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What’s to be done about the lack of interest in Android tablets? It’s a massive problem for Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and its Android partners, bu…

Galaxy Tab 10.1 Product Image 1
photo: Samsung

What’s to be done about the lack of interest in Android tablets? It’s a massive problem for Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and its Android partners, but a look back at the history of Android suggests that Google’s launch-early-iterate-often strategy makes for a significant amount of pain at the outset only to gather momentum later.

We’ve addressed this topic before, but influential iOS developer Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and an early force at Tumblr, raised it once again this week: why do people just assume that Google can turn Android into something suitable for tablets? By any measure, sales of Android tablets have been disappointing, and the release of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 this week doesn’t seem to have really changed anyone’s mind about the current state of the platform.

Even Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM), bedeviled by myriad problems of its own, shipped twice as many Playbooks in the first quarter it was on sale as Motorola shipped Xooms during its debut quarter. Granted, we have no idea how many of those shipments from either company are gathering dust at a Best Buy distribution center somewhere in Missouri, but it’s still a knock on Google and Android partners that retailers were more interested in stocking RIM’s brand-new and unproven operating system than Android, currently the world’s leading smartphone operating system.

Meanwhile, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) continues to steamroll the competition, shipping 4.69 million iPads during its last quarter. Arment quite rightly notes that tablet software developers would be foolish to spend time writing applications for Android when they have such a huge target right in front of them, and wonders why those reviewing Android tablets assume that those developers will eventually come around to supporting Android.

It’s obviously not a given that Google and the rest of the industry eventually can come up with a true iPad competitor, but it’s also wrong to assume that valuable lessons aren’t being learned from this first generation of Android tablets. Remember the early Android handsets? The G1 was the first, and while it was cute, no one took it seriously as a response to the iPhone. The same could be said for the Android 1.5 handsets, like the MyTouch or Samsung Moment.

It wasn’t until Motorola (NYSE: MMI) came up with the Droid, Google improved the software to the 2.0 version, and Verizon got on board in a big way that Android really started to capture the attention of the public and developers, a year after the G1 made its debut. Things then snowballed from there, as HTC, Samsung, and Motorola started to produce better and better devices backed up by solid software.

It has only been six months since Motorola showed off the Xoom at CES, and three months since Samsung showed off the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at CTIA. At the same point in the evolution of Android for handsets, only the G1 was available.

In other words, just because Android tablets aren’t a success off the bat doesn’t mean they’ll never be a factor. There’s certainly no question that the current combination of Android tablet hardware and software can’t hold a candle to the iPad. Arment notes that developers choose to work on platforms for two of three reasons: they like the technology personally, they notice a groundswell of support for the technology among the public, and they can make money. The iPad fulfilled all three, he wrote, while Android tablets have yet to cross off anything from that list.

Later this year, however,Google intends to release an updated version of Android that will unite the tablet and smartphone versions of the operating system and hopefully right many of the wrongs of the Android tablet experience, such as the bugs and the cranky user interface. Timed against the holiday season with solid promotional efforts from partners (and perhaps the long-rumored Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Android tablet), there is absolutely still an opportunity for Android–a well-known brand name–to make its mark.

Google, unlike Apple, tends to release products or services as soon as it thinks possible while making tweaks along the way after it amasses enough data in the wild to inform its decisions. Apple, on the other hand, waits until it is truly satisfied with a product before even acknowledging it exists.

They are different ways of doing business, and while one can spend hours arguing over which approach is best, it’s clear that when it comes to smartphones both have had their advantages. There’s no reason why tablets, a similar mobile computing platform in a different package, won’t evolve along the same lines.

But if we’re still having this conversation in June 2012, Android will have a problem.

  1. no use for a tablet, phone and laptop work well

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  2. Inbox Overflowing Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Was not aware that android tablets were being dismissed at all!

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  3. Xoom hardware is incomplete (SD slot not activated, 4G capable when the card is available) and yet it is pitched as the premier Android tablet. It also launched in February, it didn’t have Flash at launch, and the iPad 2 was rumored to arrive soon after. Even a die-hard Android fan will think twice about plunking down $800 on what is essentially a “tweener” device (between a phone and a laptop) with those handicaps. Android phones took off because Verizon lacked the iPhone and were willing to make concessions on use of their network just to get some competitive devices. The timing was perfect: Motorola needed a hit to remain relevant in the mobile phone market, HTC was capable of churning out unique and stable hardware but needed an OS that would help them sell high-end devices, Android has worked most of the kinks out, Google Maps with Navigation was a game-changer, and Verizon was no longer in a position to disable every good device feature in favor of their over-priced services. The same circumstances are not available for the tablet so adoption will be slower. Android still has options for customized keyboards (Swype 3.0 is awesome), allows user access to the file system, has Google Maps with Navigation, and already has the features that the new iOS is supposed to come out with this Fall. The key is to find hardware (Galaxy Tab 10 is nearly perfect – but it needs 4G), combine it with pay as you go internet on either AT&T or Verizon, and keep innovating in the cloud where Google does have a competitive advantage.

