iPad

Despite flaws are Android tablets poised to transform the market?

Donovan Colbert likes his ASUS Eee Pad TF101 Transformer despite a flaw with the docking station and thinks Android tablets have a brighter future. Do you agree or will the iPad always be king?

Despite some turbulence during takeoff, my experience with the ASUS Eee Pad TF101 Transformer, it has been a very smooth honeymoon. Things haven't been perfect - there have been some troubling little flaws that I've mostly overlooked - but for the most part, the device has really lived up to my expectations.

No to iPad

I could never really justify bringing my 64GB WiFi only Apple iPad into the office. For one thing, it was too darned expensive, at over $800 new. With the expense of the device and the allure it carried with desperate people unable to afford it, taking it out of the house just seemed like a bad idea all around. I saw two potential outcomes - a broken iPad, or a stolen one. In either case, the stress didn't seem worth it.

Beyond that, I simply couldn't find a lot of justification for the iPad to be at the office other than as a distraction from other things I really should be working on. I know there have been volumes written about the enterprise applications of the iOS tablet - but I just don't see it. I think most professionals who drag an iPad to the office are far more interested in prestige than in productivity. I think this is the pink elephant in the room.

The truth is, most of what our smart-phones do beyond contact management, calendar and scheduling, and e-mail is over-kill for most employees. The truth is we mostly misuse these devices to install Beer Drinking and Light Saber simulators and play Angry Birds. Or we use them to update Facebook (which may or may not be work related). But one way we identify our firms as successful is by the gadgets that our executives, management, and technology staff carry. If a lead IT architect/engineer shows up with an 8-year old dumb-phone on his belt, that sends a message about how his firm regards technology investments.

The biggest flaw of the iPad for professional productivity is that form follows function - and the iPad is designed to be a casual content consumption device used at home. It is a coffee table computer, and Apple has been clear about that product placement since the original announcement, when Steve Jobs sat with his legs crossed in an overstuffed leather chair holding the iPad like a magazine or book. Lack of a built-in USB or a SD reader just compounded the design issues. The iPad is not really designed for serious productivity. It can do it, after a fashion - but it is an after-thought at best.

Calling the Transformers

From Cracking Open

And this has been where the Transformer has really shined. The ability to dock it and turn it into a Netbook-like clamshell device makes all the difference for having the device play a useful productivity role in my professional life on a day-to-day basis. I have it on my desk every day, just left of my Lenovo Thinkpad X201 laptop.

If I need to hop onto a public network or a MiFi hotspot and try hitting my network from the outside, the TF101 is right there, ready to spring into action. If I need to download a large file like a service-pack, MSDN .iso or SDK during the production day, likewise, the TF101 does the heavy lifting. Once complete, I can copy the file easily to a thumb-drive and then onto my work notebook or to a colleague's machine.

The transformation is the key. Form follows function, and this device can transform what function it is suited for: casual consumption and communication on the couch as a tablet at home, a button-down business clamshell at the office, which is, literally, how I've used the device. Business dress where appropriate, casual outfit otherwise.

Docking trouble

Which is why the news that the TF101 dock has a flaw that causes battery drain is so disappointing to me. It makes it worse that the patch released by ASUS does not cure the issue on my dock. Instead, I have to ship it back for physical repair. I've got the dock boxed up with RMA paperwork, ready to go - and the TF101 tablet is on my dresser at home - next to my iPad.

My Lenovo S10 sits in the place on my desk where my TF101 would normally be and I'm kind of bummed. Without the dock, it makes as much sense to bring the Eee Pad to work as to bring the iPad. They're just tablets without that magical accessory that makes them something more.

I'm disappointed because there was so much excitement about the Transformer and yet ASUS has turned it into such a fundamentally flawed launch. This is something that the Android platform cannot afford - especially in the tablet space. The worst part is that the dock really does deliver impressive runtime. With the 9-hour battery life off of the tablet and an additional 6-hours of battery life from the dock, if you really had a need to sit at the screen for 15 hours, the Transformer can handle it.

The problem is the standby drain. In particular, when docked, the battery life falls like a lead balloon. If you only use the device for a couple of hours over a 24 hour period and leave it docked without charging, you'll be out of juice when you come back to the tablet after an evening's rest.

