Exact market share numbers for tablets are difficult to come by. Depending on whom you believe, Apple’s iPad may own as much as 80% of the tablet market — or it may be dipping below 50%, with Google’s Android-powered tablets nipping at its heels. Anecdotally, however, the iPad remains the tablet to beat, with the device nearing “Kleenex status,” as I can attest to by being routinely asked “What kind of iPad is that?” when using my Microsoft Surface RT tablet aboard an airplane. Android has stolen much of Apple’s thunder in the smartphone space, and a string of high-profile devices from the likes of Samsung have the iPhone and Apple’s stock price feeling the pressure. So, how can Android make the same progress in the tablet space?
Forget the magic and show me the money
There’s a fair argument to be made that Apple’s biggest recent innovation on the tablet front, the announcement of the iPad Mini, was largely a response to Android’s success on smaller, lower-cost tablets like the Amazon Kindle HD and Nexus 7. For consumers and businesses alike, $400 (USD) for an entry-level device looks a bit steep, but $200 appears far more reasonable, especially when the devices perform well and have lost the creaks and quality concerns of the earlier generation of cheap tablets.
Apple is rarely forced to compete on cost, but it also can’t ignore a major competitive threat.
Clouding the issue
One of Apple’s hallmarks has long been seamless integration among products. Early smartphones, music players, and tablets could all perform similar functions to the corresponding Apple products, but Apple made it easy and integrated. However, we’re rapidly moving away from the era where the desktop or laptop was the center of an individual’s computing experience. I want my phone and tablet to synchronize and share data without requiring a desktop or laptop as the middleman.
While Apple seems to have recognized this “post-PC era” in its marketing, in practice, its iCloud service lags behind other providers. No single cloud provider covers everything from file and music sharing, to video, social networking, and enterprise collaboration, but Google comes closest with its extensive software offerings. Google also lacks the platform dogma of Apple, offering most of its core cloud products on iOS. In a mixed-device family or enterprise, Google services are the obvious choice.
The Samsung factor
In Samsung, Google finally has a hardware partner that can innovate at the same level as Apple, but it’s also capable of iterating much more quickly than Apple. On the smartphone front, the latest iPhone used to comfortably dominate the market for 12-18 months, remaining the premium product even while a sea of lower-cost Android phones came and went. Samsung has figured out how to produce and market exciting phones that make the iPhone look a bit dated after six months.
Samsung is applying similar innovation to the tablet space, adding functionality like stylus input and providing a form factor to satisfy every taste. While Samsung lacks the direct control over hardware and software that Apple enjoys, being able to out-innovate on both fronts negates much of that advantage.
For enterprises, focusing on web-driven mobile applications can hedge any bets as to which platform dominates the tablet space. In either case, a resurgent Google can only help increase the speed of innovation in tablets.