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Will tablets go the way of netbooks?

What most manufacturers don?t realize is that consumers are buying the iPad ? the most saved-for holiday electronics gift ? because it is an Apple product, and not because it is a tablet. There?s the iPad and there?s the iFad.

This herd-like rush from manufacturers of all hues ? Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and whoever runs the Android or Windows operating systems ? to develop iPad me-toos is a total misread of the market.

In their haste to saturate the market with wireless devices bigger than a mobile phone but smaller than a laptop, these Apple rivals have forgotten what the iPad is all about: a smaller screen, yes, but the freedom to interact with Web and application content effortlessly without straining eyes, fingers or intelligence.

The much-hyped Samsung Galaxy Tab may be a fabulous device, but it is too small to be of practical importance. Why a 7-inch screen versus the iPad?s 10-inch? And the $700 pricing ? what gives?

More importantly, what makes the Samsung Galaxy Tab and other devices of its ilk ? bar the iPad ? drastically different from the favorite of two years ago ? the netbook? Bar the touch screen and a mobile operating system, there is nothing much to differentiate.

The netbooks also weighed around two to three pounds, had Wi-Fi capability, a tiny keyboard and fairly good enough memory.

All the analysts and market researchers were completely sugared-up on the potential of netbooks to cannibalize laptops to the bone ? as recent as last year. And here we are ? not a pipsqueak from that community or the manufacturers of why consumer interest in netbooks waned so suddenly ? and so deservedly.

Where?s the love?
Here?s what consumers are saying with regard to the iPad: It?s a wonderful browsing experience, easy to boot-up, carry and close, is intuitive in its navigation, has a rich library of Apple-friendly content and has just enough functionality to conduct light work and run entertainment without the screen-size constraint of a phone or the wires and weight of a laptop.

And yes, these same consumers also moan about the iPad?s price ? but they eventually pony up. Why?

Because the iPad appeals to the emotional side of the brain, not the rational.

Look at Apple?s ads for the iPad. They demonstrate the ease of use, the deep content available, the fun experience and just the general feeling of hands floating gently on a screen. In other words, they romance the viewer.

Now contrast that experience with ads for other tablets.

The difference is immediately apparent ? all about the practicality, the portability, the wireless plan and, yes, the touch screen. But there?s no sense of romance in the Apple sense. Consumers are being sold, not wooed ? not the right approach when it's an emotional purchase.

While tablets may continue to sell into the next year, most of them will suffer anonymity if they turn out to be iPad-lite or stripped-down netbooks with touch screens.

The fear is that the lemming-like rush to launch tablet after tablet may cause consumers to question why they need one, especially if the pricing isn?t right or if the entertainment or business case hasn?t been made clearly.

Even the lure of content on the various app stores may not be enough to turn the tablet trend into a permanent member of the mobile-device family.

Apple?s iPad, on the other hand, may not suffer the fate of its competitors.

As long as the iPad is positioned right and maintains that aura of premium desirability in product, customer experience and marketing, it is safe from being a fad.