Apple launched the Apple iPad tablet computer with enormous publicity at the end of January 2010. It got world wide coverage, with some newspapers even live blogging the event. By contrast the launch of the HP Slate was more muted, though it did feature Microsoft's Steve Ballmer holding it aloft (the HP Slate will use the Windows operating system).
Game, set and match to the iPad, right? Except there have been inexplicable delays in getting it into production. It was due to be available for order by the end of February - but this has been put off, by up to a month. Reports of bottlenecks at the manufacturing site also mean that fewer iPad tablets will be available to buy when they do hit the shops - they were going to have a million units available, but this might be reduced to just 300,000. No one is quite sure what has caused the delay - some rumours contend that it's because Apple is rethinking whether to add features such as a camera and a USB port to the device (these features with missing at the launch, to the dismay of enthusiasts).
How will this play with the buying public? A large number of people are already determined to purchase one, and are unaware of the delays Apple is experiencing (despite the predictable iDelayed stories in the tech press). What this means is that competitors do have a chance to steal a march.
The iPad is competing with Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Digital reader in the ereader stakes and both are on version 2 and available to buy. And HP and Joojoo are also going to be producing full scale tablets that can do everything the iPad can, and more (the HP Slate for instance will be able to handle flash and will come with a built in USB port). If they can get their products into the shops at the same time as the limited supplies of the iPad hit the stores, some customers may decide not to buy an Apple iPad, but instead to buy one of the alternatives on offer.
What should customers do? The iPad is expensive (if you go for the full 64GB version with 3G you will be shelling out $829). And that's before you've bought the additional docks and dongles that go with it. And the apps. The best advice is to wait a few months and see what happens. If other competitors to Apple get their products to market quickly, we might see some downward pressure on Apple iPad prices. It could be that buying early means you are paying too much.