I've been reading a lot about how Android tablets are failing to compete with the Apple iPad, and I find myself wondering if the entire global corporate gadget-producing industry is operated by imbeciles. An increasing number of tech journalists are starting to wonder out loud if Android is simply too fractured, segmented, and broken to ever effectively compete with the iOS platform - and the manufacturers are wondering why consumers aren't buying their products.Notes: This post was first published in the former TechRepublic Out Loud blog.
Here's the deal: I'm sitting on $500, and I have been for awhile. It's burning a hole in my pocket, and some manufacturer is going to get it eventually, but not until they deliver an Android platform tablet that meets all my requirements. I don't think I'm alone, and I don't think my expectations are overly complex or unreasonable. In fact, I think the device manufacturers (and Google) are busy over-thinking and over-complicating Android tablets.
The laundry list is really simple. Everyone knows what it is:
- Long battery life
- A responsive Capacitive Touch Screen Display
- SD slot (full or mini/micro)
- USB host with standard USB connectors (no dongles and no proprietary cables)
- A CPU core that's comparable with the best Android phones (A8 1Ghz or better)
- Quality front and back facing cameras
- A decent version of pure Android OS, without skins or other "bloatware" from the vendor/manufacturer complicating the OS experience
- A reasonably well known vendor/manufacturer name
- A price competitive with the iOS platform without requiring a wireless contract or subsidized pricing
- There are a couple of other trivial requirements - GPS on 3G models, Wi-Fi location services on non 3G models, and a gyroscope/accelerometer
I've got the cash and have literally been driving myself crazy for months wanting a device to spend it on and not one manufacturer has been able to come up with a device compelling enough to make me want to part with my money. It's such a slam-dunk, but every manufacturer so far that has swung has struck out.
A lot of Apple detractors - myself included - have made the claim that the iPad is just a giant iPhone/iPod Touch. But Apple has built what feels like an almost insurmountable lead in the tablet platform segment. So, maybe it's worth paying attention to Apple's success and the similarities between the products they deliver to consumers.
As it turns out, that's part of the reason why I was so impressed with the Coby Kyros MID7015. Coby didn't make their strategy complex or complicated. For a very reasonable price point, the Kyros delivers an experience that's very similar to the 1st generation Droid. It makes perfect sense, because I want all the features of my Droid, just in a bigger device. Don't over think it. Give me exactly that device.
Both the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy had the opportunity to be my Android tablet, but they made very similar blunders that kept me (and my money) sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see if something better will come along. It wasn't just the price point. My biggest issue was their original roll out as 3G devices with no Wi-Fi-only alternative.
In absence of a Wi-Fi-only device, there's an awful lot of confusion regarding plans and subscription features and terms. For both tablets, it seemed that I could pay an unsubsidized price and go month-to-month (at the mercy of the pricing and plan-feature mood-swings of the wireless carriers), or I could pay a subsidized price with a two-year contract and lock myself into a monthly payment. Those were the only initial options available. Add that to complaints about performance and build quality for the Samsung, or platform stability and compatibility for the Xoom, and in both cases, an initial wave of strong interest was quickly replaced by cautious skepticism.
The nail in the coffin for these devices was the uncertainty about the ability to act in USB host mode. Samsung amplified this by using a non-standard, proprietary interface port and cable - much like the iPad. Is it only me, or is it crystal clear that most Android fans who want a tablet but have not purchased the iPad have held off because of the lack of USB host and standard SD slot support? Apple can entice their buyers to settle for devices with missing features. Motorola and Samsung clearly cannot.
The major players (including Motorola, Samsung, and Google) have been running around like the Three Stooges or Keystone Cops for the last year or so, bouncing off each other and taking pratfalls on the Android stage. The worst part is that these vendors may decide that there just isn't a market for Android tablets, but that isn't true. Very few consumers are going to buy a device that costs more than an iPad, yet delivers many of the same headaches, aggravations, and limitations. However, if they deliver a tablet that gives the goods to consumers, they'll see huge sales numbers.
Like I said, I'm ready to purchase an Android tablet device, and my demands are really quite simple. I want a tablet that offers a Wi-Fi-only model from the start, that's priced competitively with the iPad, and delivers at least all of the features and build quality of my Droid 2. It doesn't seem like that should be such a difficult list of demands to meet - yet so far, the only companies coming close seem to be the knock-off Chinese brands with a dubious gray-market atmosphere surrounding them.
Listen up manufacturers: Deliver the same experience I love on my handset - the same apps, utilities, and interface, but on a physically larger device. You don't even need to enhance the OS so that apps take advantage of the bigger screen. If you're confused or have any doubts, look at Apple and do exactly what they did.
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 professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.