Tablets

Holiday shopping for a tablet? Android has an advantage

Donovan Colbert thinks the skepticism about Android's traction in the tablet market was premature. He predicts even greater tablet market growth for Android this coming holiday season.

A few months ago, I was disheartened with the Android platform and the general tone in the press about Android tablet market penetration. At the time, the picture was not rosy. Many tech writers were busy explaining how the tablet market was not like the phone or media player markets and that the strengths of Android that made it successful as a smartphone platform would not translate to tablet sales. Others knocked the Android hardware as lacking the finish and polish of the wonder tablet from Cupertino.

All of these reasons and more resulted in a generally lackluster arrival of the Android tablet on the market. I voiced the cautiously optimistic possibility that the numbers we were looking at then did not reflect the actual activity of market sales of Android (and other) tablets.

In one of my previous posts, "Android tablets could still transform the market," I discussed some of the disappointing numbers that were being thrown around -- like 95% of enterprise users were choosing the iPad, Android devices were seeing 30-40% return rates, and that the iPad was outselling Android 24 to 1. My argument was that a slow and rocky start, compounded by a flawed and disappointing flagship Android tablet (the Motorola Xoom), really hurt the initial reception of Android on the tablet platform.

It was easy for Apple to dominate with nearly 100% of the tablet market when there were no other alternatives available, except for questionable devices from Viewsonic and Koby retailing at Sears and K-Mart. However, after Android's rough start, other Android tablet manufacturers started getting their act together, such as Acer with its A500 Iconia and ASUS with the TF101 Transformer.

My trips into Best Buy indicated that the Android tablet section was not only exploding as far as choices, but it was seeing decent activity, too. It also seemed like the iPad 2 wasn't getting exactly the same kind of rabid attention that the iPad 1 had received. On any day, I could go in and pick up any capacity of iPad 2 or Acer Iconia. The ASUS Transformer, however, was selling out as fast as stock was coming in -- at least for awhile. Shortly thereafter, expanded tablet displays started showing up at Office Max, Staples, and other retailers.

You're going to have trouble matching a vendor with direct retail sales channels if you don't have any competitive product in the retail channel, and the numbers we were working with several months ago were taken from an atmosphere that was exactly that. The competition that was being accounted for was the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Xoom. Although a newer batch of Android tablets had arrived, it was clear that they hadn't been available long enough to gather meaningful data about their affect on the tablet market.

CNN recently ran a story about smaller, cheaper tablets that discussed what the Kindle Fire and the Nook Color might do to the tablet market. But more important to me, it included some hard sales data about Android sales:

"The tablet market is growing fast, and its dynamics are shifting quickly. According to a new report from Strategy Analytics, in the last year Android tablets grew from 2% of the global tablet market to 27%. Meanwhile, the iPad's global tablet market share has dropped from 96% to 67%."

There we go! This is more like it, and aligns much better with what I observed at big-box, brick-and-mortar retailers. Android tablets are slowly building momentum, even though they still have some significant challenges in competing with the iPad. I've been honest in describing those concerns in several of my previous posts. I'm not giving Android any free passes or ignoring honest flaws, but the growth is undeniable.

Android tablets are selling, and its 27% market growth came without impacting the total number of iPad units. Apple's market share dropped from 96% to 67%, but its total unit numbers remained the same. That means that the tablet market GREW, and it grew to support Android tablets in a very statistically significant way.

You can't deny the numbers here, and they should remove all doubts. Android will be successful and have a place in a booming, developing tablet market. It may not replace the iPad, but it will co-exist as an alternative. Unlike the situation between Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, I believe this town is big enough for the both of ‘em.

In any case, the doom and gloom about the traction of Android in the tablet market seems to have been premature. As we enter into the holiday buying season, I think the numbers will only grow. We're already hearing about the 2nd generation of Android tablets, and they look pretty nice -- they have quad core processors, plus they're easier to upgrade, have more expandability, and cost less than the iPad 2.

I predict that we'll see even bigger numbers on the other side of Black Friday and the post-Christmas sales for Android, and an even smaller number for total market share of tablet sales for Apple. In a season of discounting and sales incentives, the Android platform has an advantage that Apple will find difficult to compete with.

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...

