It will also be perfect for many business and industrial uses (I'm sure it won't be long until we see rugged versions of the form factor.)
But for all its undoubted virtues, the iPad suffers from one major drawback: only Apple can make and sell it. That means there will be no wide-ranging experimentation, no Darwinian competition between different manufacturers and their different models. But that is precisely what will happen in the imminent world of Android tablets. And if you don't believe me, take a look at this Google doc spreadsheet (I still think they should have dubbed it "Spreadly" to go with "Writely"....)
At the time of writing, there are about 20 Android tablets listed, although the list seems to be growing. The details don't really matter: what's impressive is that there is already this kind of number – and it's still very early days in this sector. A few big players like HP, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba have indicated that they will be entering the market, but doubtless many others will join later. Similarly, the prices indicated in the spreadsheet will fall, and the features improve.
Because of this growing competition, the Android tablet space will soon be a hotbed of experimentation and innovation, as is always the case in new markets with a lot of buzz. Later on, most players will drop out, and a few leaders will emerge. But by then, prices will have plummeted well below the iPad, which will become more of a (highly-profitable) upmarket niche product for people who insist on buying this brand.
Aside from this growing flood of new tablets – not quite one a day, even if it sometimes seems like it – there's one other noteworthy feature of this Android tablet spreadsheet: the fact that it was put together collaboratively. It's really an obvious approach to take to gathering comparative product information for fast-moving markets with lots of players from different regions.