At the iPad's debut last year, Steve Jobs joked that the last time people talked about a tablet so much, "It had some commandments written on it." The claim was barely an exaggeration. Tablet computers had existed for years, but most of them ran Windows and required a stylus. Make no mistake: Apple birthed this market in every sense of the word.
The iPad was both unprecedented and a logical step forward—built on the back of the slate form-factor and app-based operating system pioneered by the iPhone. Now that Cupertino is out in front on a playing field of its own design, its competitors are running a familiar game of catch-up. The first iPad competitors, rushed to market by third-tier hardware firms (plus Samsung running an overstretched version of Android), were clearly inferior in both design and user experience. But now that Google has finally built the first comparable OS with Android Honeycomb, we'll soon see some tablets that are actually worth the second look. Even still, the competition will have a hard time overtaking the team that invented the rules.