19 comments
mb209
mb209

When the windows 8 tablet comes out it's game over for android an possibly the ipad if a contender can come out really strong as soon as its released. There's an article about the fall of Android and Ipad predicted you can read it here: http://ipadalternatives.net.

ddelapaz1
ddelapaz1

I'm so tired of hearing tech writers trash Android and any other iPad competitior and believe they are partially to blame for the demise of the HP Touchpad. Yes, I have one of them and an iPad. For a first generation device with updates applied, the Touchpad is smooth and fairly refined. As a matter of fact, the Touchpad already had most of IOS 5's features in it. After visiting CompUSA yesterday, I see the iPad is the last tablet you will see in the row of at least 10 devices on display. It's just a matter of time before Android really gains a share of the market. I'm still not letting go of my Touchpad until HP figures out what they are doing with them and WebOS. In the mean time, I ordered a Lenovo Tablet today.

mhhurst
mhhurst

I'm glad you mentioned the Acer Iconia, it doesn't get enough press IMO. It's the redhead step child of Android Tablets. Every article you read is about the Samsung and Moto tabs. The defunct HP tablet gets more press. Yet the Acer is a solid product and cost less. I have the A500 32GB, picked it up in June for $399 at CostCo. Absolutely love the device. I use it during the day and my kids work it over at night. The A500 has a HD screen, HDMI out, 1G of memory and micro SD reader and standard 2.0 USB port. Last I checked IPad2 didn't offer any of that. I've used several USB devices in this port and have yet to have any issues. Despite all the nits I read about Android I have yet to experience anything to get wrapped around the axle about. I have three devices now, running 2.1, 2.3 and 3.4. I don't experinece much in the way of forced close on apps or crashes or reboots. My only true wish I ever had was on my 2.1 device that I could have gotten the 2.2 upgrade to move apps to the SD card as that device didn't come with a lot of internal memory. But since it's been replaced by the 2.3 device, it's now a dedicated XBMC remote. :-) The biggest gap may be apps. But that gap is shrinking too.

johncymru
johncymru

that it is only a nuisance rather than a killer, but it is one I could do without. As to stability, on my Xoom wifi, I had a few reboots with firmware version 1 but not one with v2. I do get the odd forced closure with the occasional app but it is not common. As to moving from Android tablets, only when Windows 8 comes out and proves any good. But I won't ever change for an Ipad. For while the ipad is a very nice piece of kit, even with its feature and hardware limitations, I refuse to touch anything that requires iTunes. I have even given up helping friends recover from yet another screw up after yet another iTunes update has screwed their systems after losing count of how many times I have been asked to do so.

johncymru
johncymru

I have to agree with you, while I really like my Xoom for what I mainly use it for, I really really really hate the copy/paste functionality, or rather copy/paste non functionality of Android. I have lost count of the number of clipboard apps I have tried only to ditch them almost immediately for total failure to work for more than a couple of copies and/or losing my saved clipboard lists. Though my latest try, aNdClip free, does appear to be the best I have used so far, yet still far from perfect, needing a kick ever now and then. But at least it hasn't lost any of my saved clipboard lists yet, touch wood.

path2u
path2u

I am a huge Android fan, with it's open source design and ability to customize almost every aspect ... however there are some MAJOR holes in the Android model that have still to be addressed by Google. For example: - HORRIBLE lack of integration with Google Business Apps, which should be a flagship product for Google and has a history of being neglected. - No really good solution for an Office alternative platform. This is huge on the Tablet side of things where students and business users will not be able to use it without a decent ability to create new docs from their device. - many simple oversight issues such as horrible copy/paste functionality, no option to sign into multiple Gtalk accounts from Android, just to list a few I hope these all turn around, but as with all Open Source projects, someone needs to take on the load of organizing it all ... and so far Google has fallen short. I hope Google becomes the company many of us hope it will be

Bduffel
Bduffel

I thought desktops/laptops are intended for content creation and tablets for entertainment, viewing contents, and on the fly connection for whatever purpose (i.e. 21st century terminals) - what I want is the HTC Flyer Tablet with mobile voice via Bluetooth device...and next year they should add the "eye recognition" glasses device and build the B-tooth into that...just saying...

