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Apple Gets Samsung Tab Banned in EU

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
James Alan Miller

James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

Apple succeeded in getting the iPad's most successful competitor to date banned from the European Union (except for the Netherlands) when a German court granted a preliminary injunction against the distribution of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet a couple of days ago. It argued that the Samsung looked too much like the iPad, as pictured and described in Apple's Community Design 000181607-0001 document for the EU. Shockingly, the judge agreed.

The problem with this decision is that the device pictured in the application looks like nothing more or less than a generic tablet computer. If you saw the images by themselves, outside of the context of the 000181607-0001, you certainly wouldn't think iPad exclusively. You'd think tablet.

What's next? Maybe the EU will ban every other tablet (Android, Windows, webOS, BlackBerry, Linux, etc.) that exists or ever will exist because they're fairly thin, compact and rectangular like the iPad. That would certainly simplify the life of IT professionals as they take charge of workplace tablet support. Or, as I expect, this silly ruling will quickly be overturned so the free market will be allowed to do its job. That is, until the next ruling in the ever-more litigious world of smartphones and tablets.

Apple hasn't done so badly with the iPad. Thanks to it, the iPhone and its retail stores, Apple is now the most valuable company in the world, having just overtaken Exxon.  As it did with the iPhone and smartphones, Apple with the iPad took what had been a fairly static and niche product category, tablets, and turned it into a massive success, defying the conventional wisdom of the time.

It’s not like the original iPhone (a small, rectangular phone with a touchscreen) didn't slightly resemble some other smartphones that existed at the time of its launch. Hey, that could be strategy for Nokia. Rather than risking going down in flames with Windows Phone 7, maybe the former top smartphone maker in the world should cite how the iPhone looks too much like one of its older phone models to be allowed to exist.

As a category, tablets are doing amazingly well thanks mostly to the iPad. According to new research by ABI, tablet shipments will exceed 120 million in 2015, as the computing category emerges from the shadow of traditional PCs and smartphones.

Today, while the iPad still dominates, Android models have collectively taken 20% of the market away from Apple over the past year, ABI said. No wonder Steve Jobs and company are starting to look over their shoulders; although, no single vendor among Android vendors, even Samsung, which has done the best, has come close to matching the success of the iPad or its price point.

"Many vendors have introduced media tablets, but none are separating themselves from the pack to pose a serious threat to Apple," noted ABI Research mobile devices group director Jeff Orr. "In fact, most have introduced products at prices higher than similarly-configured iPads. Apple, never a company to be waiting for others, has introduced its second-generation iPad media tablet while keeping product pricing unchanged."

ABI correctly argues that fragmentation within tablet community—though I would add especially within the Android platform—has hindered tablet growth thus far. So, for example, there are three different versions of the Android OS today running on tablets from numerous manufacturers. That's confusing for application developers, who must decide what software platforms to support, as well as IT pros and organizations deciding which tablet computers to distribute and manage in their organization.

Meanwhile, this year alone we’ll see low-cost tablets introduced by over 50 vendors. This may boost sales of the category for a while, but it could create "a negative perception in the minds of the mass consumer audience about the readiness of media tablets to be fully functional within the next several years,” according to Orr.  “Good user experiences and product response are needed to propel this market beyond the 'early adopter' stage."

This notion applies equally (if not more) to businesses and their IT staffs. What enterprise is going to want to purchase, distribute, manage and support a tablet platform that's fragmented? None, I would think.

That's why, while it’s by no means perfect, you are seeing the iPad and by extension Apple’s closed ecosystem starting to find a home in various office  and vertical business settings (particularly healthcare). GE, for instance, recently extended support for its Cloud-based Electronic Medical Record system to the iPad. It has no plans to do the same for other tablets.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if HP’s TouchPad and, more likely, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet models succeed in finding a niche within companies that take mobile device management seriously. After all, it wasn’t the iPad or an Android model to be the first tablet certified for use by Federal government: it was the PlayBook, despite negligible sales so far, that received the government’s FIPS 140-2 certification for security.