I think I've mentioned this once or twice before, but it bears repeating until it sinks in: the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad is not unique, nor necessarily the best of breed in the media tablet sector it is spearheading. And it ain't gonna help Apple shareholders any.

Sure, the iPad will sell a few million units to the Apple faithful, of whom there are many. Being very little else than an oversized iPod Touch, or an extra-large iPhone without the phone, iPads will appeal to the same people who already use the minuscule versions. But there's a flash flood of competing products coming up, and the iPad's selling points of brand name, stylish design, and familiar user experience will have a hard time overcoming what it lacks, like running multiple programs at once, presenting a full-featured Web experience with Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash support, or doing anything you can't already get in the smaller iPod or iPhone packages.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), for instance, promises to present a tablet of its own that has been in development for five years, looks similar to the sleek iPad design, and gives you the full experience of a larger computer. This one has a customized Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows 7 operating system and full Flash support. "We could have released a slate two years ago, but it would have cost somewhere around $1,500," says HP's CTO for personal systems, Phil McKinney. "Since then, chip and screen advancements have given us the ability to create a product that can hit a size, weight, battery life, and price point that will make this product a mainstream offering."

The HP slate rocks an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Atom chip while the iPad runs on an ARM (Nasdaq: ARMH) processor developed in-house by Apple. If you want the ARM experience, there'll be plenty of opportunity for that outside the iPad, including multimedia monsters built around the NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA) Tegra 2 ARM chip. The iPad is a market-defining device, but not likely to remain a top choice in the market it created for very long. It'll cannibalize iPod sales and sink in a sea of choices.

Apple's greatest innovation in the iPad seems to be the slim price point, which sounds a little bit backwards for an Apple launch. In the end, given these shortcomings the iPad will join the Apple TV in the footnotes of Apple's history.

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