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Can Samsung's Tablet Hold Its Own?

Samsung hopes the Galaxy will compete with the iPad through carriers and content.

Samsung unveiled its new tablet, the Galaxy Tab, last night in New York City. Important details about the device–such as pricing–remain a mystery, but what’s clear is that Samsung hopes to compete with the iPad. A key to this strategy will be offering service through all major U.S. cellular networks and having a wide variety of content ready to go.

Tablet contender: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab runs the Android operating system and is meant to go head to head with Apple’s iPad.

The Galaxy Tab is one of the first iPad competitors to be launched by a major electronics manufacturer, and it could test whether consumer enthusiasm for the Apple product will transfer to other devices. ABI Research, a technology research firm, predicts that 8 million to 12 million tablets will sell in 2010, depending on how well iPad competitors are received.

The tablet’s hardware capabilities are fairly similar to those of the iPad. It has a seven-inch touch screen (somewhat smaller than the iPad’s 10 inches), weighs about 13 ounces (compared to 24 ounces for the lightest model of iPad), and comes with 16 gigabytes of memory. Where Samsung really hopes to compete is in software and availability.

Whereas iPad users can only get a data plan with AT&T, the Galaxy Tab will also be offered through Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

Jeff Orr, principal analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research, says any company that wants to compete with the iPad needs to make sure that its device is very easy for consumers to buy. Samsung’s tablet, in this case, will benefit from appearing in retail stores selling products for all four major carriers. “It was always more a question of when and who would be making these partnerships,” he says.

Samsung also hopes to stand out through its use of the Android operating system. The tablet runs Android 2.2, which supports Adobe Flash 10.1, a browser plug-in that makes it possible to view a wide variety of Web video and multimedia content currently unavailable on either the iPhone or the iPad.

“I think it is very important for any new pad, device, or platform out there to run Flash, not just because that enables access to significant chunks of the Internet, but also because if you are not Apple, you are going to need every competitive weapon in the arsenal to make inroads against them,” says Al Hilwa, program director for application development software at IDC.

Consumers have gotten used to having a wide variety of apps to run on the iPad. Orr says these apps have helped popularize high-end mobile devices. Users are also accustomed to easy access to content such as music and TV shows on these devices. In both of these cases, Orr says, Apple has a strong advantage–its app store and iTunes are both convenient ways for users to find content.

Samsung hopes to compete in this arena as well. The Android market now has 100,000 apps, but Hilwa says consumers are more impressed by their quality than their number.

Along with a new website, Samsung has launched Media Hub, an application that lets consumers access premium TV and movie content. The application is available through the Android market. The Galaxy Tab will also be able to share content smoothly with Samsung televisions and mobile phones. Kris Narayanan, vice president of digital marketing for Samsung North America, says the company has worked to create a real “connective experience”–users will be able to sling content between devices, pausing on one and resuming on another.

Narayanan says it’s important to provide a coherent experience across different products, and he believes that apps are central to that goal. Samsung has launched a store on its website that at first will provide apps for televisions only. Eventually, those apps also will work on all Samsung devices, including the Galaxy Tab.

Orr says the ability to discover content and use apps to extend the functionality of the Galaxy “is very desirable and perhaps critical.” Apple has a huge advantage with its iPhone operating system and existing iTunes content, he notes, but he believes that Samsung may have developed the necessary partnerships and software to be a viable competitor.

Ultimately, Orr says, it’s too early to predict how the Galaxy will compare: “The media tablet market is really in its infancy.”

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