Apple hands iPad rivals an opportunity, but who will take it?

The new iPad is a nice upgrade, but no real breakthrough. Can Android close the gap?

After Apple unveiled its new iPad Wednesday afternoon with a typically polished and showman-like keynote, Garntner analyst Michael Gartenberg gushed to his 18,000 Twitter followers, "Many Android tablet vendors weeping right about now." I'm not so sure. What I see is a product that offers solid improvements over its predecessor, but no quantum leaps. And with Apple presumably not expected to deliver a fourth-generation tablet until next year, that gives rivals like Samsung and Nvidia -- both called out in some fashion during Apple's keynote -- a chance to close the technology and sales gap. Of course, it's already been happening to some extent. Mobile advertising company Jumptap recently reported that less than 50% of tablet traffic in January was generated by iPads, down from 75% last October. Most of that decline is due to the success of Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, which launched in late September and by January was responsible for 33% of tablet traffic. Now, with a brand new iPad, Apple very likely will reverse that tablet traffic decline as current iPad owners upgrade and new customers finally make the plunge. But I'm not convinced Apple is offering enough with the new iPad to convert current owners. As ITworld "The TechnoFile" blogger Peter Smith writes, "while I really like that new display and more speed is always welcome" ... "I'm not quite excited enough to upgrade." There are some other improvements, but look at some of the headlines to the early reviews: * The new iPad doesn't thrill me. Does it thrill you? * Prettier iPad retains familiar qualities * New iPad neither dud nor 'revolution' * 6 reasons not to buy Apple's new iPad Is any of that going to push fence-sitters toward Apple's new tablet? I'm not saying the new iPad will flop -- it's going to sell plenty -- but I get the sense there's an "is that all there is?" vibe to the reaction. Of course, you probably could have said the same for the iPhone 4S, and that ended up being Apple's best-selling smartphone. Still, now that the new iPad has dropped, Android mobile OS developers and tablet manufacturers have time to close the gap, or at least find a comfortable niche in the tablet market, whether it's price- or features-based. Easy to say, yes, and nobody but Amazon has done it yet (though Barnes & Noble's Nook shows some promise). But you'd think two years into the tablet game, someone besides Apple is figuring it out.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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