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iPad vs. Kindle vs. HP slate: a close look

updated 09:40 pm EST, Wed January 27, 2010

Apple banking on color and apps

With the launch of the iPad today, many have been proclaiming the death of e-book readers like the Kindle -- as well as yet-to-be-released devices like the HP slate. However, the comparison isn't actually quite so simple and could potentially leave Apple hurting. We're taking a close look at how Apple's tablet stacks up against not just its most obvious competitor today but its expected rival in the future.

As a technical feat, there's no question that the iPad is clearly better than the Kindle. Apart from the Kindle's week-long battery life on e-paper, the simple truth is that the iPad is in an entirely different class: it can display color, it's fast enough to display video, and it holds eight times more storage. Like some e-readers, Apple also has the advantage of Wi-Fi. Having international 3G does give the Kindle Internet access in most countries, but Apple's hardware will have reception in a basement or in areas with less than perfect coverage.

Where the Kindle will truly hurt, however, is software. By the nature of the screen, Amazon virtually has to make its device single-purpose: e-paper doesn't work for much else beyond text. The company has said it will offer apps, but it's no secret that the very existence of the app platform is in response to worries about what Apple would do. As it stands, the software itself will, again, be limited by the e-paper. Most of what's known to be coming so far will be limited to simple text apps and static puzzle games. Apple's solution may "cheat" by borrowing the existing iPhone app library, but the fact remains that it will have a true web browser (versus the Kindle's "experimental" version), a full media player, e-mail, advanced games, and maps.

It should also be noted that Apple is paradoxically the most open here. It's using EPUB, a format that's shared by the Nook, QUE, Sony Reader and other devices. Amazon's Kindle format doesn't require copy protection, but it's only ever useful within hardware and software Amazon makes.

Amazon's best hope is in cost, and it's here that Apple has to genuinely worry. The immediate price difference is obvious: at $499, the basic iPad is about twice as expensive as a 6-inch Kindle; the Kindle DX may only be $10 less expensive, but Apple's unit doesn't even have 3G at that level. To draw even, it's necessary to pay at least $629. And of course, Amazon's 3G is provided for free -- admittedly because not much can be done with it, but it's far easier to justify than a recurring data plan, even if it's as little as $15 a month.

As such, we see don't see Apple completely cannibalizing Amazon's readers; the 6-inch model is simply too inexpensive to ignore. But, simply speaking, the Kindle DX has been killed almost overnight. It's not cheap enough to be the bargain buy, but not advanced enough to be the high-end model anymore. It's entirely likely that Amazon will have a refresh in February, but short of a color screen and Wi-Fi, it will undoubtedly be a hard sell.

So, what about the HP slate? It's still too early to provide a definitive answer, but it's also evident early on that it's taking a fundamentally different approach that could be the real danger to Apple. The prototype we've seen so far is running a full version of Windows 7 and is theoretically much more powerful from a software standpoint. It can multitask, run Flash video, and handle desktop-level apps. Pricing is still an unknown, but HP has already sworn that it will be much less than the $1,500 it would have cost a year ago.

But it may ironically be the very interface that trips HP up. A stock version of Windows 7 may include multi-touch, but most of its interface isn't at all designed for fingers. How many users will be eager to change their browser settings or setup a home network with miniscule options buttons and text? Even though HP has smartly pitched the slate as a media consumption device like the iPad, the maintenance that a desktop OS needs could actually make the slate unpleasant to use where the iPad's more limited interface may actually be a blessing.

Calling the outcome of an iPad versus HP slate battle is difficult, but we're still inclined to give Apple the nod for the simple reason of Microsoft's legacy. The latter so far hasn't shown that it knows how to develop a truly appealing tablet interface. Every concept it has tried -- Tablet PC, UMPC, Origami -- has either been relegated to a niche, such as doctors, or has stalled out as it was caught in between categories without convincing users that it's good enough to either replace one of those categories or to justify its existence in a class of it's own. It has always been Windows shoehorned into a smaller touch design, not a unique experience built from the ground up.

We're not yet ready to say the iPad will do this either, but it has a potentially very strong mix of display, performance and software that should give it the best chance of succeeding.

Apple's iPad

Amazon's 6-inch Kindle

HP's slate prototype

by MacNN Staff



  1. das

    Joined: Dec 1969


    When will people get it?

    It's not about the hardware and feature matrices!

    It's more about the OS, user interaction/interface, apps, and content than it is about the hardware!

  1. sailin74

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Inability to handwrite notes as if on a "PAD" would have gone a LONG way.

