Tablet makers with no ecosystem should turn to Windows 8

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By 2016, one-third of the U.S. population is expected to own a tablet, says Forrester Research in a report released on Tuesday. This figure — 112.5 million people — is an upward revision from Forrester’s original expectation of 82.1 million, due to two names in the tablet market: Apple and Amazon. All other tablet makers ought to leave Android for Windows 8, according to Forrester analyst, Sarah Rotman Epps.

That’s a bold statement from Epps and it builds upon my earlier Android tablet market commentary about Android’s ecosystem challenge. Yesterday I said:

Google needs to work hard — perhaps more than ever before — at its upcoming I/O event to convince developers that there’s a reason to create tablet applications for Android. Perhaps selling a $199 pure Google device can help with that, because up to now, the Android tablet freight train isn’t chugging down the tracks at the speed of the iPad Express.

Bear in mind I made these statements as someone who uses an Android tablet on a daily basis. I also have an iPad and an old HP TouchPad running webOS. For most of my basic tasks — browsing, email, occasional gaming or movie watching, and reading Kindle books — my 7-inch Android tablet is the device of choice, mostly because of its size. I prefer a smaller tablet to the iPad. But when it comes to the widest variety of apps, services and digital media content, I turn to the iPad, like many others do.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: successful mobile devices excel in hardware, software and the supporting ecosystem. Apple is clearly demonstrating this formula in tablets priced at $499 and higher. Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, for that matter, are doing the same in the $199 to $249 price range. That leaves little room for the smartphone and computer makers that are trying to make headway in the tablet market. And Forrester’s data shows that after Apple and Amazon, companies may be fighting for scraps:

Few, if any, of these have an ecosystem that rivals Apple or Amazon. Rotts keys on this point, saying:

Forrester’s data shows that the top reason consumers don’t buy tablets isn’t because of price, or technology—it’s because they say “I don’t think I need it.” It’s about the services—what you can do with the device, which is why Apple, Amazon, and B&N have succeeded in the US where pure hardware plays have failed.

I can’t help but think back to the first HDTVs to hit the market. As always, I was an early adopter, buying my first 1080i set in 2001. But nobody else was, even though the sets were technical marvels compared to older TVs. Aside from the high price, why weren’t others following my lead? Simple. There was little to no content available, i.e., no ecosystem of media or services.

Samsung, Lenovo, Toshiba, HTC, Asus and others all have the know-how to build solid hardware, often at reasonable prices. For a device with such a high focus on consumption, however, a wider range of consumables increases demand. Each company has made valiant efforts at bringing in media partners or digital storefronts, but in the end, these are second-hand shops when compared to Apple and Amazon.

Android tablets from these manufacturers will still surely sell: I’ve bought two from Samsung, and I occasionally see Android tablets in the wild. An Android meets most of my needs and will satisfy the needs of others who don’t want a device tied to a particular ecosystem.

But the masses want more than a shiny piece of hardware: they want the widest variety of apps and media to choose from, and for many that will be an iPad, Kindle Fire or, to a lesser degree, a Nook Tablet: These three accounted for 78 percent of all tablets sold last quarter.

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