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Are Android Tablets Stumbling Out of the Gate?

Are Android Tablets Stumbling Out of the Gate?

So far, it appears that Android tablet sales have been less than spectacular, especially compared to Apple's iPad, which had the market basically to itself before even the first major pre-Honeycomb tablet hit the shelves. Are Android's tablet dreams truly floundering, or is it only a matter of time before sales eclipse and surpass those of Apple's tablet?

By Jack M. Germain
05/27/11 5:00 AM PT

Based on initial sales reports and some tablet market flip flops, the few Android tablets that have hit the shelves so far seem to have crashed and burned. Early sales figures indicate that no Android tab is coming close to being the much-awaited Apple iPad alternative. But will time heal all? Does the Android tablet just need the same growing time that consumers gave the iPad?

The Motorola Xoom was supposed to be Android's powerful opening salvo in its battle to kill the iPad. It was the first Honeycomb tablet to hit the scene running Google's reinvigorated Android 3.0 tablet OS.

The Xoom debuted after the Galaxy Tab stumbled by arriving without a real tablet OS. And several other wanna-be Android tablets fizzled out with lackluster performance.

Sure, the Android Market is catching up to the Apple App Store in terms of overall app selection. But Android devices still are struggling at the starting gate because Google is keeping the release of the Honeycomb code in limbo.

After all, the iPhone had a significant lead over Android phones at first. Now Android smartphones have caught up nicely in terms of overall unit sales. So how much will the Android tablet's stumble out of the gate impact its chances for success?

"Android will eclipse in the next two years. It is just a matter of getting the devices into the market," Brian Reed, vice president of products and CMO for mobile management platform provider BoxTone, told LinuxInsider.

Pent-Up Pandemonium

There's little doubt that Apple's iPad has created a new mobile category and has owned it so far, agreed Reed. The Apple experience has defined the field.

Apple has been growing this category for years. But now Android has created a huge pent-up demand.

"iPad is dominant, but Android will take off. It's going to be a wild ride," Reed promised.

Time Tempest

Time is all that Android tablets need to reach consumers' fingertips. The greater number of open source tablet makers will prove to be the iPad's downfall, warned Jason Katz, founder and CEO of app developer Paltalk.com.

"I believe Android tablets will blossom, and within 12 months Apple' s party will be over. In the short-run [single-hardware control] is a great strategy for Apple. But in the long run, it is really short-sighted, Katz told LinuxInsider.

The only reason Android has stumbled so far is the multiple hardware dilemma. In the long run, the Android tablet will overtake the iPad, according to Katz.

It hasn't happened sooner because of the added steps needed in getting apps to work on all of the various versions of Android and on the various hardware units. So Android's strength is also its weakness, said Katz.

Is More Better Than One?

In a nutshell, Android will overtake the iPad just as the Android phone is overtaking the iPhone, Katz believes.

"When we develop for the iOS, we have one piece of hardware and one piece of software. Then you are done," he said.

But Android runs on hardware made by a wide variety of manufacturers, unlike the iPad. The more hardware options there are, the more complicated it is to develop and deploy the OS and apps that run on specific hardware platforms. That makes it harder because nothing is uniform.

"So we are on the horns of a dilemma with Android. Do you release something and certify it for just certain hardware platforms? That is not a desirable result, particularly," he noted.

Solid but Pricey

"Honeycomb is fundamentally a very sound operating system. It's very straightforward and very simple to operate. The real issue with the Honeycomb-based tablets is the device pricing," Susan Kevorkian, research director for mobile connected devices at research firm IDC, told LinuxInsider.

Both the Galaxy Tab and the Motorola Xoom are priced relatively high compared to iPad, or at least in the same neighborhood, she said. Added carrier charges tied into one- or two-year data plans just add to the overall cost of owning the Android device, she said

By deferring to carriers like this, Android tablet makers let them set the device price. The carrier also has the option of subsidizing the tablet, much like a handset. So far, though, carriers have not provided sufficient subsidization to make the price palatable to the consumers, Kervorkian said.

"Any device that comes up against the iPad at a similar data price is going to be dead in the water against the iPad. Apple is the gold standard in the market today," she concluded.

Partnering Plans

The Honeycomb OS looks really strong on the tablet. But a tablet OS isn't just about user interface. It's also about the developer community that is engaged to develop applications for that platform, explained Kervorkian.

What Google needs now is to work with its device vendor partners to get Honeycomb more broadly deployed. Google also needs to work with device manufacturers of all stripes, including those that use mobile operators at the primary channel, to get their devices out there at the whole range of price points, she suggested.

This is something that absolutely has to be in the works with Google. They are just out of the gate with Honeycomb. These are the early days of Honeycomb. It has many miles ahead of it, but Apple's competitors need to get their acts together with device pricing, she said.

Geek Factor Bias

"Android tablets are only for geeks, by geeks and of the geeks," Trip Chowdhry, senior analyst at Global Equities Research, told LinuxInsider.

As such, the Android OS is a total disaster for tablets once you do the math, according to Chowdhry.

For instance, there are an estimated two million geeks around the world, he said. And that is the source of any interest in Android tablets.

"Figure there are five billion people in the world. Subtract the two million geeks interested in Android, and that leaves the remainder as a suitable market for the iPad," he calculated.

Security Sieve

Forget the Geekiness or the iPad envy. The Albatross around Android's neck is the security dilemma, according BoxTone's Reed. But that is a short-term adoption inhibitor for enterprise users only. He sees that as a problem already planned for a fix next year.

"Security concerns are a big part of the delay in infiltrating the marketplace. Apple had the same problem in getting accepted in the workplace until it introduced iPhone 4. Then enterprise let it in," Reed countered.

"Once security gets built in, then enterprise will adopt it," he asserted.

Tablet Sales 101

In the research and development scheme of things, consumer adoption comes first. Then enterprise use falls into place.

"The entry point for purchases is targeting consumers more than business users. That's what Apple did with the iPad. It is the consumerization of IT," said Reed. "But the tide is turning. Pandora's Box is opening. And enterprise has to deal with it."

Now consumers in the workplace are driving the adoption of Android. The goal is to get the consumers to love it and let them take it to work, he added.

That is why Google rolled out Android without security bolted in, he explained. Its R&D is now going into the interface. Enterprise features like security are secondary.

From Apples to Androids

"The iPad's business model forces it to control both software and hardware. As a result, it will never dominate the market," said Katz.

That leaves room for Android to copy the best features and innovate in other directions with leaders in hardware production, he explained.

A case in point is how Android killed Symbian and is killing Research In Motion in the smartphone markets, he offered.

How Good Is Good?

Another issue for Android is the quality of performance. Because anyone can make a tablet, devices with wildly varying levels of quality can be found.

"We are seeing a tremendous proliferation of low-, middle- and high-quality performance. But if you run the right Android that has the proper memory and processor in it, then it is going to be a good experience," said Katz.

A lower-quality product makes the experience very uneven. That is why Apple has the advantage now. They control the hardware so you know that you are going to have a good experience with it, he said.


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