Gromanon
Gromanon

We've tried and played with practically every iteration of Android tablets other than Amazon's Fire and just can't see any of those tablet replacing our workhorse laptops. Our IT department is waiting out on first Windows 8 tablets, and I much agree with their decision.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Is Jason right, or am I? Today I posted a tweet - the 16GB Ipad2 is on sale for $450. The ASUS Transformer TF101 32GB unit with keyboard dock is on sale at the same time for $500. At what point do the superior features of the Android platform match with a price point that makes it silly to even consider buying Apple for informed buyers? Is this it, or do Android tablet makers have to find a better price point still? At $450 for the 32gb Android tablet with dock vs. $450 for the iPad 2, would that sway you? How about $399 for the Android? Or is Jason right, there just isn't any price point where you would consider an Android tablet over an iOS one? I think Jason is off base on this one, personally. I think that after a slow start, Android tablets are picking up momentum, and we'll only see more. I don't think these numbers are just retail channel - they've got to be sell-through, or retailers wouldn't be expanding their non-iOS tablet investments going into the Christmas season. I think the numbers the press has been working with are a quarter behind, and Android tablets are growing their share even as we speak, and that Christmas will be big for Android tablets - even *removing* the Kindle Fire from consideration as an "Android tablet". If we include it, I think the Christmas season is going to be *HUGE* for Android tablets. Remember, I'm not saying that it is going to remove iOS dominance. Simply that it is going to bring a meaningful, viable *challenge* to iOS. Actually, I'm saying we're already there - but that by the post-holiday says in January 2012 - it'll be impossible to ignore it, anymore. But what do YOU think?

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The only "Android" tablet that will sell in large numbers over the holidays will be the Kindle Fire. Mainstream consumers just aren't enthused about Android tablets. In another six months, if Ice Cream Sandwich works out and Google ramps up it's media ecosystem, then maybe. The numbers of Android tablet sales are sales to stores and not consumers, so it's naturally inflated. Android tablets will eventually be successful, but it's still early and they haven't solved the user experience or the media ecosystem yet.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Having access to Flash based websites on your tablet makes all the difference in the world. The *vast* majority of children's sites are inaccessible to iOS devices, and will most likely remain that way - but a Honeycomb tab is able to access those sites and give a full browsing experience without breaking a sweat, and also without running down the battery.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I get a lot of apps quitting in iOS, and the whole iPad has rebooted on me numerous times, too. I think Apple (and Linux) users tend to have a filter for those kind of events when they do happen. Computers and apps crash and reboot. There is no OS, hardware platform or app that is immune to this law. Underneath every OS, there is code done by a human, so there is human error. We can argue about what systems are MORE stable, robust and resilient - and there is probably some factual truth at the bottom of that argument, but if you use a computing device, eventually you're going to have it crash and reboot while you're in the middle of something important - eventually you're going to have it lose some or all of your data. As sure as death and taxes. :)

dcolbert
dcolbert

I guess my results have been mixed - but it hasn't been a big enough of a problem for me that I'd list it as a number 1 issue with me for Android. But yeah, cut and paste isn't consistent, now that you mention it - and that tends to be one of my complaints when I am creating content - it becomes very difficult to do simple things like cut a link from the browser and paste it into a document, or to take a document and cut and paste it onto a webpage. What I get more frustrated with is the general stability of the platform. I frequently go to turn on my Transformer and it doesn't respond immediately, and when it does I realize that it has crashed and is rebooting. There are 4 ram-dump files in the root directory of my transformer right now... Android is basically worse than NT4 when it comes to having to dump memory to file and reboot. Not that this was ever *that* big of a deal in most cases for NT 4 (or any other Windows that was famous for the BSOD). It is mostly inconvenient and annoying, but not the end of the world - and in general, the benefits that Android offers far outweigh these relatively trivial issues that come as part of the deal.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Reviewing some of the Office Suite apps for Android. Hope to have it up in the next week or so.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Neither Android nor iOS - but maybe Windows 8... Which isn't an unreasonable approach at this point. I still have a laptop for my professional day gig as an IT professional and manager. I can't imagine trying to get along with anything but a Win32/64 based laptop in that capacity. Even OS X or Linux would be very difficult for me to work with daily in that regard. Part of the debate comes down to unclear definitions and expectations - and this kind of illustrates that. I use my tablet in this sense: When I travel for non-business purposes, and I want some technology, but I want to travel light, my Transformer is my preferred device. Until I won a Kindle at the TR Live 2011 raffle, the Transformer was my primary eReader (using Kindle, Nook, Google Books and other ePub readers). In that role and many other similar content consumption roles, I use it mostly as a tablet, detached from the dock and held just like a magazine, book, or any other tablet (Kindle/Ipad). You know what I mean. Checking the weather, doing a quick Google search to settle an argument or bet... all of those quick little things that a tablet format (or smart-phone) lend themselves so well to. Things like playing a game that leverages the tablet interface. Whatever... But for communicating and light content creation roles... I dock the tablet, and use it like a netbook. Prior to the "tablet revolution" I had a netbook, and that had allowed me to leave my "workhorse laptop" behind on trips to California and Spain - which made travel a lot easier. In either case... checking on social media, sending e-mails, reading and replying to forums, writing a blog or article, uploading pictures or videos to social media sites... simple tasks that involve light content creation and keeping in communication - the tablet/netbook is what I leverage. I've argued that Android does a better job than iOS of trying to be a bridge between the power of a desktop OS that you seem to be after, with the lightweight flexibility and app based functions of a mobile OS that are also popular - but it does seem like Windows 8 plans on planting a strong stake in exactly that place, too. Windows 8 and WP 7.x may end up being game changers for both iOS and Android. But until that happens, for now, it seems like where everyone was claiming (or still is claiming) that this is a 1 horse race, I think there are at LEAST two horses in this race, and Microsoft may be bringing up the rear rapidly.

