Apple

Android tablets could still transform the market

Donovan Colbert has faith that Android tablets will rise from obscure dark horses to overtake the iOS incumbent. Do you think the iPad will 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.

Note: This post originally appeared in TechRepublic's Google in the Enterprise blog.

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 brand new. The device also has an allure, so 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 smartphones do beyond contact management, calendar, scheduling, and e-mail is over-kill for most employees. We misuse these devices to install Beer Drinking, Light Saber simulators, play Angry Birds, or 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's 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's an afterthought 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's 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

News that the TF101 dock has a flaw that causes battery drain is very 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 Wi-Fi issues that the iPad had when it was first released — and the truth is, that issue was fixed by a 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 to repair a relatively unacceptable flaw.

I've still got faith. I'm optimistic that history will repeat itself, and Android tablets will rise from obscure dark horses to overtake the iOS incumbent — but it's 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 smartphone segment? Let us hear your opinions in the discussion thread below.

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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...

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