Why Haven't the Android Hordes Routed the iPad?
It was one more negative news item for Apple in a recent string of such items: A research firm predicting this is the year Android wrests the tablet crown away from the iPad. There are some other factors, however, that the firm may not have taken into account -- certain intangibles that should keep Apple at or near the top of the tablet heap vs. an increasingly fragmented Android platform.
03/14/13 5:00 AM PT
The fact that IDC revised its 2013 tablet market forecast to give Android-based tablets the edge in shipping over the market-leading Apple iPad wasn't surprising.
What was surprising? That it has taken Android so long to get anywhere near this point, a projected 48.8 percent of the market to Apple's 46 percent by year's end.
When I take a closer look at the IDC report, I'm even more surprised -- looking way out into 2017, IDC still believes iOS will hold a 43.5 percent market share.
With several fantastic Android-based tablet manufacturers in the world -- and quite a few low-quality manufacturers out there -- I would have expected Android to have made a much better showing. When you add in markets like China and India and project out to 2017, Android's predicted 46 percent share seems like an utter failure.
If you add in the ubiquity of Google apps and services, as well as that company's size and reach, again I'm left scratching my head. When I consider that IDC sees an influx of smaller, lower-priced Android devices hitting the market, it's just insult to injury: If you could buy two Android tablets for the price of one iPad, what's the problem? Why isn't Android expected to hit at least 60 percent marketshare by 2017?
IDC, it turns out, isn't predicting revenue or even profit share -- just the number of physical units that will somehow make it out into the world. If it did focus on money, Apple would hold more revenue and the lion's share of the profit.
That makes sense now, though, where Apple has a lead in terms of manufacturing and supply chain. It locks up great pricing and runs a finely tuned manufacturing network. What I read when I see the number for 2017 from IDC is that the Android manufacturers aren't really catching up. They're not projected to make significant changes (gains) at all.
I might be an Apple technology enthusiast, but if I were an Android fan, I'd look at the IDC report and wonder why Android isn't projected to dominate the world -- at least in terms of shipments.
Where's the Android Halo Effect?
If every Apple investor is worried about the company's ability to sell into emerging growth markets with a cheap iPhone -- where Android is pretty much always predicted to dominate in the smartphone OS wars -- then how is it all these new Android-based smartphone users aren't enough to significantly tip the scales when it comes to tablets? Are they just flirting?
In Appleland, there's a strong correlation between a customer buying a single Apple product and then returning to buy other Apple products. Is this not the case with Android? I seriously would have considered this. If it isn't the case, why aren't Android tablet shipments projected to grow at a faster clip?
Is it that Android is so fragmented among the manufacturers trying to personalize the experience that consumers don't really experience a halo effect?
Scratching the Microsoft Surface
Speaking of fragmentation, IDC tracks Windows and Windows RT. It actually recommends that Microsoft and its partners focus on improving Windows 8.
Including the Microsoft Surface, which has received decent reviews in addition to serious raves from enthusiasts, Microsoft's showing in IDC's report seems like another big failure. I had hoped that Windows-based tablets would do better, if only to temper the cult-like battles between Apple and Android fanboys.
By combining projections for both Windows and Windows RT, IDC projects Microsoft will nab just 4.7 percent of tablet shipments in 2013. In 2017, IDC expects Microsoft tablet shipments to grow to just 10.1 percent.
If that doesn't pan out, and Microsoft's dancing Surface commercials do drive sales, then the so-called King of the Tablet Hill might not be Android at all. Why?
I believe that a potential Microsoft-based tablet buyer is far likelier to take away an Android tablet sale than an iPad sale. I believe the tablet buying process is more about the choice of going with Apple or something else. Do you want the Apple ecosystem? After you decide not to go with Apple, then you refine your buying choices.
How Do You Measure Usage?
There remains one pesky issue that no one is really able to address very well. I believe it's because of intangibles that are hard to describe: Look, feel, ease of use.
The iPad seems to get used at far higher rates than other devices. According to Chitika, iPad users generated 80.5 percent of North American Web traffic, and while that represents a 7.6 percent decrease from December, it's still 80 freaking percent!
This is just North America, though, which is Apple's stomping grounds.
Where does this leave us? Who cares if Android is or isn't the shipment leader? While I expect it to have far more shipments, I wish our analyst firms would turn to productivity and use. How often are users tapping and swiping? For work? For play? For social diversions? These are hard things to measure.
By 2017 -- a long way off, I know -- I expect iPads on average will remain in serious use longer than other tablets. That is, the iPad will get more use for a longer period of time, which means the iOS lifespan and footprint will be much larger than a unit shipment prediction would suggest.