ddelapaz1
ddelapaz1

I believe with the iPad pricing remaining static and with Black Friday coming, the Android devices will be much more appealing to consumers and for parents wanting a tablet for little Tommy, the sub $200-$300 devices will be very popular. I already see it with employees asking me what I would recommend for their kids. Sorry, I can't recommend a $500 tablet as a toy for a kid... Its up to the Adroid device manufactures to figure out what the magic price point is to really let it take off. Consider that HP Touchpads are still selling for more than $200 with an OS that many have considered is dead and I get asked every day when more will be available.

andrer
andrer

I agree with Jason. I played with an Asus, running Honeycomb, and thought the user experience was sub-standard. I own a HTC Android phone, and am a big fan of Sense, but it has the disadvantage of HTC always being behind Google with new releases. I thought Honeycomb was supposed to fix the user experience on standard Android, what with Matias Duarte on board, but it looked amateurish compared to iPad. Ice Cream Sandwich looks much more promising, and I get the distinct feeling Google rushed out Honeycomb, in order to have a tablet OS out there. I see two major things that will start to drive Android tablet sales: - the major players like Samsung, Asus, etc. start shipping tablets with ICS (this is only next year, and hopefully ICS lives up to the hype, which I think it will) - Kindle Fire: they nailed the cost, and have the media ecosystem. They should see major sales this year

Bduffel
Bduffel

Jason...you might want to test drive the Flyer side by side to the Fire..I'm thinking HTC has something pretty cool with the Notes app the Flyer has...verdict is still out, but, the Kindle interface didn't appeal to me...but, hey, I'm a really old geek and a girl at that...sooo...whatever...

dcolbert
dcolbert

ASUS is talking about releasing the Transformer 2 with ICS in November. Bear with me here... I'm not disagreeing that Android was a little rough compared to iOS and that it was rushed. I just read an article, maybe on Wired, that basically has Google saying, "Honeycomb was rushed to market and had some serious flaws". But check it - 27% of the global tablet market and that HAS to combine Android 2.1, 2.2 and Honeycomb tablets. (Jason is arguing that is just channel figures, not sell-through... but if that 27% is just sitting in the channel not moving, then Android tablets aren't just in trouble, they're dead. I don't think Jason is right about that. The majority of that 27% has sold through... with some vendors doing way better than others). Which is what I said back when it was just the Samsung Galaxy and the Xoom figures, and things were looking really bad. I said, "the first wave of viable Android alternatives that are creating excitement have just arrived, and we're looking at numbers that only reflect the Xoom and Galaxy, which didn't create much excitement. Wait until next quarter, and we'll see Android having much bigger numbers". And here we are, and there are those numbers I predicted. And that is with what you state, and I admit, is a fundamentally flawed flagship tablet OS platform. So, the ASUS Transformer had awesome sell through that exceeded capacity for the first two or three months, and is still a popular choice. The Acer Iconia caught the imagination of a lot of purchasers, and there are a handful of other tablets now, Toshiba, Sony, HTC, Lenovo and others - not to mention the 2nd and 3rd tier brands like Viewsonic, Coby... plus the purpose driven Pandigitals, Nooks and Kindle Fires... Now Asus is promising a delivery in November of a quad-core, Transformer TF201 with ICS, prices are coming down rapidly, there is all this activity... Are you SURE you're on Jason's side, or when you really look at it, do you think that maybe by the first quarter of next year, we'll be looking at iPad2 sales numbers and going, "Wow, Android ate Apple's lunch this holiday season, didn't they?" Not... you know... all of it... but maybe a significant portion of it. Enough to be considered competitive? To be considered a viable alternative? I dunno. Maybe you and Jason are right. I've been way off base before on this stuff. I didn't even think the iPad would get off the ground. I guess we'll know soon enough, though. But I guess the real numbers won't be available until February or March of 2012. I'll be interested in seeing what they say.