Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
The two major classes of tablet seeking to grab a share of the iPad's market have in many ways been driven by operating system advances. Windows 8 will bring the new Metro user interface and ARM support to allow what has historically been the more powerful PC class to scale down. Android 4.0 unifies the platform's tablet and smartphone operating systems, encouraging it to take better advantage of the larger screen capabilities and scale up.

Indeed, the full potential of the new iPad won't be known until the release of iOS 6 to fuel Apple's historically tight pairing of hardware and software; that other shoe will likely drop at its developer conference in June. Despite the lack of a new operating system or form factor, the third-generation iPad and its now price-reduced predecessor have set the stage for how Apple plans to defend against Android and Windows tablets.

The view from above
For a company with such a rich history of software, Microsoft's challenges with Windows tablets seem to rely more on bits that atoms. In offering form factors that can function as both a notebook PC and tablet, PC manufacturers have a powerful marketing message that the best tablet is the one you don't have to buy as a second device. On the software side, however, Microsoft is arguably asking Windows developers to make at least as great a shift between the classic Windows user interface and Metro than Apple has between the Mac and iOS. Apple's announcements better prepares the company for the challenge in three ways -- by bolstering the device's processor, improving its first-party productivity and creativity applications, and showcasing how increasingly sophisticated apps such as Sketchbook ink and iPhoto can take on tasks previously reserved for the PC.

The view from below
That third tactic will also be effective in some ways in defending the tide of tablets that Google hopes will rise up from the Android smartphone army. After all, the storage-deficient and camera-lacking Kindle Fire, the most successful iPad competitor to date, could hardly be positioned more as an exclusive content consumption device in the tradition of its e-paper-based forebears. But mostly it is the iPad 2's new lower price that will be Apple's defense against Android. While its $399 price point won't lure many price-conscious Kindle Fire buyers, it does put renewed pressure on other Android tablet makers that have seen their 10" offerings slipping into that price range.

The view from within
Apple's greatest defense against competitors, though, is not about improved specs or lower prices, but more about how it sees the iPad. iPad apps shown at the event, including iPhoto with its engaging user interface and GarageBand with its novel networked Jam Session feature, show how Apple considers its tablet not as another PC form factor or opportunity for developers to spruce up a smartphone app incrementally, but rather as something special and unique. It is a level of favoritism that Google and Microsoft can never have for any given device running its licensed software. Apple's success in communicating that passionate perspective with developers and consumers has not just fueled the marketplace success of the iPad, but its products in general.


Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director and principal analyst of the NPD Connected Intelligence service at The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.