So, Can Android Tablets Survive?


Update (11/28/2012): Okay, as I started out this post, it really is interesting how a little added perspective can alter an opinion. Everything I wrote here about the iPad 3 remains true, and yet I’m not at a point where I’d rather use my Nexus 7 tablet than my iPad–simply put, the iPad is boring. Yes, the apps are nice, but I’ve found only a handful that I use on a regular basis. And, in the meantime, decent enough equivalents have been released for Android tablets that the delta is very narrow indeed. In fact, the only markedly better iPad app and the only one that makes a meaningful difference to me is the DirecTV app, which is excellent on the iPad and horrid on Android. I’m at the point now where I’m considering selling the iPad, and will definitely be buying a Nexus 10 (because the Nexus 7 is too small for me for some uses) once it’s available in a local brick and mortar store.

Edit: A Twitter follower mentioned that this wasn’t really very clear, so here’s the deal… The iPad is a great device with good performance, a beautiful screen, some great apps, and in generally has superior build quality. But, iOS 6 has some things that make it less than productive for me.

First, there are no widgets, and I’ve simply grown tired of having 10 apps with notification badges and having to click on each and every one to see what’s been happening. With Android, I have widgets that can tell me what’s up at a glance–new email messages, new Tweets, Facebook status updates, weather conditions, you name it.

Second, I have access to the local file system, so I have a local folder that syncs with DropBox via the excellent DropSync app. I can edit those documents with any apps, even when offline, and they’ll automatically sync once I’m connected again. There is simply no effective way to do the same thing on iOS, maybe unless you jailbreak the device–and I don’t just devices by how they run after they’ve been hacked (and thus essentially removed from the technical support chain; these are tools for me, not just toys).

Third, Android’s sharing mechanism between apps is phenomenal. I can send info from one app to just about any other app, something that’s very limited in iOS.

Overall, I simply find Android to be a more productive and efficient environment for me, even if it’s lacking some apps that I like on the iPad. And I’ve found that I prefer a 10″ or so tablet as opposed to the Nexus 7, except for ebook reading–and I bought a Kindle Paperwhite for that. Therefore, the Nexus 10 should do the trick.

I hope that clears up my position on the iPad vs. Android tablets. If not, let me know in the comments.

It’s funny what a little added perspective can do to an opinion. In my case, it’s spending a few days with a new iPad that’s forced me to adjust my opinion on the viability of Android tablets. As I wrote here (“Will 2012 be the Android Tablet Market’s Year? I Think So”), I was thinking as recently as a couple of weeks ago that all Android lacks is better marketing (including lower prices). Now, I’m wondering if the problem isn’t much deeper and more intractable. Toss in the fact that Amazon has reportedly grabbed over 50% of the Android tablet market with the Kindle Fire, and it seems like Samsung, Acer, ASUS, Toshiba, and the rest have a very long row to hoe if they’re going to see any success in this market.

Crazy Like a Fox
My first reason for saying this is that Apple keeps outflanking Android tablet makers. They take one aspect of a device, make it really, really good, and then center their promotional efforts around that singular advantage. For the original iPad, they were first to market with the “modern” tablet using a mobile OS paired with a mobile processor and a huge touchscreen. That gave them some significant traction. For the iPad 2, it was the form factor—they made it thinner and lighter than anything else, and marketed the hell out of it. That got them some additional traction. Then, they introduced a truly remarkable screen (yellow tint issue aside) in the iPad 3, and that cemented their position.

Anybody who looks at the new iPad side by side with any Android tablet on the market (except maybe the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 with its Super AMOLED Plus screen and 196PPI screen) will love the iPad and probably reject the Android tablet. The difference is truly remarkable, particularly if you use a tablet for text—which on the iPad looks like a nicely printed magazine. I think Android Ice Cream Sandwich is a superior tablet operating system, but I keep getting dragged back to the iPad because of that screen. It’s a testament to just how brilliant Apple is (and also what having $100 billion in the bank can do for creating a supply chain advantage, but that’s a different discussion).

The Ecosystem Really Is Better
My second reason I’m changing my mind is that the app disparity between the iPad and Android tablets is much, much larger than I suspected. With only a few exceptions, apps on the iPad are not only vastly more plentiful, they’re also better. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find all the tablet-optimized apps you need for Android tablets, but then you’ll miss out on all of the cool, useful, and just plain fun apps that you probably don’t even know existed. Whether it’s inherent in the design of iOS or whether it was a conscious decision on Apple’s part, iPhone apps don’t work very well on the iPad, which forces developers to make iPad versions. Compare this to Android, where smartphone apps kind of, sort of work on Android tablets but look bad and are much less functional. The difference is palpable.

Also, Google should be ashamed of how hard it is to find what good tablet apps there are in Google Play. Go into the App Store, and you’re automatically presented with iPad apps where available (and mostly, they are). Do a search, you’re giving iPad apps as the result. Look at feature apps lists, and iPad apps are at the top. The App Store assumes that, since you’re using an iPad, you’ll be interested in iPad apps. Google Play acts like it couldn’t care less what you’re using, and maybe that’s because there just aren’t that many tablet-optimized apps to show off.

So, What Now?
Future Android tablets will have higher resolution screens, such as the upcoming ASUS Transformer Infinity TF700. I can’t wait to see them, because frankly no Android tablet on the market today can compete with the iPad, even at a lower price. And, perhaps once a larger percentage of Android devices run Ice Cream Sandwich, we’ll see more developers writing apps that can take advantage of a tablet’s screen real estate. I certainly hope so, because I’m already making an investment in the iPad app ecosystem.

If both of these happen soon enough, and Android tablet makers follow my advice and compete strongly on price, then the Android tablet might have a prayer of becoming a real player. If not, then I’m afraid that the combination of the iPad and Windows 8 tablets (a true dark horse if there ever was one) might be too much to overcome. And if people are buying iPads and Windows 8 tablets, will that spill over into the smartphone market?

It’s becoming more and more apparent that 2012 will make or break Android, and I do hope Google and Android manufacturers can turn things around. Otherwise, 2013 might be the year when Apple and Microsoft start digging Android’s grave.


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