iPad killers? Right. For the past two years, the media has been filed with that phrase every time a new Android tablet gets launched. And isn’t it sad to see some great Android tablets just die on arrival? The specs are there, the design is there, but it seems that customers are what’s not willing to be there. You’d assume that in this day and age, when Android tablets are far superior in specs and features when compared to the iPad, and when they run the most popular operating system in the world, this should be the most popular tablet ecosystem in the world, right?
Well, as we saw Sony unveil their future Xperia Tablet Z, most of us in the Pocketnow Staff were amazed by its design, but as with every other great Android tablet that has hit the market, expectations have always lasted little since well, it’s an Android tablet.
Think about it for a minute. The Motorola Xoom was launched to much expectation. It was literally the first dual-core mobile device to be launched, it offered Verizon’s 4G LTE network (which was then non-existent on the iPad back then), and it was bringing a newer version of Android. Many of us went crazy trying to get one, and as hard as it is to admit, some of us returned it just a week after the disappointments began.
So what is it about Android tablets that don’t help them take off? Instead of being the “iPad killers” they were intended to be, they seem to be more of what we’d like to call “Android suicides”. Here are some of our opinions as to why that is.
“Apps, apps, apps. I use my iPad every day, and it’s a weird time for the iPad. The mini’s low-res screen burns my retinas, and the larger iPad is too heavy and thick. Alas, what keeps me coming back is the selection of apps. I know that this song has been sung before, but if you compare Android tablet apps with those on the iPad, it’s night and day. There is still no friggin’ Android Twitter tablet app! Oh, and the best games come to iOS first (most of the time).
That said, the lack of apps was almost a reasonable compromise to get the amazing hardware of the Nexus 7. I love that thing, but have trouble with its display: the color saturation is just bad. I can’t wait for the second-gen Nexus 7, which should be landing this summer.”
For me it all comes down to the app selection, and I’m not talking about the existence of apps per se, but the good old story (which is now becoming boring) of tablet dedicated apps. I don’t use that many applications on a day-to-day basis but when I open Facebook or Twitter on a tablet I’m expecting to see the large screen filled with content. Instead, I’m just seeing inflated apps and white screen, which takes up 90% of the real estate.
When that will be fixed (and Google is slowly trying to overcome this), I will consider an Android tablet for a daily driver. Jelly Bean fixed a huge problem with the lag (very visible on tablets) but the rest of the issues are up to the developers (and Google’s business model).
I’ve owned two Android tablets so far, the original Motorola Xoom and my very beloved and now stowed Nexus 7. The main reason why I always move away from Android tablets is because I don’t feel there’s a real benefit in owning one. I carried the Galaxy Nexus – Nexus 7 combo for months, and there was really nothing special that made the interaction of each worth preferring a Nexus 7 to an iPad that’s a completely different platform an ecosystem. When you own an iPhone and an iPad, iCloud allows each device to talk to each other. AirPlay allows the iPad to interact with your Apple TV or AirPort Wireless network for music streaming. With the Nexus 7, I was stuck to just using it as it was.
When Apple launched the original iPad, they did a couple of very smart things. First, they allowed you to play iPhone apps on it while the iPad apps were being built, so you only invested in apps once. Second they sold the iPad as a product where apps shouldn’t just expand to fit, but to offer more functionality with the extra real estate. Surely Android does allow for my smartphone apps to work on the tablet, but all they do is stretch and that’s not key for a positive experience.
The fact of the matter is that until Google figures out a way to make Android tablets an extension of your Android smartphone, Google TV or other services, they’ll just be tablet alternatives, but not really useful enhancements to the experience of the ecosystem.
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I actually really like Android tablets, and I think their only shortcoming is a lack of compelling tablet-exclusive apps. When it comes to why the iPad still sees so much success, I’ve got a couple theories, but I’m hesitant to champion any, as they’re just a bit disparaging towards Apple users.
