When the iPad was released, tech journalists were quick to worship it. Wired went so far as to write a front-page article claiming that tablets would change the world. While it was not about the iPad only, it was obviously inspired by the upcoming release of Apple’s device.
Now, a year and a half later, it appears the revolution has been one-sided. Recent figures show that only 6 million Android tablets have been sold, a slender figure compared to Apple’s sales of 40 million iPads. Let’s have a look at why Android has yet to catch on.
Lackluster Hardware Quality
Old ideas don’t die easily, even when they’re outdated. It’s still not hard to find people who are under the belief that Android tablets are quicker than what is inside the iPad 2. In truth, however, the iPad 2 often proves quicker than Android tablets powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2. Even Tegra 3, as it turns out, fails to outmatch the iPad 2 in raw graphical potential.
The iPad 2 is also among the thinnest and lightest ten-inch tablets on the market, with only the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime giving it competition in these areas. Display quality is well above average, besting every Android tablet except the Prime, which has been reviewed but not released.
While the later points in this post are a bit more complex, this one is quite simple. The iPad 2 sells well because the hardware is better. If you’d like evidence, just find a retailer near you that stocks tablets and compare for yourself. The Android designs are almost universally lackluster in comparison to the iPad 2, and those few that do come close have similar price tags.
Confusing Operating System Support
Honeycomb was confusing from its inception. In the early days it wasn’t exactly clear if Honeycomb was supposed to be for tablets only. Once that became evident, it introduced a yet more fragmentation into an already confusing platform. Suddenly, there were two versions of Android with different features and different app stores.
Worse, some tablets continue to use old versions of Android. Given the choice between buying an iPad and researching the differences between Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, most will just buy the iPad. They don’t have the time nor inclination to do the legwork.
This is something that Amazon is doing right. The Kindle Fire runs Gingerbread, but many consumers will never know it. The Kindle Fire’s product page mentions the word “Android” only twice and never mentions the version. You’re not buying an Android tablet – you’re buying a Kindle Fire. And that’s a good thing.
Poor App Availability & Quality
It’s long been apparent that quality is an issue in Android’s app store. Allowing developers to upload apps with no quality controls certainly allows for volume, but it doesn’t help people find what they want.
This is causing a number of headaches for Android, not least being lower developer revenue. This, in turn, leads to lower quality – at least in my opinion. Quality is subjective, but as an Android owner who has used iOS devices on many occasions, I am desperately jealous of the selection provided by Apple’s App Store.
Perhaps the strangest app-related headache for Android, however, is the poor quality of search. Navigating the store is difficult and finding what you’d like can be an issue if you don’t know the exact name of an app.
All of this translates into a poor experience for consumers who buy an Android tablet. The long-running dominance of the Apple App Store has created an impression among consumers that they can find just about anything they’d like on an iOS device and, just as importantly, trust it to be reasonably good. Android is failing to foster the same environment.
The Low Price & Lack Of The “Apple Tax”
Another traditional complaint targeted at Apple products is that they’re more expensive. This, like accusations that Apple hardware is not on par with the Android competition, is obviously false when applied to iOS devices.
The Apple iPad 2 starts at $500. For that, you receive the 16GB model. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is only $50 cheaper (as purchased from Amazon). The upcoming ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime will offer 32GB of storage for the same price, which is nice. But early reviews also indicate the Prime’s battery lasts several hours less and that its GPU performance is inferior.
Like the iPhone before it, the iPad doesn’t present consumers with any significant “Apple tax”. Yes, it’s more expensive than many competitors, but there’s tangible reasons why it’s more expensive, as was discussed already. That’s hardly an “Apple Tax”. That’s paying more for a high-quality product.
But the final nail in many an Android tablet’s coffin is the fact that even though the iPad is among the most expensive tablets on the market today, it’s still only $500. That’s a nice chunk of change, but for the kind of person who is going to buy a tablet, it’s affordable.
Will Android Ever Get It Right?
Apple’s advantages in the tablet market are numerous, but it’s possible this is a temporary situation. Markets change. Yet there are indications that this could be a lasting conundrum. Computer manufactures have been trying, and failing, to replicate Apple’s hardware design in the consumer laptop market for years. Only Amazon, with the Kindle Fire, has shown any sign that it might sell in iPad-like volumes. Yet the Kindle Fire has arguably sold well precisely because it has distanced itself as far from mainstream Android as possible, so it’s hard to count that as a victory for the Android camp.
As always, only time will tell, but it’s clear that the iPad will remain the champion for the near future. What do you think?
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