ASUS was terribly unprepared for the demand for this product at launch, and this flaw seems to be affecting a lot of users. Nobody is going to remember the DHCP WiFi issues that the iPad had when it was first released - and the truth is, that issue was fixed by software update, not a lengthy RMA process. It simply looks like another way where Android products and vendors can't meet Apple's standards.

This issue could not have happened at a worse time for my Android morale. The last several weeks have seen a flurry of activity discussing how Android tablets seem to be having as much trouble gaining traction against the iPad as the 1st Gen Android phones had against the iPhone.

The last article even points out that a fairer comparison illustrates that the number is actually like 12:1 during the period that Honeycomb tablets have been available. I'd further argue that compelling and attractively priced Honeycomb tablets have been around an even shorter amount of time. I think a lot of these numbers are biased or sensationalist. Still, these numbers make it hard to remain positive, especially when I'm returning my Android tablet dock for repair of a relatively unacceptable flaw.

I've still got faith. I'm still optimistic that history will repeat itself, and Android tablets will rise from obscure dark horses to overtake the iOS incumbent. But it is difficult in the face of such overwhelmingly negative press and opinion to keep a positive outlook.

What do you think? Are Android tablets slowly building steam and market momentum, or is the tablet market something inherently different than the smart-phone segment? Let us hear your opinions in the forum.

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About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

14 comments
hrisan
hrisan

Do not forget that quite a lot of people buy things not only because they are good but because of the BRAND. Apple has really strong brand power and that will be hardly replaced by another company. I am sure that in the next 1-2 years there will be many new tablets better then iPad but it will still hold a large market share.

DesertJim
DesertJim

The Asus Transformer is a tablet ++ The keyboard and extra battery, plus trackpad/mouse make it good for content production as well. Decent performance expansion capability it's in a different class to tablets. Just wish my Laptop had a touch screen

Marc Thrift
Marc Thrift

I think the Android market need to get their issues sorted out now while they have some key differentiators in their favor. Android has Flash capability up their sleeve where iOS does not. IMHO, if Android have not made significant enterprise penetration by the time that HTML5 starts taking a firm hold - the battle will be lost and Apple will be the victor. If the current shift to 'cloud' takes the HTML5 standard - Android will quickly lose their major advantage. Another Android issue is security. Android applications do not have the same degree of control placed on them that iOS apps do. Yes, you can root an iPad to do the same thing but that in itself is inherently breaking the security bubble. Price is certainly a concern at present with many budget level Android devices well under the iPad. Much like the application situation, there are no controls on who can produce an Android device, some will be good - some will not. Generally, the latter will be the cheapest and most likely to start turning up first. These will be the initial impressions of Android that the enterprise will experience and base future decisions on. Applicability to purpose and price:reliability will decide the outcome here. Currently, the playing field is balanced though time, technology, and customer experience will be the deciding factors.

abc123a
abc123a

I think Android tablets will be the PC's (Windows PC to be exact) of the Tablet era of computing. They will be cheap, buggy, ridden with viruses and poorly developed. The only people who will get them are the one's who cannot afford an Apple iPad or some other tablet. I don't think Apple will be the only game in town. I expect HP WebOS to be a solid product. At the end of the day what will make the difference is Applications and the iPad has a huge lead. So yes I think you are way off base.

rconwath
rconwath

Right now there are still issues supporting Android devices in the enterprise, until these are addressed, it will be harder to overtake iPad... There's also the "cool" factor.. If you don't have an iPad you have one of those "other" tablets and cheaped out...

dcolbert
dcolbert

This The truth is, most of what our smart-phones do beyond contact management, calendar and scheduling, and e-mail is over-kill for most employees. The truth is we mostly misuse these devices to install Beer Drinking and Light Saber simulators and play Angry Birds. Or we use them to update Facebook (which may or may not be work related). But one way we identify our firms as successful is by the gadgets that our executives, management, and technology staff carry. If a lead IT architect/engineer shows up with an 8-year old dumb-phone on his belt, that sends a message about how his firm regards technology investments. Isn't generating more discussion in this forum. James Kendrick, in an act of synchronicity - posted this blog recently: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/mobile-news/the-dirty-little-secret-about-tablets/3553?tag=nl.e539 Which taps into the same basic idea about these devices. Generally, when I write something that I think is going to be a controversial opinion, and I don't hear a lot of feedback, it means that hardly anyone disagrees with me. Certainly there must be readers out there who disagree with me on this?!? Are smart-phones and tablets actually viable productivity enhancers, or are they *simply* prestige devices to show that my firm is doing better than yours and buying me neater gadgets as a perk?