The biggest, at least based on my personal experience, is that Apple users are more willing to ditch their laptops in favor of just using an iPad, while Android users feel the need to maintain a connection to a real computer. If you’ve got that mindset to go all-in, the decision to make a tablet purchase becomes a whole lot easier. If you’re going to be buying a new laptop next year, you may not want to splurge on an Android tablet, as well.
The problem with Android-based tablets hasn’t changed much since the first Galaxy Tab rolled off the assembly line: the apps just aren’t there. The Android tablet ecosystem is quite healthy in other ways: it features extreme hardware diversity, a range of price points, and some very innovative software customizations at the OS level, but tablet-optimized third-party apps haven’t come to the platform in a big way.
In the seven-inch form factor, this isn’t as big a deal – and it’s why the Nexus 7 remains my trusted tablet sidekick despite its newly introduced OS lag. Apps built for smartphones don’t scale ideally to a 7-inch screen, but they scale acceptably. That’s not the case on the larger ten-inch devices, where such applications look comically huge, dominated by wide expanses of empty space. And the ten-inch sector is hugely important.
Google has taken steps to solve this problem, and the Nexus 10’s beautiful high-resolution display might eventually attract enough developer attention to give Android an acceptable large-screen app offering. Until that happens, though, the buying public will continue to perceive Android products as the redheaded stepchildren of the tablet space.
Android, as an ecosystem, has finally come of age. Users can buy apps and music, and rent or buy movies through Google’s Play Store. What’s more, (virtually) everything you purchase for your Android-powered smartphone is immediately available on your Android-powered tablet. iPads, however, still outnumber Android tablets by a ration of a gazillion-to-one (I just double-checked those numbers, by the way). So what’s the problem? Android-powered tablets are every bit as powerful and good-looking as Apple’s products, and there are more options on the Google side of the fence than on the Apple side. We should be swimming in Android tablets!
From where I stand, two obstacles stand in front of widespread Android tablet adoption: beautiful apps that look better on tablets than they do on smartphones, and accessories. Since the app issue is old news, let’s talk accessories. Because of the many, many options available in Android tablets today, finding accessories for your tablet isn’t easy. Why? Manufacturers get more bang for their buck by building accessories for a few models of iPads versus a dozen or more Android tablets. Alas, this issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Android’s strength in virtually limitless variations is hurting its ability to be accessorized. People want cases and whatnot that are made with their tablet in mind, and if people can’t find what they want for one tablet in particular, they’ll look at another tablet — until they eventually settle on an iPad.
I’ve been avoiding Android tablets for a simple reason: they don’t offer anything new or useful. I’ve been using Windows based tablets since 2002 and even the ancient versions of those tablets have far more capabilities than today’s Android tablets (and iPads). Right now, with my current tablet (from before the first iPad came out which is now running Windows 8), I’m using non-universal rational Bezier splines and Boolean operations to create a custom Nokia Lumia 820 hardware shell digital 3D model that can be exported to the standard tessellation language for 3D printing. I also do a lot of photography, so if I’m going to carry something other than a camera and smartphone, it needs to be able to process RAW photos quickly and efficiently with my custom presets and distortion correction profiles. Android tablets can barely open RAW photos, much less batch process RAW metadata. I also often use my tablet for small multi-track professional HD video editing projects and animation effects, professional page layout design, and of course high-end image manipulation. None of that is possible on Android. For many of those reasons and more, I believe that most of the “power users” out there have avoided the cheap underpowered consumer-oriented tablet market. As for the “normal” consumers who just want a bigger screen for their iPhone apps, they’ve already bought iPads.
The bottom line
The battle is not lost though. With so many OEMs willing to push Android tablets even after their lukewarm results, it should be only a matter of time before one tablet gets to remove the crown from the iPad. The question begging to be answered though is what do you need as a customer to be willing to jump ship?
Share us your thoughts on Android tablets in the comments. Let us know if you have one, if you want one, or why you simply won’t even consider one.