Thursday, May 05, 2011

Android Tablets Will Never Replace the iPad


COMMENTARY |Android's smartphone market share is skyrocketing, according to Yahoo! News, and recently passed the iPhone. But in the tablet world? A bunch of companies are revving up their own Android tablets, but shoppers don't seem to care. Even when I was playing with the Xoom on display at the store, a woman asked me if it was the iPad.

Maybe the stores will grab a few people who think any tablet must be an iPad. Samsung seems to be hoping so. But those stores and manufacturers are missing the bigger point: Their customers assume that a tablet's an iPad because the iPad's the Google of tablets. It's all that most people know, and they assume anything else is an inferior knock-off.

The question is, are they wrong?

Shoddy workmanship

Google famously made its Android operating system for smartphones open-source, which means that anyone can download it from and use it without asking for Google's permission. But the tablet version, called Honeycomb? Only approved partners are allowed to use it because Google hasn't published the source yet, according to Phandroid.

Google says it doesn't want people putting Honeycomb on smartphones when it isn't designed for that. But as people who've played with a Xoom know, it's not really the best user experience. It shipped without promised features, it's riddled with bugs, and updates don't come nearly as fast as they do in the iPad world. Hardware makers might be creating devices that are technically "better" than the iPad in some way, but without decent software to power them, the experience is a mess.

Speaking of software ...

No apps

Compared to the iPad's 65,000 apps, there's almost nothing in the Android Market's section for tablets. Many of the apps that are there are upscaled phone apps, which just happen to work well on tablets.

Coincidence? It seems inevitable that there will be more Android tablet apps, as more and more Android tablets are made. The problem is, though, app developers write apps for the tablets and smartphones they use. And the kinds of people who choose the iPad tend to care about accessible design and making a beautiful user experience, while the kinds of people who choose Android tend to care about things that are harder to explain (like open-source software).

I say this as someone who loves Android and uses an Android phone, and is often depressed to be stuck with apps that are ugly and hard to use.


Maybe Android tablets will somehow sell more than the iPad, someday. But they'll never replace it, just like the PC will never replace the Mac. PC and "tablet" are generics, while Mac and iPad are brand names.

Everyone knows what a "tablet" is -- it's a thing like the iPad that isn't one.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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