Challenging Apple's ambitions
Berlin: Is today the day the consumer electronics industry's fightback against Apple begins? Most of the big names from the gadget world are in Berlin for the IFA consumer electronics show which is now becoming one of the best events to see new products launched.
But in Berlin, Apple's rivals, big and small, are striking back. Last night, determined not to be upstaged by the news from California, Sony unveiled its music and video streaming service Qriocity. This will now be available in Europe, after launching in America earlier this year, with video first followed by a music service by Christmas.
Sony is hoping that it can persuade the millions who own its hardware - TVs, Play Station 3 consoles, Blu-Ray players - that there is an alternative to Apple when it comes to getting online access to content. What Sony lacks though is the software muscle that iTunes gives Apple. With 160 million people now registering their credit cards to an iTunes account, there's a lot of inertia in the digital media market.
Then there was an announcement from Spotify, still a small business but one on which the music industry has pinned big hopes. In an alliance which combines two of the most innovative software and hardware firms involved in music streaming, it has teamed up with Sonos, makers of upscale multi-room music systems. Owners of Sonos kit will now be able to use it to stream Spotify's catalogue around their homes.
For Spotify, these are exciting yet dangerous times. Over the coming months the music streaming service could conquer America and grab a huge share of the digital music market - or it could be crushed by the likes of Apple and Sony. Teaming up with Sonos is one small move to make its premium service more compelling, but it really needs to break into the American market soon - otherwise it could end up as an interesting but short chapter in the history of the digital music revolution.
But the real challenge to Apple's ambitions comes from Google's Android mobile operating system. We've already seen Android phones begin to overtake the iPhone in some markets - now we're going to see a proper challenge to Apple's latest cash cow, the iPad.
Samsung and Toshiba are among a crowd of companies unveiling tablet computers at IFA, many of them running on Android. They are almost all going to be cheaper than the iPad and do much the same. Only the sheer power of the Apple brand, along with the integration with its App Store, could keep the iPad ahead of its new rivals.
Apple has a history of entering existing markets and transforming them - the iPod wasn't the first MP3 player, the iPad wasn't the first tablet. But the increasingly closed nature of the Apple ecosystem is already driving some consumers elsewhere. Perhaps in Berlin in 2010 we will see the likes of Samsung, Sony and Spotify finally begin to wrest attention away from the man in the jeans and the black jumper who is always offering "just one more thing".
Update 15:25: I have now had a brief play with the two new tablets from Samsung and Toshiba. Samsung's Galaxy Tab looks, at first sight, as though it might give the iPad a run for its money. It gives easy access to movies, music, and books - just like the iPad. But it also allows you to make phone calls, take pictures, and watch Flash video, none of which is possible with Apple's device. I'm not sure about the size though - seven inches makes it more like a rather unwieldy phone and I'm not sure I'd want to stuff it into my pocket.
The Toshiba Folio 100 is bigger, a bit like a more widescreen iPad. Again, it does most of the things that an iPad does, but although, like the Tab, it runs on Android, it has a slightly clunky interface. And because the Google OS isn't yet built to work with screens this big you have to rely on Toshiba's own apps rather than the Android Market.
Overall, neither device is going to make existing iPad owners go "wow" - but the fact that both will be priced at well below Apple's product they could persuade new tablet buyers that Android is the future.