There Is No Android Tablet Market – Here Is Why

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Android tablets lack three things, says Clint Boulton: developers, users and the chance to make decent money from apps

Everyone involved with Apple is gloating about how Google Android tablets don’t compete with the hallowed iPad.

Usually, this comes in the form of reports citing financial analysts marking down their tablet expectations because Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” sucks so bad people are returning the Motorola Xoom in droves. I know because I’ve written some.

The Honeycomb bashing has perhaps reached its zenith, as Android 3.1 hits the market via the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. But does it matter?

Apparently, consumers want an iPad the same way they wanted iPhones and iPods before that. See this AllThingsDigital post which says “there is a tablet market, but it’s been subsumed by the iPad market, just as the MP3 player market was engulfed by the market for the iPod.”

There is a familiar rallying cry from Android fans who feel what may happen in the smartphone market – a surge of Android support – may happen in tablets. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

The smartphone market is rated at 1 billion-plus units, with the addressable tablet market at a relatively niche 40 to 70 million units, depending on which analyst firm you choose.

Why is this? Instapaper creator Marco Arment, who on occasion cobbles cogent blog posts regarding Apple’s ecosystem and its fight versus Google, takes Ars Technica’s review of the aforementioned Tab 10.1, and  reinterprets it to add nails in Android tablet coffins.

For example, Ars Technica says: “The Tab 10.1 is a much more credible product than the Xoom, but it’s not quite competitive with the iPad”.”

Arment comments: “Is it safe to assume that “it’s not quite competitive with the iPad” means “almost nobody should choose this over the iPad”?”

Ouch. Talking about kicking a platform when it’s down.

That may be a fair translation if in fact the assessment that the Tab 10.1 isn’t competitive with the iPad were true, but I think that’s a crock. I feel the hardware is superior and while the software is rougher than the safe, sanitized iOS software, it’s hardly terrible.

The holographic UI is super and YouTube, Google Books and several other apps are a joy on this machine.

But where Arment shines in his post is when he explains the problems the Android tablet market faces. Arment says that developers come when at least two of these three criteria are met:

  1. Developers themselves use and love the platform’s products.
  2. The platform has a large installed base.
  3. Developers can make decent money on the platform.

“Android tablets have failed to meet any of them, says Arment. Meanwhile, the iPad has hit all three criteria quite well.

There might be 150 Honeycomb apps, compared to 90,000-plus iPad apps. There are many great iPad apps, while hardly anyone is raving about the Honeycomb apps, save Google Maps or Gmail.

More than 20 million iPads have sold compared to perhaps a couple million Android tablets.

Apple has paid out $2.5 billion from its App Store. Google won’t divulge how much it has paid to Android developers, probably because publishing that number would be hugely embarrassing.

Arment has nailed the Android tablet chicken-and-egg problem, which is this: If Android tablets fail to sell, no developers will develop for the platform. But if there isn’t enough compelling software available to make people buy Android tablets, people won’t buy them.

This is a reasonable argument. There are certainly trade-offs. I can’t stream Netflix content on my Tab 10.1 because the Netflix for Android app won’t support that device. However, I feel people who like the hardware enough may stick with the Tab and seek workarounds.

For example, the Tab 10.1 supports Flash 10.3, allowing me to stream Amazon Instant Videos from it. For me, for now, that’s good enough, but I fall in the early adopter camp Android maker Andy Rubin himself claimed Android is best suited for.

Yet a discerning consumer who can’t be bothered with waiting for things to work may not buy a Xoom or a Tab for this reason.

All of this is to say that while I usually abhor all of the Android tablet hatred, Arment’s post is the first sensible analysis I’ve read about the Android tablet struggles that wasn’t a composite of financial analysts facts laced with pundits’ gloating about Android’s failure to port its smartphone success to the tablet market.

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