Keeping the faith.
Yesterday, I posted this story, heralding Apple's victory in the first great clash of the tablet wars. In the article, I mentioned that- despite the Xoom's failure- Android Honeycomb was still well on track. This raised some eyebrows. If the first Android tablet was such a miserable failure, why have any faith in the platform's future?
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1. The Xoom is a Pretty Nice Tablet:
Disappointing sales and a ridiculous price have done a lot to obscure the Xoom's merits. No, it isn't the iPad 2. But Consumer Reports put it as even with the first iPad in their giant review, and I tend to think the comparison is fair. Critical reception to Motorola's tablet has been largely positive.
The Xoom was the first Android tablet Google had anything to do with. It represents their earliest stab at a very tricky market- and, overall, it's a positive sign for the future.
Using my iPad 2, there is no Android feature I miss more than widgets. Having at-a-glance control of hardware functions and easy access services like Facebook and Twitter makes my mobile life so much easier. Honeycomb's app ecosystem is too small to support a great variety of tablet-focused widgets, but they will come. As it stands, being able to keep track of your media player, social media streams, RSS feeds and local weather without switching screens is still pretty awesome.
Android is built to multitask. iOS can sort of multitask, but the user has no actual control about which apps stay active on the multitasking bar and which apps are suspended to save memory. Apple will always put a smooth user experience and a long battery life over multitasking. Google leaves that choice up to the developers and users.
There's a big demand for what Android offers. We've seen it in the smartphone market and we'll see it again with tablets. Many people won't be willing to give their laptops up and embrace the post-PC era if they can't be guaranteed a certain level of control. Consumers are willing to put up with a rougher user experience in exchange for power. Not all of them, but certainly enough to make a healthy market.
4. The App Market:
Every new Apple decision makes the necessity of Android's App Market even clearer. Apple rules the the App Store with an iron fist. They can (and do) ban media they deem 'inappropriate' and they also block a whole slew of useful apps simply because they duplicate some core function. Until Android came around, the App Store was the only game in town. Now it has competition.
Android is the only platform that comes close to iOS in size. There is more developer interest for Android than any other platform, including iOS. Yes, Honeycomb is very low on actual tablet apps. But the world is also pretty low on Honeycomb tablets. As the platform matures, so will the app selection.
5. Tablets with Google Integration:
Google has a damn good moat. Their free services- Gmail and Docs and Google Voice and Chat- all work best on Android devices. The iPad's native email app is crap. If my tablet could integrate all of my Google 'stuff' the same way my Evo does, it would be a much more productive device.
With the tablet form-factor, Google has an opportunity to build a product entirely around their suite of products. Chrome for browsing, Docs for writing, Picasa for your uploaded pics and YouTube for videos. You've got a product that acts as a seamless showcase for everything Google does best, keeping millions of people comfortably online and sending search traffic and ad data streaming back to Google all the while.
6. Android Brings Innovation.
The original iPad was one hell of an innovation, and the iPad 2 was a polished-to-perfection follow-up. But Apple has one very clear, very specific direction they expect the tablet market to take. Any major experimentations- and breakthroughs- in form factor are likely to come from Android at this point. Take the Eee Pad Transformer. Or any of Asus's weirdo Android tablets- like the Slider.
I don't know if a sliding keyboard or a laptop dock or dual-displays are good ideas for a consumer tablet. But, thanks to Android, we'll have a chance to see just what sort of demand those features have. If 3D tablets blow up, it'll be thanks to LG and Android.
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iOS is a closed, controlled, clean platform. Android encourages outside innovation and doesn't mind a little bit of mess. Having both of these forces at work in the smartphone market has lead to some pretty incredible products. I have the same hope for tablets.