rhonin
rhonin

Donovan - I have to agree. This has been the best thing about my Transformer. My iPad2 wifi is a great device but has limited flexibility compared to the Transformer. As a result I find myself using the ASUS for more and more tasks, some that used to do with the iPad. Sorry to hear about the keyboard drain. Have not seen it with mine. Keep on plugging and soon yours will be whole again.

Ricky Tandiono
Ricky Tandiono

Although i find that android 2.2 or 2.3 already in par or even better than iOS in iPhone, i find honeycomb performance still behind iOS in iPad. I am speaking of the UI, ease of use and responsivenes. The app, android app still need more apps. E.g. i still cannot find good app for handwriting note taking that let me put down my hand while writing (iOS has noteplus), anyone know, do let me know. No office app yet to be able fully read and write the same layout format of document created in microsoft office. In terms of hardware, currently there is no swiss knife, ultimate tablet yet. For beauty and lightweight, samsung tab 10 the best but if you want battery and keyboard, asus transformer the best (assume no battery flaw) . I do still have faith and in waiting for the time where android will fly but now might not be the time yet.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do Android tablets, like the ASUS Eee Pad TF101 Transformer, show enough potential to be a possible contender to overtake the iPad's dominance?

MacNewton
MacNewton

Android tablets will are already viewed as a cheap knock off to Apples products. People understand that Google has ripped off Apples and will be paying big time for there actions. HP will also end up as the "Other cheap alternative. I use my iPad as an extension to my Mac. And now with iCloud just around the corner. its going to make this 100% better. Most PC users can't see past there noses and have no clue on the types of iSO apps have other then a game or two. Apple's Pages , (part of the iWork group of programs) will allow a user to edit on the Home/Office computer and continue to finish off the report on there iPhone or iPad on the road. In a year or so, we will see a number of "drod pads come and go. After a short time, the R & D money will dry up and they will disappear from view. Already you can find them sold at very low prices as "lost leaders" from major tech outlets like best buy.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

and why I don't have one. But wait a bit; vulpine isn't here yet to defend the productivity value of tablets.

mckinnej
mckinnej

There, I said it. That's what they are. Like most anything, people can force it to fit a particular "box" if they really want to. There are professional Frisbee throwers, but the Frisbee is still a toy. In a similar vein there are people who have turned tablets into serious work tools, but like the Frisbee professionals, they're outliers. The vast majority just use them to play and have fun. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just quit trying to sell these things as business devices when they're not. Don't believe it? Try leaving your laptop at home for a week and see how much you get done. Don't get sucked into the trap of bringing both to work either. You've just made your bag heavier and you're not going to get any more work done. Leave the toys at home and do work with the tools designed for the job.

gavin142
gavin142

In the main, that's exactly what these devices are... arm candy / bragging rights / (insert phrase here). However, there are a few specific applications where these devices are superior to traditional (or even netbook) laptop alternatives. In my company's case (rural electrical utility), we have two examples. First, our Linemen need a device to receive their service and tasking orders, perform a minor bit of data entry, and pull maps for various reasons. The second case is our CEO, he requires a compact, Highly portable, lightweight device in order to make presentations and take notes with at the various meetings and forums he attends across the state. In both cases, you'll note that content CREATION is definitely NOT the focus, consumption is. Tablets are excellent consumption devices, I believe that is almost universally accepted today. What creation is required is extremely lightweight and can be accomplished with either the onscreen or a $50 bluetooth keyboard. As to our first use case, I can already hear somebody screaming about the fragility of these devices versus a Panasonic Toughbook or it's many competitors. I grant you that, yes, even with an Otterbox or similar protection, there's simply no comparison on durability between the two types of devices. Here's the kicker: I can get 6 tablets for the cost of a single Toughbook. In that case, WHO CARES if they drop one or roll over it with a line truck? Toss it and pull out another. It falls down to this: for the cost of outfitting 2 trucks with Toughbooks, I can put a tablet in EVERY ONE of my lineman's hands!

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