  1. bjojade

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple's hit the middle just right.

    The kindle is a book reader, and that's it. A year ago, it was cool, but now the iPad does all the kindle does plus a whole lot more. The HP Slate is just like all the other tablets that failed. It runs a FULL windows OS that wasn't designed to run as a touch screen interface. It's too much.

    Apple could have made a slate running OSX, but they realized that was the WRONG choice. Their iPod interface on steroids is the right way to do things. Yes, as we move forward, there are things that need to be added, such as multitasking, but they will come.

    The Kindle has been a success because it does a limited set of things and does them extremely well. The iPod touch has been the same way. The iPad will be like that as well. The HP slate is going to be like a lot of failed technologies that tries to do everything for everyone, but doesn't do anything particularly well.

  1. iphonerulez

    Joined: Dec 1969


    There should be room for devices

    such as the Kindle. Why does it always have to be one and nothing else? If a person only wants to read books then a Kindle is fine. If they want to do more with a tablet then buy the iPad. The Kindle still seems like a very practical device and if it's cheap enough, then buy both a Kindle and the iPad. The Kindle DX is the Cadillac of eReaders and shouldn't really be compared with the iPad. Sure, I prefer the iPad because I want to do more than read, but I have to acknowledge there is a segment that should only have need for a Kindle. I could certainly see Kindles being used in libraries and schoolrooms and being carried by students. The iPad is for the consumer that wants more. I hope they're both used by consumers.

  1. Telekinesis

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Its that time of the month again.

    Every time I say ipad I think of maxipad, what a terrible name and it's also childish sounding. Its obvious HP got the better name in the slate, they probably had a copyright on it before Apple, who knows but I find it hard to believe they genuinely wanted to go with the maxi-er, ipad.

  1. chas_m




    We sure have some sexist fratboys round here!

    The FIRST place you go is the Maxipad? Really??

    Bet your imaginary girlfriends *love* you for that one.

    I have to say the word "pad" means about 10 different things to me -- starting with "bachelor pad" -- before I would get to a feminine hygiene product.

    Let's hope you fellows mature a bit before this thing ships. Either that, or at least videotape yourselves trying that out as a pickup line on some girl with one in the coffee shop so I can enjoy watching the iPad be used as a weapon.

  1. mikeschr

    Joined: Dec 1969


    What's wrong with both?

    I'm sure I'll end up with an iPad, but if reading on it is from a backlit screen, then I'll also keep my Sony reader. Much more pleasant to read from, and book-sized, as opposed to the iPad.
    I don't see why it's either/or.
    das up top is right - it's not about hardware and features. In truth, most people do get that, but there's a subset of geeks that don't.

  1. qazwart

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Amazon Isn't Worried by the iPad

    Their main concern is the iBook store. That's the killer. As far as Amazon is concerned, the iPad could grind the Kindle and have it for breakfast as long as people use it to buy books from Amazon. If the iPad is a big seller, Amazon will make even more money selling these suckers.

    However, with the iBook store, Apple is now competing against Amazon's bookstore and that can hurt. I suspect that the Kindle App will be updated for the iPad, and Amazon hopes that its cheaper prices will keep people out of the iBook store.

  1. dozx

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It is perfect

    I don't think people understand it. It is not for all the geeks out there. It would never make any sense to them. More than a tablet, this is Apple's answer to the consumer laptop. If you haven't noticed they have all but done away with a consumer level laptop. What Apple has done here is taken all of the computing power a normal consumer needs and put it in a great package. Let's be honnest most consumers have no need for all the power a laptop offers, but they still need something elegant and powerful enough to do what normal consumers do, email, web, video, pictures, music, and games. This product is exactly right for it's intended audiance. 

  1. Jonathan-Tanya

    Joined: Dec 1969


    when will Apple hit $99 for the iPad???

    When you are prognosticating, it might help to do a little research. The e-book phenomena is poised to take off at the $99 price point.

    That is the magic price point, in which surveyed avid readers, said they'll give up paper books, and jump on the ebook reader bandwagon.

    Avid readers - are the main focus of the book industry - people who don't buy books, well they may have lots of opinions, but without buying books, they just aren't in the marketplace that booksellers are concerned about - should go without saying.

    So the 2 million Kindles is nothing - the real tipping point is coming in the future - and if Amazon gets to $99 first, they have little to worry about from Apple.

    With that said, this is Apple - they should worry. But at this point, seriously, Amazon is still in the cat bird's seat...this is their battle to lose.

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