Unlike Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which sells only a handful of different tablet models, Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) offers too many to count. Many of Samsung's tablets are cheap -- budget models aimed at a category of consumer without the means (or willingness) to purchase Apple's devices.
But the most recent addition to Samsung's tablet lineup, the Galaxy Tab S, competes directly with Apple's iPads. Samsung's newest tablets, available in 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch varieties, are every bit as expensive (and feature packed) as Apple's iPads.
But I doubt they will have much affect on Apple's iPad market share. Although the iPad business has begun to decline, expensive Android tablets are the least of Apple's concerns, and do not presently provide much value to consumers.
Galaxy Tab S vs the iPad
In terms of hardware, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S compares quite favorably with Apple's newest iPads. Despite offering a larger (and higher resolution) screen, the 10.5-inch version of Samsung's tablet is both lighter and thinner than Apple's iPad Air. Apple's tablet does have one major advantage over Samsung's -- a faster processor -- but the difference is not likely to be particularly noticeable. The 8.4-inch version is similarly comparable to the iPad Mini with Retina Display.
What consumers are likely to notice is the software -- as an Android tablet, Samsung's devices are limited to the apps that have been developed for the Android operating system. Apple's iOS has more and better apps, particularly when it comes to gaming (Hearthstone, for example, isn't currently available for Android) but overall the gap is not overwhelmingly large.
Where Android is lacking is tablet optimization -- many of the apps available for Android tablets have not been designed to take advantage of the additional screen real estate. Most Android "tablet" apps are just stretched out smartphone apps.
In April, Lifehacker compared the two tablet operating systems and found Apple to be the clear cut winner: Out of the 200 most popular mobile apps, 142 had been optimized for Apple's iPad, while only 99 had been optimized for Android tablets.
Samsung is winning, but not at the high-end
That isn't to say that Android tablets have no place in the market, or to criticize Samsung's larger tablet business. In fact, if current trends continue, Samsung could soon sell more tablets than Apple.
In the fourth quarter of last year, Samsung's tablet business grew more than 85% on a year-over-year basis -- Apple's grew only 13.5%, according to IDC. Last quarter, demand for Apple's tablets actually contracted, while Samsung saw growth of 32%. Apple still sells more tablets than Samsung, but the gap is rapidly narrowing (16.4 million vs 11.2 million last quarter) and it wouldn't be surprising if Samsung overtook Apple in the near future.
But if that happens, it won't be because of Samsung's high-end models. Research firm Gartner noted that most of the recent growth in the tablet business has come at the low-end -- cheaper Android tablets with smaller screens, perfect for buyers on a budget.
Samsung sells many such tablets, like the Galaxy Tab 3, which retails for less than $170. Apple, meanwhile, offers nothing -- its cheapest tablet is the $299 iPad Mini.
Not an iPad killer, but it doesn't need to be
Given that it's priced competitively with the iPad, I can't see Samsung's high-end Galaxy Tab S selling in large quantities. In terms of app ecosystem and user experience, Apple has Samsung's tablet beat.
That said, Apple's iPad business has been an area of weakness for the company in recent quarters, as the demand for Apple's tablets has fallen. It's not surprising that Samsung would release such a device, but it isn't likely to kill the iPad. If anything, it's Samsung's legion of cheap tablets that is the far more menacing threat.