Emergence of the Tablets

So recently i read an article about the iPad and how it still has no rival, even when faced with the Moto Xoom. The gist of the article was that the iPad is unrivaled and no matter how many Android iPad clones arrive, the iPad will still be the number 1 tablet on the market. The article claims that Apples R&D is years ahead of the competition and anyone playing catchup will never be as good.
This reminds me of several hundred articles from 2008, 2009 and even early 2010. About how the iPhone was dominant in the market and no one could ever compete. Clones would never be as good, and even Android was only playing catchup and hence will never be better. Lets review some mobile phone numbers from Gartner:
Q1 2010, Android at 9.6% and iOS at 15.4%
Q1 2011, Android at 22.7% and iOS at 15.7%
What that tells me is either that Android is superior ( in terms of value ) or iOS is better and that's irrelevant to mass market consumers.
Now let's assess the first possibility. I prefer the control, choice and freedom on my Android phone. For example, the menu button is something i really miss when using an iOS device. Furthermore i like having options, such as widgets and keyboards. I strongly disagreed when those articles said Android was being developed in the shadow of iOS. Back in those days, iOS didn't have multitasking or even the option to change your wallpaper ( something even my Nokia 6280 had! ). Android introduced those features from day one. Widgets came shortly after, and development has gone so quickly on Android, that feature for feature they surpassed iOS at least a year ago. Which is my general experience with healthy open source projects. Rumours are now floating around that Apple will introduce NFC into their next phone. This leads me to ask, who's actually playing catchup. However, i will admit that almost every single feature that iOS and Android share, is more polished on iOS. This may be considered a sign of quality, and some people firmly believe the quirks and roughness of Android drop its value as a market competitor.
The second possibility is something i find more likely. Most end users - sadly - don't care about freedom and choice. They do generally care about availability, reputation and cost. This is where Android clearly dominates. In the US, iPhone was, until recently, available only on AT&T. This must have hurt sales. Here in the Netherlands, T-Mobile held a similar monopoly. Last year their data network collapsed ( and i still stuggle to use at and am waiting eagerly on the arrival of my Nexus S on Vodafone ). These sorts of availability issues allowed competitors to get a foothold when it mattered. The reputation of Android started off pretty low. I was discouraged from buying my G1 when it first came out. The store clerk said bad things about the OS, that it wasn't ready. I bought it anyway, and despite working daily with iPhones, i still didn't regret my purchase. Slowly it grew to be the only other serious smart phone competitor. A year after my G1 purchase, my wife went to get a new phone, and pretty much all that was recommended in the price range were Android phones. Which is the final point. The iPhone is still too expensive. Android phones are everywhere. Even on prepaid packages. Everyone can have them. This is where the open OS shines. There's no limit to what kind of device you can buy with Android on it.
So back to the tablets. What does the above rant have to do with the iPad? Well, i feel we're in the same situation now with tablets that we were with smartphones when the G1 launched. The Xoom strikes me as the first viable tablet from the rest. Yes, it might not be better, but it's a matter of time before there are 20 Honeycomb tablets floating around with prices ranging from $250 to $1200. So unless Apple adjust their strategy, i think the likelihood is that the same thing happens as with the iPhone/Android fight.
Apple, firstly, need to catch up. The iPad's low resolution and lack of camera's currently aren't on par with most upcoming Android tablets. The iPad 2 may correct this. Apple's iPad pricing has been aggressive, but companies like Archos are known to produce considerably cheaper competitors. If they jump onto 3.0, the first $300 Honeycomb tablet won't be far behind. Once main stream retail picks up the plethora of tablets, it'll be easy to grab a cheap device that fills most of a particular user's needs. If Apple instead go against their normal grain, and release a mid range tablet device with lower specs and wider market reach, they might have more chance competing, otherwise i believe that they will be fighting to hold a lead in 2 years time.