The Modern Day Format War: Winner Declared in the Tablet Wars!

The Modern Day Format War: Winner Declared in the Tablet Wars!
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“The war is never over until the last shot rings out”

Claims are being made that the tablet wars are over, and that the iPad has won - but can this really be the case, so early on? Is the strength of web traffic data enough to make such a bold claim?

With a useful bit of linking from the Twitter feed recently, the website Search Engine Land found itself thousands of new readers all fascinated by Wired’s question “Are the tablet wars already over?” which was inspired by the figures that revealed 97% of tablet traffic in the USA was from iPads.

Of course, history is written by the victors, but if a war has been won it is the war or premature plaudits. The tablet war is yet another example of format wars, which we have seen played out so many times with VHS and Betamax, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator and there is even a parallel battle going on between various mobile phone platforms.

While it might be a little rash to make any predictions based on one type of data it would also be unwise to throw a defense of the other options. However, as we’ve seen, there are plenty of precedents that can give us a hint as to how this particular battle might play out.

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We’ve Been Here Before…

You remember the old video tape format wars, of course (if not, move along…) where the flexible VHS format beat the superior quality of Betamax, or the more recent browser wars that saw Microsoft overcome (by some considerable margin) the threat of Netscape Navigator, only for it to rise from the flames a few years later in the guise of Mozilla Firefox.

While investment was the major contributing factor to the success of Blu-ray (in a world which might not need optical discs for much longer) the mobile phone wars continue to rage, with platforms coming and going, players crashing and burning and major platforms spinning off into new markets, such as tablets.

This is why anyone who thinks that the tablet wars are over has misread the market.

You only have to look at the past five years of the mobile phone industry to see a time when BlackBerry dominated among smartphones and Nokia had the massive slice of every other mobile phone type. In the intervening years, Apple’s iPhone has redefined the smartphone, BlackBerry and Nokia have declined and Google’s Android platform has emerged as a challenger to iPhone, with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 has also become an emerging player.

Apple’s Niche Doesn’t Mean Apple Wins

Motorola Xoom is a popular alternative to the iPad

As you probably know, tablet computer devices existed before the iPad, although these were largely restricted to over-priced Internet tablets from Archos and various clones or the high-end, high priced Windows tablets.

The tablet market that we see today is a different type of device, something that Steve Jobs described at the iPad’s launch as a “post PC device." You can use the iPad tablet much in the same way as you might use a PC, although a computer or notebook or some other central device is still required to sync with.

By scaling up the popular iPhone user interface (known as iOS) Apple’s marketing department was able to forge a massive niche sector from almost nowhere, creating a phenomenon. One result of this, however, was the introduction of unofficial Android tablets.

While Apple continues to dominate this market, Android tablets have been growing in number, just as they did in the mobile phone market. With the arrival of the Honeycomb OS, Android tablets can provide genuine competition to the iPad.

Images from Motorola Mobility Media Center,

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Of course, the quoting of figures to push a particular agenda is nothing new, but I have a confession to make. While 25 million iPads have apparently been sold globally, none of them have settled in the arms of any of my close friends or relatives.

While I have no explanation for this phenomenon, (I’m sure someone out there might have a few suggestions) the fact remains that there continues to be a certain type of consumer that doesn’t just fall for the latest trend without doing a bit of research before making their decision. It might be amusing to describe such a person as an “Android owner” but a quick check of the same figures from the Search Engine Land website reveals that the majority of mobile phone Internet traffic in the USA comes from Android devices.

Throwing figures around, however, doesn’t change the fact that the iPad was launched in 2010 and that the iPad 2, Android Honeycomb and BlackBerry Playbook followed in 2011. Sure, the cult of Mac and the marketing power that surrounds everything that Steve Jobs demonstrates should not be underestimated, but at the same time we should never trust a website that makes waves on Twitter with some unnecessary statistics.

Can You Predict Tablet Sales Based on Internet Traffic?

Search Engine Land’s assertion that the iPad uses 97% of tablet-based Internet traffic misses out a couple of key aspects, the clarification of which would prove quite useful.

The first is that Android doesn’t have a standard browser in any of its releases besides Honeycomb. As such there is some fracturing of information and browser types. Additionally, Android devices are regularly used for tethering; this collection of statistics displays information concerning tablets and mobile phones, with laptops, netbooks and desktop computers excluded.

As such, the bold statement and fascinating figures prove only that we live in a world where creating a news story with the words “Apple” and “ipad” in gets noticed.

One day, someone might win the tablet war, but it won’t happen in 2011.


Sterling, Greg. “comScore: the iPad Owns 97 Percent of US Tablet Traffic”,