According to all the latest statistics, Google’s Android mobile OS is sitting pretty confidently on top of the world of smartphones, having scooped a mammoth 42% market share, with the second place iPhone having to accept a mere quarter of the industry.
Strangely though, this pattern hasn’t yet translated into the coveted tablet market that represents complete reversal of those statistics, with arch rivals Apple massively monopolizing the industry with approximately 60% market share.
Android has made some indent on the share that stood at over 90% last year, but at that time there was barely any rival presence to the iPad at all, so the 30% shift was inevitable due to the low, low prices of some Android tablets still running Froyo.
The Household Name is iPad
There’s a very distinct difference between the smartphone and tablet industries for me at this point. And that is, basically, their age. Although ‘smartphones’ might be a relatively new revelation, the concept of a mobile phone is one that’s now decades old, and these products have become an essential part of day to day life.
Conversely, tablets remain a luxury item that has a certain ‘cool’ factor that isn’t quite as prevalent with smartphones. Admittedly, the iPhone does command a presence unrivalled by any other single device, besides perhaps a vintage Nokia 3310 that’s matured like a fine wine over the years, but it isn’t quite the household name that the iPad is at this point.
Google has a task on its hands that can only be equated to James Dyson’s overthrowing Hoover from that particular industry. While many of us still call it ‘hoovering’, the majority of us do it with a Dyson these days, rather than Henry or Hetty.
The sad fact of the matter is, that I’ve often been asked, even, if my Kindle is an iPad! Based purely I assume, on the all too familiar form factor. And in truth, the Kindle doesn’t resemble an iPad, but it just goes to accentuate the impossibility consumers have of getting away from Apple’s brand and marketing in the tablet industry.
Dominating the Shelves
One of the chief tactics that Google alongside its many hardware manufacturing partners has adopted, is to simply flood the market full of devices that cater for various needs. Android smartphones come in all variety of shapes, sizes, forms with various input methods. Whilst this could be considered one of its major problems, that’s most definitely an argument for another day. What it means though, is when you head into a retail store, you’re confronted by racks upon racks of glaring Android devices, that give very little hint of actually sporting any distinct mobile OS.
To the unsuspecting customer, they’re just a standard smartphone that lets you browse the web, do your email amongst various tasks. But, you can get it on the cheap. And that’s an invaluable asset in Google’s favour in the smartphone market, but in the tablet industry, you won’t find many tablets that undercut the £399 iPad, and if they do, they’re barely marketed probably out of good faith to the customer and the hugely inflated return rates these cheap tablets seem to have due to poorly implemented software and weak hardware.
If we were taught anything by the sudden and speedy demise of webOS at the hands of HP, it was that quality sub-£100 tablets sell like wildfire. No, not the HTC Wildfire, although that did seem to rack up a few sales, It’s just a figure of speech. Obviously that sort of pricing is unsustainable though, but it just accentuates how difficult it is to compete with the iPad, and that anything other than Apple’s tablet is considered a compromise for average consumers.
So What Can Be Done?
Well in truth, I really don’t know if a lot can be done at this point in time. Obviously software developments will play a big part, and hopefully the successor to Honeycomb will prove a worthy tablet OS on a par with iOS 5, which is looking an ominously promising OS on all fronts. But I think it’s more of a waiting game for Google, and Larry Page and co. need to be content with second place as it is, simply survive in the market until the concept of the ‘tablet’ is as universally recognised as that of the smartphone. It could be months, it could be years, but there will come a time when consumers come to see a tablet as a ‘tablet’, not just an ‘iPad’ by default. And at that point, users of Android might be more compelled to extend the ecosystem onto their tablets.
The future of Android tablets will also, inevitably, be dictated by the future of the industry as a whole. There may or may not come a time when someone discovers a genuine use for a tablet. Something that can’t be done comfortably with any other form factor. At the moment, those uses are scarce, if any actually exist, but this is essential if Google are going to succeed. I think the ‘cool’ factor discussed earlier will allow the iPad to consistently see sales figures hit the millions, and Apple being Apple, they’ll market every last drop of sweat, blood and tears out of the product line.
But Google needs to take a back seat and hold back their resources for a time when tablets become an almost, if not entirely, essential tool for consumers and businesses alike. Should that happen, then just as we see in the PC and smartphone industries, then customers will begin to look for alternatives. Maybe cheaper, maybe products that serve a niche, such as the HTC Flyer, or as far as PC’s go: Toughbooks or Lenovo products.
I really don’t see it as a huge matter regarding unifying software and defeating ‘fragmentation’, more as a game of patience. But I do certainly see a potentially bright future for Android tablets. Perhaps on a par, even, with Google’s success in the smartphone market.