Is the iPad a one-hit wonder or will the tablet market take off broadly in 2011? That's the question Motorola's Xoom tablet will likely answer.
And this broader market, of course, includes Hewlett-Packard's WebOS tablet and RIM's PlayBook, among others. But Motorola's Xoom stands as the biggest potential consumer rival to the iPad 2 because Motorola is a first-tier supplier that has already competed mightily against Apple in the smartphone market (think Droid) and, more importantly, packs in plenty of eagerly awaited goodies, including: Google's Android Honeycomb operating system for tablets, a powerful dual-core processor, a high-resolution (1,280x800) display, dual cameras, and lest we forget, the Verizon 3G (and soon-to-come 4G) network.
That said, tucked into a research note I received on Friday from Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, was this morsel: "The magnitude of tablet opportunity beyond Apple is unclear." And he also writes that "we believe that iPad volumes in the current quarter will dry up ahead of the iPad 2 launch."
So, will we see long lines at Verizon stores the day of launch, like the iPad? Or has the tablet novelty worn off enough that it's not a line-forming impulse-buy anymore? And/or is it principally a phenomenon linked to the cachet of Apple products?
Based on my own experience, I believe that the media tablet is more than a one-hit wonder. The sheer utility of my iPad has cut my laptop use almost in half, as I've written before. (And the iPad trumps my iPhone too, in a number of respects, like mapping.)
So, what kind of numbers do we need to see? Considering that the market is still nascent, that's a tough call. Kumar said that Apple shipped between 6 and 7 million iPads in the most recent quarter, "with the lower end (Wi-Fi) dominating the mix." With Apple as the high-water mark, we can't expect those kinds of numbers from Motorola initially.
Asia-based rumors claim Motorola is aiming to ship as many as 800,000 out of the gate and RIM a bit more. Those would be healthy numbers.
Who knows, the tablet, in one form or another, could eventually make the laptop obsolete. That would result in huge, market-upending numbers. But I'll leave that highly-speculative analysis for next year.