With Samsung, BlackBerry, Lenovo and Acer among the electronics brands planning to take on Apple's iPad in the tablet market in the latter half of the year, experts are predicting a marketing war in the sector.
Products mooted for launch are Samsung's Galaxy Tab, BlackBerry's BlackPad and LePad from Lenovo. The imminent arrival of rival products has prompted Francisco Jeronimo, research manager for European consumer wireless and mobile communications at IDC, to predict that tablets will be the 'big hit of Christmas 2010'.
Apple sold more than 3m iPads in the three months after launch, proving that early adopters would, indeed, be eager to snap them up. However, rivals planning to enter the market will do so without the 'first mover' advantage. The question is, then, how to tackle Apple.
In some respects, marketing directors facing this task must feel that the world is an unfair place. They need considerable savvy and deep pockets to gain brand recognition. For Apple, the mere hint of a product launch sparks enormous press coverage and results in legions of the its fans camping outside its stores to ensure they are among the first to get their hands on the latest gadget. For less sexy brands, things are less straightforward.
One approach is to take a leaf out of Microsoft's book and tackle Apple head on. The technology giant has run a series of high-profile campaigns for its PCs aimed at undermining Apple. Nonetheless it is a high-risk strategy, which has the potential to backfire. Apple did, in fact, respond to the ads with a successful 'Get a Mac' campaign.
Another brand that has attempted to take a bite out of Apple is Samsung, with its Galaxy S touchscreen smartphone. It looks similar to the iPhone 3G but runs on Google's Android platform, which many consider to be superior to iPhone's operating system.
There are plenty of apps available for the Samsung device and it has been positively reviewed. However, perception seems to be key - many consumers looking for a smartphone have to be given a reason for choosing a handset that isn't an iPhone.
So along with a big marketing spend and celebrity-heavy launch strategy, Samsung slipped in a couple of tactical ads taking a pop at the reported reception problems of the iPhone 4.
One read: 'Hello', using the bars indicating mobile reception strength in the place of the letter L. The other carried the line 'Samsung Galaxy S has had a great reception'. Although no mention of the iPhone 4 was made, the target was obvious. The ads weren't used widely, but generated a great deal of buzz for Samsung.
According to Jon Wade, director of digital strategy at direct marketing agency Wunderman, challenger brands looking to take on Apple's iPad will almost certainly follow a similar strategy. 'Apple effectively has two Achilles' heels. In my opinion, its first weakness is its arrogance and its second is the unjustifiable price it charges for its technology,' he says. 'Rivals will almost certainly look to exploit these areas.'
This might work for products consumers are already convinced about - MP3 players and smartphones - but there is a fundamental problem with tablets: many people remain uncertain of their uses.
In that sense, Apple may have done its rivals a favour in coming out with the first significant hit, backed by a heavyweight ad campaign that shows consumers why they should purchase a touch-screen tablet.
According to experts, brands would do best to steer clear of taking a swipe at Apple in favour of investing in educational campaigns that demonstrate the unique benefits of their products. Ian Fogg, principal analyst at research company Forrester, believes it is crucial for companies without the kudos of the Apple brand to explain to consumers exactly why their products are different.
'The tablet category is currently ill-defined, which reinforces the purpose of marketing,' he says. 'Manufacturers are asking consumers to buy an entirely new kind of device, so they have a tremendous amount of marketing education to do.'
To a certain extent it is possible to ride on the wave created by the launch of the iPad. However, sooner or later, rivals will have to demonstrate a USP or risk sinking beneath the surface.
TABLETS: SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
Apple iPad First to market; all Apple's style
BlackBerry BlackPad* Rumoured to have tethering feature
so will not require phone contract
Dell Streak Fits in your pocket; works as a
Lenovo LePad* Little known other than it uses the
Samsung Galaxy Tab* Could be the first PC tablet on the
* Yet to be officially launched.