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  4.  The discussion around tablets shows too much impatience and is unnecessarily framed in terms of a battle iPad vs Android. Camps of fanboys are getting excited, people I trying to reach conclusions prematurely.  I’d suggest taking a long-term view on this industry. Tablets as a form factor are here to stay. There is probably room for all 3 OSs: iOS, Android, and Windows. iPad is the current leader as they were the first to deliver a great tablet product. WRT Android: I find Honeycomb to be absolutely great, I have not seen any bugs or crashes (on the Xoom), use Honeycomb’s unique multitasking all the time. When journalists and commenters write about “deep issues” and “bugs” with Honeycomb, they are typically non-specific making it hard to confirm or refute their findings. The tablet market develops differently than smartphone’s. Everybody had some cellphone before the advent of “app-phones” like iPhones and Androids, the question was only which way will they go when upgrading their phone to an app-phone. With general attractiveness and richness of the Android offer in terms of selection and pricing, no wonder Android has quickly become dominant. Tablets are not replacement technology in that sense, although their functionality overlaps with laptops. Longer term, as the form factor becomes popular, and lots of vendors will populate the market with Android tablets (creating a variety of pricing options) and the tablet apps are better available, the platform may as well dominate the market.

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  5. I love my new Galaxy Tab. I feel much more comfortable than with an Apple product. It is much easier to copy files on the tablet and it is running great, playing flash, movies. I tried some apps which are made for mobile phone and I was surprised that they are working, like Voip. It showed a better sound quality than my smartphone.
    Right now I am happy that I didn’t bought an Ipad.

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  6. I own a Xoom and would not call it buggy at all. I think the apps are great. Every single app is not available but there are some good games. Nook/Kindle/Google Books work extremely well. I use the nook on the tab and then go to the phone and continue reading quite often. I have been using google music to access my music library from my xoom and thunderbolt on the road and it works great (something that is not ever talked about). Where the xoom may lack in a specific app it generally makes up for it by having a full fledged browser which is all a laptop has. The chrome like tabs on the browser make it very easy to have lots of stuff going on at one time. iPad still runs on the iCan’tCustomzeAnything operating system. I don’t understand the love. (I use MacBook and love it so I’m not an apple hater)

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  7. XOOM owner here – Access to the filesystem with unsigned private APPS for B2B is still a no-go for all these devices. XOOM = no SD card and we bought in on that assuming we could equip thousands of sales situations with a robust and powerful video enabled presentation toolbox, adding up to a couple gigs of video and a large and highly visual catalog with salesworthy search and find data. the works.
    Update by download incrementally or full load by fed-ex to have SD card private App solution for business users of all types is still , after all this time, not a workable option in a way that suits IT and CIO management.
    ( the iTunes SYNC AdHoc app solution to each device owner is not acceptable, any attempt to sync to corporate solutions results in the Apple device prompting an ERASE ALL … NFG )

    We trusted XOOM, Android and that is getting much harder to stomach now with very very impatient Marketing people – we have to walk out of the room leaving money on the table because the device situation is a trainwreck for business use-cases on 10.1 devices that are perfect for high mobility sales use-cases. FRUSTRATED does not begin to describe what is happening here.

    WE NEED unsigned private apps on devices that are not tied to a specific user ccard on file walled garden. NOW. We have clients that must have a tablet for offline uses and gigs of updateable presentation. Such content cannot be exposed in an APP STORE. IT MUST BE PRIVATE IN ALL WAYS and that was what we expected from the SD card we dont have.

    Whatever tablet does this will be a lock-in to buy more of that device, that OS by the tens of thousands right NOW. Likely when a device is a showcase tool it sells itself and the product it presents on screen.

    Just our Quote Generator app will result on tens of thousands of tablets needed ASAP for a few forward thinking clients that are INSTRUCTING US TO GET IT DONE. We are not making this B2B market, its there already and pent up ( and slightly pissed-off at waiting for promised outcomes we did, based on what we were sold as a tablet solution that was “coming soon” )

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  8. Don’t blame Google. Motorola and Samsung sold half-baked products and charged more than the iPad for them (when requiring monthly data plans the tablet will cost over $1,000++). No surprise that no one bought them. Do they think we’re idiots? iPad gives you the option of buying data plans only when we need it and the product is first class technology.

    Anyway, I bought a Nook Color for $250. Web+Flash, email, and an eReader for half the price of an iPad and no data plan charges. Just what I need.

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  9. Android tablets would be a great success if they are sold between $200 and $300. Right now the only way to beat the iPad is with price meshed with quality. After successful sales some models could be sold at a higher price. RIM doesn’t want to follow my advise and that is why PlayBook will fail.

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  10. Apple’s app store approaching 100,000 apps by 06/25/2011.

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