When the iPad was released, there were a lot of scoffs from technophiles who saw the tablet as a very, very limited computer–basically a big version of the iPhone. Those technophiles were eating their words when the iPad’s sales exploded. Apple’s early forecasts for 2011 iPad sales ranged from 45-65 million units, and with the tremendous reception of the iPad 2, it’s gradually become clear that the iPad’s design has shaped the idea of the tablet in the minds of many computer users around the world. However, other manufacturers have taken notice. Android tablets like the Xoom and the Eee Transformer have taken a huge swipe at Apple’s profits, and Android tablets have taken some key lessons from Apple’s game plan. For one, Android tablet manufacturers seem to realize that people kind of like limitations on their tablets. The new batch of Honeycomb tablets are exemplary of this–apps must be purchased from one of several app stores, and traditional PC programs certainly won’t work on the Transformer or the Xoom. Android tablets have also kept the intuitive user interface that made the platform such a contender in the mobile phone market. Using an Android tablet feels natural, fun and perhaps most importantly, very cool–which is crucial when you’re selling a $500 touchscreen computer to people who probably don’t need one. However, Android tablets have been especially effective at rooting out the weaknesses in the iPad and exploiting them. As soon as the Eee Transformer’s basic setup is completed, the tablet asks the user whether he or she wants to install Adobe Flash, which Apple’s bigwigs have stubbornly refused to support. Android tablets also have a choice between two major app marketplaces, one from Google and one from Amazon. While there’s not as big of a selection in these stores as Apple’s App Store, there’s a lot more freedom, and that’s very important to many computer users. Emulators, music streaming programs and other apps that Apple would deny from their store find their way to these competitors, extending the capabilities of Android tablets and allowing for real competition. The Eee Transformer might be Apple’s biggest problem right now, as the wildly popular Android tablet has an optional keyboard dock, effectively turning the device into a netbook–while still keeping the cost of the total unit around the iPad’s $500 price point. In the next few months, Android tablets from Asus and Motorola will be released, and Apple might not be able to keep up. Apple’s certainly a giant in the world of computer electronics, but tablet manufacturers seem to be giving the company serious competition. Do you have an Apple iPad or an Android tablet? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.